the_man_from_uncle_2Year: 2015
Director: Guy Ritchie
Writer(s): Guy Ritchie, Lionel Wigram, Jeff Kleeman, David C. Wilson
Region of Origin: US
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Rating: PG-13
Digital, Color, 116 mins

Synopsis: In the early 1960s, CIA agent Napoleon Solo and KGB operative Illya Kuryakin participate in a joint mission against a mysterious criminal organization, which is working to proliferate nuclear weapons. (Source)

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is the equivalent of a solid, irresistibly jazzed-out pop song. It’s slick, plays fast and loose, and you don’t regret it when it’s over. Sure, it’s empty, but if you can sing its tune by the end credits, that’s all that matters right? Guy Ritchie’s latest film finds the director having the time of his life, and the fun is contagious – infinitely better than those horrid Sherlock Holmes movies but nowhere near the sophistication of this Summer’s Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. Still, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is a solid bet for fans of old fashioned spy antics or wild, colorful action with a dash of irreverence.

The film begins with ex-con turned prized CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) tracking down a mechanic named Gabby Teller (Alicia Vikander), a woman whose father is a missing ex-Nazi scientist. Solo successfully extracts Gabby, but only after they narrowly escape from a Russian super spy named Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer). The deadly meet-cute between Napoleon and Illya proves to be just the beginning of their complicated relationship, however, when it’s revealed that they’re being forced to work together thanks to an uneasy alliance between the CIA and KGB. Teamed up with Gabby, the trio must pool their resources together to track down her estranged father before he creates a nuclear weapon for the self-made entrepreneur-turned-supervillain, Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki).

Throughout the twisty plot that never takes itself too seriously, Ritchie’s most notable substance is the style he brings to the film. It’s an eye-popping torrent of sizzling set pieces, fast cars, extravagant fashion and exotic locales. Coupled with a pulsing jazz soundtrack, Ritchie keeps the film moving at a relentless pace, punctuating the humorous dynamic of his cast with a number of inventive action scenes. In fact, the film may have one of the funniest action scenes of the year, one in which Napoleon decides to have an impromptu snack in the middle of an escape sequence – it’s a clever moment that plays up the character’s more shady traits and adds human texture while proving Ritchie’s talent for mixing danger, humor and visual panache.

the_man_from_uncle_3Though the script doesn’t really allow for too much depth, the trio of performances that bring it to life go a long way. Henry Cavill, as the brash, ex-con blackmailed into working for the CIA works – he’s a suave loon who is likable despite not trying to be. Alicia Vikander, who turned in an incredible performance in Ex Machina is totally different here, as a headstrong woman who isn’t asking for a handout. She has an interesting story that could’ve been fleshed out more, but carries herself in a way that doesn’t make her merely a damsel. By far the most interesting is Armie Hammer’s Illya – he has the most fleshed out character, and the film’s best character beats come from him, both emotionally as well as humorously. A lot of the film’s gags have to do with him controlling his anger, and Hammer is great at channeling a type of frustration that is both funny and also empathetic. He’s the most rounded performer within the broad script and has the most genuine charm. Elizabeth Debicki is a worthy foil to these three, holding her own with an imposing prescience even if she is a plot device more than anything else.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. simply is what it is, and plays to its strengths in a satisfying way. I can honestly say that there were some moments that had me watching with a big dumb grin on my face, and that’s pretty rare for a lot of mindless action flicks nowadays. In the end, Ritchie’s trademark energy and rhythm make the entire thing a suitable use of two hours.

SG