The feature film adaptation of the television show The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is probably co-Writer-Director Guy Ritchie’s least edgy project, but it is also one of his most fun.
Set in the early 1960s at the height of the Cold War, the film focuses on former soldier and art thief Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill), who was captured and then blackmailed into working for the CIA due to his extensive skills. He has now become the agency’s top spy. Solo infiltrates East Berlin in search of Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), the daughter of a kidnapped rocket scientist (Christian Berkel). As soon as Solo makes contact with Gaby, they are intercepted by Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer), a KGB agent who also has designs on turning Gaby. After Solo and Gaby escape back to the West, Solo’s CIA handler Sanders (Jared Harris) has a surprise for his agent: he and Kuryakin will be working together to stop Alexander (Luca Calvani) and Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki) from using Gaby’s father to procure a nuclear weapon. Solo and Kuryakin need to put their differences aside and team up to stop this world threat, but as their respective agencies tell them, if they have to betray the other to tip the scales in favor of the United States or Soviet Union, then do so. It all leads to an uneasy alliance that creates a good buddy movie with plenty of comedy.
The story in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is fairly straightforward with twists that can be seen coming from a mile away. This film will not redefine the spy genre, but it’s not really supposed to. It’s a fun romp that takes full advantage of its main characters’ dislike of each other and the swinging sixties time period. The action is fun and well-paced and the sixties-flavored soundtrack is great. I didn’t totally buy the relationship that develops between Gaby and Kuryakin, though. It felt forced and smacked of “giving the girl something to do.” However, I did like how Solo and Kuryakin were not the same guy just on opposite sides of the Iron Curtain. Kuryakin is basically the muscle, while Solo is the brains of the operation. This is shown in a few fights where Solo proves himself to not be Jason Bourne or even Ethan Hunt for that matter. It’s a small touch, but important especially when all these super spies in the movies are actually turning into superheroes—see: Mission: Impossible.
The cast does a good job in this one. Cavill’s accent is so cultured he comes across as even more American than he does as Superman, (Cavill is British in real life). Hammer’s accent is also believable and he does well as the KGB agent that could explode at any minute. Vikander holds her own here, but her accent was a little all over the place in parts and as mentioned above, her chemistry with Hammer didn’t totally work for me. Her chemistry with Cavill is very good though in the scenes they share. Hugh Grant also puts in a great appearance as Waverly—fans of the show knows what that means.
Overall, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is not going to set the world on fire, but it is a fun spy film if that’s what you’re in the mood for during these dog days of summer. The cast does fine work here and Ritchie keeps things snappy and light.