Recently audiences saw the release of Guy Ritchie’s adaptation of the hit ’60s spy TV series The Man from U.N.C.L.E (1964-1968). The basic outline of television show is that two top agents — an American named Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn), and Soviet agent named Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) — of the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement (U.N.C.L.E.) must face off against those who want to disrupt the world’s peace, primarily from the evil organization known as T.H.R.U.S.H.
The 2015 film seems to be along similar lines — of course, I’m merely speculating because I have sadly never seen a single episode of the show. So I’m looking at this film as an outsider, not based on any exposure from the television show.
The plot of the film is what you’d expect it to be, it’s a origin story. While that can frustrated for some people when it comes to certain property (looking at you, Fantastic Four) it does work for this film because I’m certain that not too many people know of this show and what the possible origin would be. Although from what I’ve gathered, this isn’t how the group got started, so it’s a reboot? I don’t know, its probably best not to think too hard about it.
The actual plot is that the CIA and the KGB decide to send their top operatives in a joint mission to stop a husband-and-wife team (Elizabeth Debicki and Luca Calvani) who intend to build their own nuclear warhead. The CIA commission the suave and smooth Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill), and the KGB deploy the tough and stoned-face Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer). Along with them is the daughter of an alleged Nazi scientist, Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikaner), who can help connect them to the couple through her uncle (Sylverster Goth). Later on, the trio eventually meet Alexander Waverly (Hugh Grant) who eventually becomes their boss.
Obviously Solo and Illya start off the film as rivals, because… its the Cold War era, how wouldn’t they be rivals? But as the film progresses, the two obviously form a mutual respect for each other. And the two actors do have amazing chemistry between each other.
Speaking of the leads: Henry Cavill as Solo and Armie Hammer as Kuryakin. Both of these are actors I was exposed to through their respective major film debuts as leads. With Cavill it was, of course, Man of Steel (2013), and with Hammer it was The Lone Ranger (2013). Both of them were fine, but neither film thrilled me. I thought these were worthwhile performers that did the best they could with lackluster movies and roles. Thankfully, director Guy Ritchie helps these actors show off their chops and gives them great characters to play.
Right now, there’s been a lot of debate as to who the next James Bond will be, and if they were to choose Henry Cavill, I would have no problem with that. Cavill in this film is a one smooth character and gives you everything you want for this Bond-like agent. Then there’s Armie. In his first major outing as a lead (The Lone Ranger), he was given a completely un-heroic character who wanted to do everything by the book and wasn’t interesting to watch. With his role as the tough-as-nails, by-the-books, short-tempered Russian, he’s able to show of his true acting skills. We also get a good performance from Alicia Vikander, which isn’t surprising considering how she’s coming off her performance from Ex Machina (2015). Although if I had to pick one bad thing in the film is that her character does kind of fall into another damsel in distress role even though it seems rather obvious that she can hold her own.
Another element that’s really great in the film is the soundtrack. Given that the movie takes place in Italy for the most part, the movie’s score sounds very similar to something that you’d hear in an Italian action film. Composed by Daniel Pemberton. the score clearly drew influence from the likes of Luis Bacalov when it comes to the music, and it is awesome.
Speaking of action, this movie is jammed-packed with it. There’s enough fisticuffs, shootouts, car chases and espionage that it will keep any of you action junkies satisfied. It also has a bizarre sense of humor; there’s one scene that goes really dark. How dark? Well, do you remember that one scene in The Green Mile (1999) where Percy forgot to soak the sponge during an execution scene? Yeah, basically that happens with this scene in question. The difference is that instead of doing it on purpose, the person in this electric chair (who worked for the Nazis with the torture-electric chair in question) got fried because of an electric wire shorting out. In the meantime, Solo and Kuryakin are discussing in the other room whether or not to spare him and take him prisoner.
Now, I’m certain that there are some people who are massive fans of the original who probably don’t like this film, much like there are fans of Sherlock Holmes who didn’t like Guy Ritchie’s interpretation with the Robert Downey, Jr. films. But I think you can all take some comfort in knowing that maybe this film will lead to a new generation of people wanting to check out the series. Also, if they were to do a sequel to this film I wouldn’t be against it: perhaps they could work in the Girl from U.N.C.L.E.
I do recommend this film, whether you’re a fan or not. I’m sure you’ll get some enjoyment out of it, one way or another.