The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

Is it that time again when we turn yet another beloved and decades old TV show, that most of the current young generation probably has never seen let alone heard of, into a summer blockbuster feature film? Oh boy, I can’t wait! Jokes aside, I’ll be honest  and just be upfront about this: I really loved this movie. The old Guy Richie charm is in full effect and my goodness if it wasn’t one of the funnest little period spy/adventure/comedy romps I’ve seen in awhile. Not that they make one of those but you get my meaning.

To the best of my recollection I’ve never actually watched an episode of the original the Man from U.N.C.L.E. TV show but I do at least possess a very minor pop culture awareness of it, so while I didn’t go into the movie completely blind, I did manage to watch it with a relatively clean pallet and no noticeable bias one way or another, which might explain why I was able to enjoy it so much. In essence it’s a snappy, cool as hell and just outlandish enough picture to be thoroughly entertaining action/comedy/spy/caper story that works perfectly on its own merits, rather than relying largely on nostalgia to make it appealing. What can I say, it’s overall a very stylish and neat movie that knows what it is doing.

I especially enjoyed how well they capture the glamorous jet setter life style and exoticism of early 60s Europe, and the accompanying soundtrack not only works great in tandem with the visual, it is also very catchy and atmospheric on its own that helps you to ease into the Cold War era. All things considered, I’m actually a bit shocked this didn’t do better at the box office, given that Richie’s last two Sherlock Holmes movies were such cash magnets. Everything from the acting to the cinematography is amazing, and the story is considerably well scripted, even for a summer blockbuster. I suppose you just have to pin it on both Hammer or Cavill not being big enough stars to be a guaranteed box office draw yet.

Speaking of the actors, Henry Cavill being cast as Napoleon Solo was simply brilliant. Henry really captured the suave and debonair international man of mystery vibe of the character perfectly. He’s just so dashing and charming that I developed a small man crush on him. I can see why there’s been talk amongst Ian Fleming fans that he’d make an ideal candidate for the new James Bond actor if Daniel Craig is truly finished with the role. Henry certainly seems to have the right type of charisma and charming attitude to pull off the demanding role, and besides, it would be pretty cool to have Cavill play both of Ian Fleming’s famous spy characters on the big screen. It’s probably a long shot, but man can dream, can’t he? Moving on, I’ve liked Armie Hammer ever since I saw the failed Lone Ranger revival few years ago, so him playing Illya Kuryakin, the top KGB agent with terminator type tenacity to complete his mission while maintaining a robot-like reserved outer shell was a truly fun experience for me because I’m always up to seeing more of him. Much to his credit Hammer is able to pull off the striking contrast to Solo’s flashier persona with flying colors while still making Illya an interesting character in his own way without ever being upstaged or left in Solo’s shadow. He also had very nice chemistry with Alicia Vikander and their shared screen time easily had some of the best scenes in the entire movie. Their complex hate/love relationship, stemming from the opening of the movie where Illya was trying to stop her character, Gaby, from eloping to the West and then the two of them being forced to work together as partners while pretending to be a married couple was quite delicious. Vikander doesn’t unfortunately get as much good and flashy screen time as her male partners do, but she’s got star quality and her performance was impeccable. The few scenes where she really got to play around with her character were all great, such as her dancing to Solomon Burke’s “Cry to Me” in the hotel room and then starting a wrestling match with Illya when he refuses to indulge her by dancing her were both cute and delightful to watch.

Keeping up with the lighter tone of the movie, Guy Richie is able to balance the comedy with the serious plot and occasional light-hearted character moments remarkably well. There’s plenty of pleasant dry humor throughout the movie and that is perhaps the movie’s most successful facet. The movie is fun, but it never comes off as too jokey and run the risk of ruining the serious core of the story. The subtle camaraderie that develops between Illya and Solo is done very well and it’s a source of several good chuckles in the classic  the Odd Couple style dynamic. The budding, but never the less a rocky friendship and its development is spread out nicely throughout the story, more than enough to make it feel entirely natural progression and completely genuine rather than forced plot point. This becomes very evident once you reach the end of the movie and Solo and Illya find themselves in a situation where they might have to kill one another due to the orders from their superiors to steal the pivotal data disc containing the research that would shift the balance of power in the nuclear arms race. It’s a very nice little character moment for both of them when it seems like they’re about to start fighting each other, only for Solo to diffuse the situation at the last moment by returning Illya his father’s watch that he had lost earlier in the story and they then come to a mutual agreement that the disc needs to be destroyed rather than letting anyone get their hands on it.

The only real down side in the movie is that the third act fizzles out too early and does not manage to produce a wholly satisfying conclusion. The climax doesn’t quite have the necessary pazazz that you were expecting from otherwise very snappy and well coordinated action movie. The chase sequence that we get certainly was visually good looking, but I came out of it somehow still feeling like it lacked the right amount of intensity to really sell how dire the situation was. While I quite enjoyed how they dealt with the last remaining warhead once they rescue Gabby in theory, it wasn’t as satisfying as one might have liked. I will admit the solution to finding the nefarious Elizabeth Debicki’s villain character Victoria Vinciguerra was clever, but kinda not as gratifying as one would have hoped. It might have needed a bit more cheeky humor to it or something, as the threat is neutralized so hands off and impersonally that it doesn’t really feel as conclusive win as it is suppose to be.  It’s a very minor gripe admittedly, a slightly lackluster ending does not sink this otherwise quite excellent spy thriller from being a bundle of fun and excitement. But it does spoil the fun just a little bit and prevent the movie from being one of the best movies to have come out last year.

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