The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)
  • Time: 116 min
  • Genre: Action | Adventure | Comedy
  • Director: Guy Ritchie
  • Cast: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Hugh Grant, Alicia Vikander


Set against the backdrop of the early 1960s, at the height of the Cold War, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” centers on CIA agent Solo and KGB agent Kuryakin. Forced to put aside longstanding hostilities, the two team up on a joint mission to stop a mysterious international criminal organization, which is bent on destabilizing the fragile balance of power through the proliferation of nuclear weapons and technology. The duo’s only lead is the daughter of a vanished German scientist, who is the key to infiltrating the criminal organization, and they must race against time to find him and prevent a worldwide catastrophe.


  • t may be a wonder why it took this long for a film adaptation of the popular spy series The Man from U.N.C.L.E. to get off the ground, considering Hollywood’s penchant for plundering the television archives and the spy genre’s resurgence of late. This year alone has seen some thoroughly nifty entries – Kingsman: The Secret Service, Spy, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation – and there’s still the latest Bond film, Spectre, to look forward to this Thanksgiving.

    Producer John Davis optioned the rights to The Man from U.N.C.L.E. in 1993, years before Mission: Impossible (another film adaptation of a well-known espionage program) began its profitable run. Directors Quentin Tarantino and Steven Sodebergh were attached at different stages, and Davis estimates a little over a dozen scripts were commissioned over the 20-year gestation period. George Clooney, Tom Cruise, and Bradley Cooper were among those in talks for the lead role of American agent Napoleon Solo, but something kept the film stalled in development hell. Perhaps the film gods were waiting for a particular star to ascend, and that star in question turns out to be the Swedish sensation, Alicia Vikander. For, as easily as Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer inhabit their respective roles Solo and his Russian counterpart Illya Kuryakin, Guy Ritchie’s bromantic ode to Sixties action films would not have the same degree of verve and vigour without her scintillating presence.

    The television show, which ran from 1964 to 1968, was co-conceived by Bond creator Ian Fleming at a time when Bond’s success made spying the coolest game in town. Tony Rome, Matt Helm, and Modesty Blaise were thwarting villains on the big screen whilst The Man from U.N.C.L.E. vied for viewership with Mission: Impossible and I Spy. Of course, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. would seem like a still photograph compared to Ritchie’s typically restless and energetic offering, which opens with a wild car chase during which Solo (Cavill), assigned to extract one East German auto mechanic Gaby Teller (Vikander), is amused to find the dogged and determined Kuryakin (Hammer) hot on their heels as they wind their way through the streets and side alleys of 1963 Berlin.

    Solo manages to evade the seemingly superhuman Russian (who nearly slows down their automobile with his bare hands), but tomorrow tells a different tale. Solo and Kuryakin’s handlers have temporarily put aside their competing ideologies aside for the greater good. Gaby’s father, who was Hitler’s favourite scientist, has gone missing and his research, in the wrong hands, could prove fatal to the existence of the free world. With Gaby as bait, the CIA and KGB poster boys must team up to investigate Gaby’s uncle Rudi (Sylvester Groth) and his employers, wealthy Italian couple Alexander (Luca Calvani) and Victoria (Elizabeth Debicki) Vinciguerra. The hook of the film, aside from the tongue-in-cheek humour, gorgeously attired women, and gadget fetishism, is the combative alliance between Solo and Kuryakin, who are in constant competition and who often banter and bicker like an old married couple.

