Release date: August 14, 2015
Directed by: Guy Ritchie
Written by: Guy Ritchie and Lionel Wigram
Starring: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, and Hugh Grant
It’s been a long and confusing road to the big screen for “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” Twenty years ago, Quentin Tarantino was slated to direct with George Clooney in the Solo role. More recently, Tom Cruise was attached to star but dropped out to do the “Mission: Impossible” sequel. Now, after shuffling and re-shuffling the stars and filmmakers, it’s here; and despite the August release date, it’s one of the most fun and wildly entertaining movies of the year.
The film is based on the 1964 TV series of the same name, starring Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, about American and Russian spies teaming up to fight off international bad guys. So it’s not exactly a new concept, but at least its source material is one that most of today’s potential audience won’t be familiar with. Don’t worry, you don’t need to know anything at all about the show to enjoy the flick.
Set in 1963, it serves as sort of a prequel to the show, introducing us to Napoleon Solo, a former thief turned American super spy who is forced to work with a Russian covert spy nemesis, Illya Kuryakin, to stop a mysterious criminal organization from acquiring nuclear weapons. It’s a pretty straight-forward spy plot, but it’s filled with espionage, double agents, plots twists, campy humor and edge-of-your-seat action.
Henry Cavill (“Man of Steel”) is Napoleon Solo, a former thief turned American super spy and he is surprisingly perfect for the role. As the charming, womanizing, but slightly bumbling spy, he plays Solo with just the right amount of camp and cool. He’s the perfect James Bond spoof without being a complete joke and he shows way more charisma here than he does as Superman.
As his Russian counterpart, Illya Kuryakin, Armie Hammer (“The Lone Ranger”) gets less of an opportunity to flash any charm or personality, but he still finds a way to bring a genuine personality to the character, even if it is through somewhat generic subplots such as his affection for a watch his father gave him. But his chemistry with his co-stars is no less effective. Winging a pretty convincing Russian accent, he’s the straight man to Cavill’s goof and their banter is witty and hilarious.
Together they must protect Gaby (Alicia Vikander), the daughter of a Russian scientist believed to be working on the nukes. She’s the third wheel in this Ménage à trois of misfits. She’s a great addition to the cast, with perfect chemistry with both Cavill and Hammer
In all honesty, the movie probably shouldn’t work. There’s usually a reason studios bury seemingly big movies in August. But it defies the odds and not only works, but it is one of the most refreshing and entertaining movies of the summer, thanks in large part to inspired direction and the electric chemistry throughout the cast. Guy Ritchie, who hasn’t directed a movie since “Sherlock Holmes” A Game of Shadows” in 2011, takes over in the director’s chair and his visual style and frenetic energy give the movie a unique style that feels both retro and contemporary.
It would be a mistake to get through this review without mentioning the incredible soundtrack composed by British composer Daniel Pemberton. Through a barrage of flutes, guitars, and bongos, Pemberton channels a slick and cool 60’s vibe that helps establish the unique retro setting. It’s easily one of the best soundtracks of the year.
In a year filled with spy movie releases, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” still manages to feel like something new and different. Thanks to a game cast and a retro slick style, it delivers on all levels. It’s hilarious, it’s exciting and definitely one of the coolest movies of the year.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for action violence, some suggestive content, and partial nudity
Running time: 1 hour 56 minutes