Movie Review: The Man from U.N.C.L.E

The MPAA has rated this PG-13

Warner Bros. brings us a revamped 1960s TV classic ramped up to the speed of director Guy Ritchie’s style with “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” If you’ve wondered what those letters stand for, they represent: United Network Command for Law Enforcement. The characters from the original TV show of Napoleon Solo, Illia Kuryakin, and Alexander Waverly are embodied in this big screen version by actors Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, and Hugh Grant.

Set in the early 1960s, we find Solo with an assignment to extract beautiful Gabby (Alicia Vikander), from east Berlin. A big chase ensues, and after some stylish daring-do they escape with their lives just in time to be debriefed by U.N.C.L.E. operatives. One of them, Sanders, is played by Jared Harris, the son of actor Richard Harris. Jared Harris is one of my absolutely favorite actors working today. It is a pity that his character does not have longer scenes in the movie.

Sanders warns of more discomfort as Solo is about to be teamed with Illia Kuryakin (Armie Hammer), the KGB agent he’s just nearly been killed by. They are not looking forward to working together for the greater good, but must bite the bullet and try. It’s here that the two agents from opposite sides plan to move back undercover with Gaby to infiltrate a mysterious organization trying to proliferate nuclear weapons. Illia and Gaby are to pose as an engaged couple, whilst Solo lives up to his last name and runs interference.

Lovely Ms. Vikander certainly has been lighting up screens quite a bit since her big splash in “Ex-Machina.” This movie has excellent photography and the colors are lush and vivid, likely due to the skillful work of lensman John Mathieson. The repartee between Solo and Kuryakin has an overly simplified rivalry that seems comic book-like in nature, rather than a stylish tongue-in-cheek style which may have been intended.

Although entertaining to watch, this movie does not come near the excellence of the recently released “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation”, a movie in a similar genre. Unlike some period productions that look like they capture a time and place, this has a sparseness to the overall look of the picture that makes it too clean and like a make-believe movie set to be realistic in bringing the period to life.

Henry Cavill’s character of Napoleon Solo has a stiffness in this that makes him seem more like the animated cartoon character “Archer” than the original Solo of the TV era who was played by Robert Vaughn. Granted, they are different people, and I do like Mr. Cavill as an actor. I think the fault here is the script and direction. Where there might have been camp or charm value, it falls flat. Of course there’s plenty of chase scenes on land and the sea around Naples, and the locations are the real places depicted.

Overall this movie is not a waste of your time, but it might have proved more exciting had it been released before the superior spy movie “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation.” Director Guy Ritchie uses a lot of screen separations and clever editing of sequences; some very good, the rest too gimmicky. It happens frequently enough that you notice the device or optical effect and loose thread of the story, and that is a fatal error. The leads remind me of the comic book “Spy vs. Spy” more than the original TV series elements, thus “Man from U.N.C.L.E.” is a “Spy vs. Spy” stylish adventure that is fun to watch but does not gel due to the script’s plastic dialogue and squeaky-clean look.

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