    Cavill and Hammer certainly give it a go, and both deliver the most playful performances of their careers thus far. Cavill, in particular, scores nicely as the urbane Solo. Shedding the Superman suit has relaxed him, and there’s an unforced lightness in his playing that suggests he would do well in more comedic roles. Hammer has a slightly trickier role in that Ritchie and co-writer Lionel Wigram have decided to make Kuryakin all but a certifiable psychotic, ready to rage against all manner of animal, mineral, and vegetable at the most minuscule provocation. This is amusing the first several times, but turns tired as the film wears on. Still, Hammer overcomes this mild handicap with his natural charisma. To watch the two men argue over Gaby’s attire (“You can’t put a Paco Rabanne belt on a Patou.”) or see Solo sit back and have a glass of vino with Louis Prima crooning in the background whilst Kuryakin barely survives a speedboat chase (one of the film’s best sequences) is to be thoroughly entertained by their not inconsiderable homoerotic and very considerable caterwauling camaraderie.

    The central relationship is very much in Ritchie’s wheelhouse, having directed such testosterone-fueled fare as Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, and Sherlock Holmes. It’s clear that Ritchie enjoyed the film’s period setting as he pays unabashed homage to the likes of Norman Jewison (the split-screen technique from Jewison’s The Thomas Crown Affair is deployed here, sometimes to unnecessarily dizzying effect) and Michelangelo Antonioni. (The Italian Antonioni would have gone wild for the Australian Debicki, whose architectural physicality was made for his strikingly precise compositions.) For the most part, Ritchie and cinematographer John Mathieson craft a visual logic that tempers Ritchie’s signature flashiness to serve the story. Then the third act arrives and the film takes a sharp swerve from the jocular to the sobersided; the sudden shift jars with what preceded it (even the final chase across the island veers into Mad Max: Fury Road territory when not resembling some glamorously dirt-flecked BMW commercial).

    Nevertheless, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a predominantly gratifying affair especially with Vikander on board. Her pairing with Hammer is markedly inspired, with the slight and lissome actress cutting the towering Hammer down to size. Vikander, who has had quite the banner year with her exceptional turns in Ex Machina and Testament of Youth, proves herself a charmer of the highest order. Her dance with Hammer, which ends up with him slapped twice and head-butted to the floor, may be the film’s highlight.

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  • Quickie Review:

    A criminal organisation is on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons. In the height of cold war a CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and KGB operative Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) put aside their differences for a joint mission. This uneasy alliance must succeed to ensure world stability. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a surprisingly fun homage to the earlier Bond type films. The team-up of two rivals for a common mission also added a new twist to an otherwise predictable story. The stylised approach to the film is part of the charm and the great chemistry among the cast brought moments of amusing tongue-in-cheek humour.

    Full Review:

    I am not familiar with the original show, it was way before my generation. However, with the dark tones of many blockbusters nowadays, it’s refreshing to return to a lighter and more vibrant movie in the spy-genre. On top of that with Guy Ritchie directing, known for his witty dialogue and often odd humour, I had to check out his latest effort.

    The style of the movie is what will immediately grab the attention of the audience. Although it may be a little over-romanticised, Guy Ritchie beautifully captures the glamour of the 60s. From the locales, cars, outfits, even the music are all aesthetically rich and beautiful. Still this movie is not all style, the three major characters are perfectly cast leading to an entertaining chemistry among them. Henry Cavill plays the more suave gentleman using his charisma to get what he wants. Whereas Armie Hammer’s character is a more rugged man, and you really don’t want to be on his bad side. These differences between the two complement well with each other and that’s why half the fun of the movie is just watching them interact. The third major character is played by Alicia Vikander, a resourceful woman who should not be underestimated. And thank god, they didn’t introduce any useless love triangle here. I was afraid that Vikander’s character’s only purpose would be a love interest, but she is very much integral to the mission. Although this is an homage to the early spy movies it is still quite grounded, in that there are no ridiculous gadgets. So I like how they were able to balance the realism with the stylised nature of the movie.

    At the same time a spy homage does come with its disadvantages. The threat in the story is very predictable, and you know exactly where it is going. There are no major surprises, and most likely even the little twists you will see them coming from miles away. Nevertheless the movie is peppered with clever humour and even the obvious innuendos are funny because of the characters, that you have satisfying ride. On a side note, there was a missed opportunity with Hammer’s character, Illya. The movie constantly refers to his rage but we never really witness him fully lose control. I would’ve liked to have seen more of that side of him than being simply suggested to us.

