Based on the hit 1960s television series, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. takes us back to a time when Russia and America hated one another. Oh, well. No. This isn’t an update of the story. With those two counties kind of at each other’s throats once again, I didn’t mean to confuse you. U.N.C.L.E. is indeed still set in 60s era Cold War times, where CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and KGB rep Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) are forced to work togther to do the whole saving the world thing.
It’s a lot of fun. Directed by Guy Ritchie, who worked on the script with an assortment of writers, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is breezy entertainment carried on the back of an excellent cast and continually charming dialogue. Cavill is especially terrific. The actor, best – if only – known for portraying Superman in Man of Steel, has a real knack for suave and cool, as his Napoleon quips himself into and out of danger. Ritche’s movie makes Napoleon a man of many talents, who also happens to believe he has even more. Watching him interact with Hammer’s Illya and all of his brutishness is a legit hoot.
Joining the pair are two talented actresses, one helpful and one dangerous. The former is actress-of-the-moment Alicia Vikander, mere months after her apparent breakout turn in Ex Machina. Vikander plays Gaby, a German whose father has been kidnapped in order to create nuclear weapons. Vikander brings a quiet fire to Gaby. She doesn’t accept nonsense, though in a more blunt manner. Her interactions with the insular Illya too are a treat. On the dangerous side is Elizabeth Debicki, a tricky presence that exudes illusion, as her long form slithers along a scene.
With a host of spy films comes along this year, many with high gadget quotients, Ritchie’s movie is a nice reset. Safes are carefully cracked, getaways are done desperately and fences are cut through via pliers. Well, initially the fence is done that way. How Napoleon and Illya break into a particular compound and the hectic-ness that follows is a set-piece that is rich in comedic beats. Truly, this is a movie as nimble with its sight gags as it is with its verbal ones.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. really only falters in its last lap. Narratively, things are sound. However, Ritchie stages a lengthy chase with various vehicles, heroes and baddies. What follows is cluttered, as the spatial surroundings of who is where and why are lost in the quick-cuts and close-ups. It doesn’t ruin the movie, but it ends with a period rather than the exclamation point it had been building to.