‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ television show was popular as it rode the wave of the James Bond films. Director Guy Ritchie knows how to put his visually stylish mark on his action movies from Jason Statham in ‘Snatch’ to Robert Downey Jr. in ‘Sherlock Holmes.’ There is no doubt that the revamped ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ is amusing to watch. The actors look like supermodels. The mod fashions are cool and look straight out of Vogue. The set designs are colorful and gorgeous. Ritchie wisely establishes the story in 1963 during the Cold War. It captures the ominous nuclear threat of the period. So why does the story feel so hollow and flat? It’s one of the most attractive casts of the year yet the plot is so muddled and unoriginal. Unfortunately the screenplay, co-written by Ritchie, turns the film into mediocre escapist entertainment with plenty of style but lacking substance.
The opening chase scene is slick and pulsating. It’s a spy versus spy rivalry between Henry Cavill (Superman) as Napoleon Solo, an American CIA agent dressed impeccably in tailored suits and Armie Hammer (The Lone Ranger) as Illya Kuryakin, the Soviet KGB operative enlisted to thwart an East German defector Gaby (Alicia Vikander) from escaping over the Berlin Wall. Gaby’s father is an Atomic-bomb scientist now working for a neo-fascist Italian shipping magnate that wants to sell nuclear warheads to the bad guys. Why a successful Italian businessman wants to sell arms during the Cold War is not clear? What is clear is that his lovely wife Victoria (Elizabeth Debicki) is the mastermind behind the operation. Debicki was terrific in Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 ‘The Great Gasby’ but her character’s intentions are never fully developed. She plays a femme fatale with a cool demeanor and impeccable taste in 60s mod fashion.
One of the CIA head honchos delivers the news to Solo that he must team up with Illya to retrieve a nuclear warhead before it falls into enemy hands. The two lead men look more like GQ models than real spies. Cavill tries his hardest to parody the smug attitude of James Bond. He just never has the charisma of 007. Hammer’s Russian accent sounds like a fake Boris Badenov from the ‘Rocky and Bullwinkle’ cartoon. The relationship between these two men almost takes on homoerotic undertones. They seem more interested in impressing and one-upping each other rather than spending time with their beautiful female love interests. There is a scene where Gaby tries to loosen Illya up with a shot of vodka and get him to dance with her in their penthouse suite. She practically throws herself on him before passing out. Illya puts her to bed without any sparks. The chemistry between Hammer and Vikander is non-existent. This is the actress that delivers a terrific performance as a robot in ‘Ex-Machina’ earlier this year. Vikander is adorable to watch in ‘U.N.C.L.E.’ but no matter what she does, it cannot save this movie. Her role is relegated to being eye candy in colorful mod dresses and hip sunglasses.
Ritchie co-wrote the script with his go-to ‘Sherlock Holmes’ collaborator Lionel Wigram. A good story should let the audience figure out what’s happening on the screen. They must not believe the audience is that sophisticated since many of the scenes are played back in a flashback style. It actually has a dumbing down effect. Richie doesn’t believe that the audience is savvy enough to figure out the plot twists on their own. The film never even defines U.N.C.L.E. (it means United Network Command for Law and Enforcement) until Hugh Grant enters the picture during the climax as British spy chief Waverly. For good measure, another chase scene takes place before the climax with off-road vehicles. It’s an unnecessary sequence that fails to add any suspense to the film. If you like a good spy adventure, you would be better served checking out Tom Cruise’s latest ‘Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation’ or The ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service.’ ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E’ is an attractive film to watch but without a good plot it fizzles into a forgettable spy parody.
If you want to see a better movie with Swedish actress Alicia Vikander, check her out in ‘Ex Machina.’ If you want to see Australian actress Elizabeth Debicki in her breakout role, she’s a real scene stealer in Baz Luhrmann’s ‘The Great Gatsby.’ Here’s the official trailer for ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E. https://youtu.be/4K4Iv_N9Nno.