    Overall, my friends and I had an entertaining time in the cinema watching The Man from U.N.C.L.E. If you are looking for a funny adventure or action-comedy to enjoy with your friends and family, this is a very good choice for you to consider. In fact, I’d say I would actually like to see a sequel to this movie and go on more spy adventures with these characters.

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  • (Rating: ☆☆½ out of 4)

    This film is mildly recommended.

    In brief: Without a good script and some needed humor, Mr. Solo & company should have cried uncle and given up on this caper.

    GRADE: B-

    Long ago, even before Star Wars introduced its heroic Hans Solo to fans of all ages, another Mr. Solo was just as popular an icon. His name was Napoleon and he was the central character in a 60’s hit spy series called The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Along with his faithful and crafty Russian sidekick, Illya Kuryakin, both super agents united in their efforts to enforce law and order during the Cold War era. The series was fun, a send-up of the James Bond phenomena with ample doses of humor and comradeship generously applied. This film version lacks both elements, but it is well-made and diverting enough.

    The Man from U.N.C.L.E. wants to capture those cool retro vibes of 60’s fun but its director, Guy Ritchie and his flashy modern style of filmmaking continuously upstages the action with realistic touches that hamper the film’s mod look. With Ritchie’s trademark quick cuts and his more serious tone and attitude, the film never quite meshes into a unified whole. It more like a disjointed hole with large gaps of logic that looks stylish but empty. The only thing that makes sense is, in fact, the period costumes by Joanna Johnston that successfully parody the era so well.

    The director takes out the fun factor in his send-up of the spy caper genre with his penchant for extremes. He overdoes the split screen effect which tones down the action and limits the suspense. After an initially exciting opening chase sequence, the film plods along in its convoluted plot to stop a nuclear warhead from causing world annihilation. (The film also has the distinction of possibly having the slowest and most boring chase scene on film with its ATV pursuit scene.) While the series itself never really had characters of great depth, neither does the movie, so on the count the filmmakers were on par. However, the villains here are not that menacing and underused, especially Elizabeth Debicki as the wealthy Victoria, the evilest of femme fatales. This talented actress is wasted.

    The leads are a mixed bag. Henry Cavill plays Napoleon Solo and while he is physically perfect for the role, a spot-on throwback to the debonaire leading men of yore ala Tyrone Powers and Cary Grant, his stilted line delivery and robotic movements never amount to anything substantial. He’s a walking Brooks Brothers ad. (Cavill has yet to impress with his film roles in comparison to his television resume.) Armie Hammer plays Illya and he, at least, provides some comic moments. Mr. Hammer is handsome, charming, and believable, the perfect foil, while Mr. Cavill can only muster the former. Their chemistry is out of balance due to two styles of acting: good and bad.

    Giving ample support is Alicia Vikander as Gaby, Illya’s cover and possible love interest The actress brings some nuance to her one-dimensional part. She looks smashing too in pop outfits that 60’s fashionista Audrey Hepburn would envy. Hugh Grant is also in the cast but he fails to register in his small role.

    The Man from U.N.C.L.E. has good production values and looks great. But ultimately the weak script, by Lionel Wigram and the director, goes nowhere. As spy capers go, this is a second-rate secret agent film that should have remained a secret.

