Review by Nathan Miller
As the year of spy films continues, Guy Ritchie (Snatch, Sherlock Holmes) takes it back to the cold war rather than modernize in this rebooted spy franchise. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is based on a classic spy television show of the same name that aired in the mid 1960's. The television series introduced norms that spy films and shows follow to this day. The updated take of the well regarded series takes a witty and stylish approach to the dormant series, but the backbone of this movie is its humor. The bickering and showboating between the titular characters ensures hilarity, and the cinematography is absolutely stunning. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. does not make its action the star. Even though there are fantastic action sequences, the character interactions create the most memorable moments of the film.
Borrowing the cold war timeline of the original series, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. follows the story of CIA agent Solo (Henry Cavill) and KGB agent Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) as they are forced to work together in an attempt to stop a mysterious international criminal organization, which is building a nuclear weapon to use as leverage against the two fighting nations. The center of it all is a vanished German scientist and his daughter Gaby (Alicia Vikander). The duo recruit the help of Gaby, who is the key to infiltrating the criminal organization, as they set off to Rome to use her family's questionable connections. Along the way, the opposing nations make it clear to their agents that the nuclear technology must be brought back to their respected superpower as it will determine who will win the cold war.
Remarkable camera work makes this spy flick stand out above the rest. The visuals were clean as tiny details were exploited all throughout the film, and the characters flourished in a stunning wardrobe. Regardless of the cinematography, the dialogue and humor consistently entertained. It never felt forced as every clever line seemed to flow like water under a bridge. This is what should be expected from a Guy Ritchie film so if you worried that the film took a more serious approach to the spy genre, it did not. The film had great humor and its dialogue kept you interested every step of the way. Cavill, Hammer, and Vikander all worked seamlessly together as their own unique characters were brought to life the more they appeared on screen. Their alliance was not smooth as they did not come together by choice, but it made sense to me their reluctance to fully trust one another. The common goal was the same, but there was always an underlying one as well.
The female characters were predominantly the strongest characters in this film. Elizabeth Debicki was the antagonist of the film, and she was ruthlessly clever at every defining moment. Her mindset never wavered, and her character's demeanor never faltered. As for Vikander, she was the opposite of the chiche spy film damsel in distress. Granted, she did need to be saved at one point but so did everyone else. Cavill's character delivered at every right moment. Popping in and out just to take a small jab at Hammer was always a highlight in the film. Unfortunately, Hammer's character was overall the weakest of the three but his stubbornness and violent outbreaks did speak volumes throughout the film.
The story itself is "been there, done that" for the most part. The major flaw in this movie is there was no major defining moment. There was nothing that separated it at a story standpoint that would make it standout from other spy flicks. The story kept my interest, but it never surprised me or caught me off guard with any of its twists. The development of the characters, which was fantastic, took away from the plot which needed to be fleshed out a bit more. Ex-Nazi being forced to make a nuclear bomb for a secret organization is a story that is not entirely original, and the familiarity one can feel towards this storyline could discourage one from embracing the film. The disposal of the film's antagonist left much to be desired as it seemed quick for such an important character while her husband seemed to have taken the bigger spotlight at his demise. I would have prefered the time and energy put into the chase scene at the end, for the husband, given to the actual antagonist. The ending was a bit weak as it left it open ended for a continuation of the series, but it something to be expected.
There is nothing that will surprise you in the story for The Man From U.N.C.L.E., but it is still a terrific take on the spy genre. Its humor and character development are its biggest takeaways. Although, the camerawork alone will please anyone actually paying attention to the film. This is a great introduction film that could be a new beginning of a beloved franchise, but the lack of story risks and questionable release date could make this film a one hit wonder.