The Man from U.N.C.L.E Director: Guy Ritchie
Screenwriters: Guy Ritchie, Lionel Wigram
Cast: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Jared Harris, Hugh Grant Warner Bros. Pictures
Rated PG-13 | 116 Minutes
Release Date: August 14, 2015
Co-written and directed by Guy Ritchie (Sherlock Holmes), The Man from U.N.C.L.E is based on the 1964 television series created by Sam Rolfe. Starring Henry Cavill (Man of Steel), Armie Hammer (The Social Network), and Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina), U.N.C.L.E is a stylish spy comedy set against the backdrop of the early ’60s period of the Cold War.
CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Cavill) and KGB operative Illya Kuryakin (Hammer) are on a joint mission to stop an international criminal organization led by Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki, The Great Gatsby).
Vinciguerra and her Nazi scientists have developed a revolutionary method of uranium enrichment, mass-producing atomic bombs for selling to the highest bidder. Solo and Kuryakin’s only lead is Gaby Teller (Vikander), the daughter of a missing German scientist (Christian Berkel), who is the key to infiltrating Vinciguerra’s organization and preventing a global catastrophe.
There isn’t much substance in The Man from U.N.C.L.E, but there’s plenty of style and charisma to go around. Best known for Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, Ritchie’s signature style blends suspenseful action and comedic timing with a visual aesthetic that conveys “cool.”
What’s most interesting about The Man from U.N.C.L.E. – and what makes it worth seeing – are the charming characters and effervescent performances. First there’s Cavill as the quintessentially smooth Solo – an anti-establishment spy who acquired his skills dealing art and antiques on the black market after scamming his way into post-war European high society. Cavill is delightfully roguish here – a mix of Han Solo and James Bond with all the swagger and confidence his Superman lacked in Man of Steel.
Likewise, Armie Hammer makes up for The Lone Ranger as a by-the-books KGB with anger management issues. Cavill and Hammer bicker with each other like an old married couple – they even have playful nicknames for one another: “Cowboy” and “Red Peril.” In classic Ritchie fashion, character dialogue is sharp and snarky, providing moments of levity during the film’s thrilling set pieces.
Alicia Vikander steals the show right out from under her two male co-stars, just like she did in Alex Garland’s Ex Machina earlier this year. Gaby adds a spark to the friction between Kuryakin and Solo. In one of their first scenes together as a trio, the two super-spies try to one-up each other with their fashion savvy while helping Gaby select her mod undercover wardrobe. It’s a funny sequence that showcases the chemistry between this cast, and one that sets up a potential relationship between Gaby and Kuryakin, who is posing as her fiancé for the mission.
Elizabeth Debicki makes a great villain as the ambitious icy blonde Victoria Vinciguerra. Reminiscent of a young Catherine Deneuve, Debicki’s stunning social climber has palpable chemistry with Cavill yet retains a hostile and intimidating edge. Like Mad Max: Fury Road and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a showcase for bad-ass female characters who one-up their male counterparts at every turn.
The problem with Ritchie’s film, aside from the aforementioned lack of narrative substance, is its inconsistent pacing and overreaching runtime. At 116 minutes, U.N.C.L.E. feels longer than Rogue Nation (131 minutes) thanks to one too many false finishes that needlessly prolong the proceedings.
Still, the characters are fun and their interplay makes the film’s flaws excusable. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is light, fizzy entertainment that coasts on charm and charisma and bleeds buckets of style.