The last we heard from Guy Ritchie was 2011’s Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. With The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (In theaters Aug. 14) he flashes forward in time to bring his signature style to the early sixties and the height of the Cold War. As the classic television series gets rebooted for the big screen we see brassy Napoleon Solo of the CIA and proud Illya Kuryakin of the KGB forced to cooperate to crack a case that could mean the end of the world, naturally.
Ritchie’s unmistakable style — occasional slow motion, lots of swagger, crazy plot twists — plays perfectly into this spy vs spy, reluctant partners tale. The era itself is of course highly stylized and Ritchie has a plethora of spy culture pieces from that time to play off of.
Henry Cavill is all cavalier and nonchalance as Napoleon Solo, a former soldier turned thieving war profiteer who opted for the CIA instead of prison when he finally got nabbed. Still in Superman shape, but with a playful affected accent that feels like Hollywood’s “New York-Manly” tone of the era, Cavill’s solo earns the “cowboy” nickname bestowed upon him by his Russian frenemy, Illya.
For his part, Armie Hammer has the greater challenge. Illya is a proud Russian with a real rage problem, and the KGB’s very best. He’s the character we’re conditioned to root against, but for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. to work, we have to get on his side. Fortunately, Hammer pulls it off. His Illya has an irresistible charm and may be the most fun character to watch in a film that’s littered with fun characters.
Alicia Vikander, who may come as the greatest surprise for many viewers, also delivers a fun turn. Gaby is an East German mechanic and the daughter of the scientist the fellas are attempting to track down, lest he share some dangerous intel with some dangerous chaps. Though the Swedish-born actress is by no means new to the screen, she is only now rising to the attention of wider audiences. If you caught this spring’s Ex Machina, you already know what she can do, if not, you’ll find out here as she plays off of both Cavill and Hammer with ease.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is everything this reviewer, at least, wants in a spy film. It’s stylish and fun with some amusing plot twists, enjoyable but not overbearing action, and a measure of humor and attention to character that makes it a tangible story instead of just a vehicle to blow things up. Fans of Guy Ritchie’s work will no doubt be delighted by this outing, and those who love a good romp should be as well.