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  • The Man From U.N.C.L.E. looks like it was made by a committee and the committee settled for good enough. Any time you settle for good enough, it isn’t. Good enough is mediocre at best.
    In the end it falls on Guy Ritchie’s shoulders. As the director he has to take on responsibility for the end product. It is a Guy Ritchie Film after all. Oh but that’s not all. Richie is also one of the screenwriters and story maker uppers. He‘s not alone in this. Lionel Wigram is right there with him both with the screenplay and the story. There are a few others but I don’t think they had much influence over what was actually on the screen. Ritchie is the one constant
    here and carries the majority of the responsibility.
    It is, technically, well filmed but if the food stinks at the banquet no amount of proper place settings and lines of silverware or fancy napkins and table clothes will make the food taste good. The screenplay is strange. It leans very heavily on contrived situations and characters instead of actual plot development. The story is so meaningless that the movie could have been cut in half and it wouldn’t lose any of the plot and it would probably be better. Please note I said “probably.” There is no clear villain and we never do find out who was in the submarine. They have several shots of it in the previews so I’ve given nothing away but even if I had you still wouldn’t know any more than I do after seeing the movie.
    Characters interact but don’t relate. If they’re Russian they are thuggish and nasty with deep seated emotional problems. If they’re from the rest of the world they all must have gone to the same prep school and university because that’s what they all act like. There is almost no difference between Victoria, the villainess, and the good guy from the United States, Solo. All of them are two dimensional and there is no spark of anything between any of them. In the original TV show (Yes, I’m that old.) Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin interacted with a level of charm and wit about themselves and working together that the two in the movie simply don’t have. The script gives Solo a couple of smart-ass remarks as he leaves too quickly for a response but that’s not wit, charm, or funny. These characters are not equals but balanced on a teeter-totter with their individual skills, that they only share if they have to, balanced on either side.
    Henry Cavill plays Solo consistently throughout as a rich kid jerk. Armie Hammer plays Illya as a thug. I have to give them credit. They are both better than this but the weak script and characterizations give them very little to work with and less to explain the ending. Alicia Vikander is Gaby, another good guy but, as so often happens with women in movies, just there to look good and never to actually add to the plot or, heaven help us, save the day. Elizabeth Debicki is Victoria, the placeholder for the bad guys. Yes, her character does one evil thing but as a substitute for a strong antagonist her character doesn’t make it and again that’s the writing and directing not the actor. Hugh Grant is also in the movie but his part could have been played by any fairly competent person. Grant’s presence adds nothing to the movie.
    I give this movie 1 atom bomb out of 4. There really are worse movies but not many. Wait until this one is on TV and watch the first ten minutes or so, that was very well done, but then watch the old TV series. Watch the source, not the weak imitation.

  • Although during the mid 1900s filmmakers were beginning to expand their range of experimentation in their projects, things were still very separate. Many genres during the time stuck within their boundaries. If you made a drama, it stuck to the highlights of personal conflict. If it was a sci-fi film, it focused more on the futuristic aspects of it. The same went for action, horror and comedy films respectively. As the 1980s rolled around, genres began mixing even more. One of the more popular hybrids of the time was the buddy cop genre, which was the fusion of the action and comedy. Now when it comes to adding in another genre to the recipe, that can get tricky. Depending on who’s writing, trying to find an even blend for more than one category is not easy. The idea is to produce a product that appeals to each fan of the particular style without alienating them simultaneously. For director Guy Ritchie, it seems that making a feature length movie to the TV show of the same name seemed like no problem considering his previous works.

    Before this comedic action spy film, Guy Ritchie also directed Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998), Snatch (2000), which were action comedies and the Sherlock Holmes (2009) series, which were action spy films. Written by Lionel Wigram (Sherlock Holmes (2009)) and also Ritchie, this spy action comedy successfully sets out what it was made to do and that’s blending all the genres evenly together. During the Cold War era, American professional thief Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and Russian professional KGB spy Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) are paired up under their ruling nations to try and stop a unknown organization from distributing nuclear warheads. As far as overall execution goes, most of it is straightforward. Only occasionally does the plot get muddled with information for no real reason. This happens when information is being passed between informants. In some ways it’s understood that the writers are trying to make this information hard to attain but it does feel overly convoluted.

    Co-starring with the two main leads are Gaby (Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina (2015)) as their main ticket of getting access to the unknown organization because her uncle Rudi (Sylvester Groth) being connected to them. Suspected of possessing the warheads is Victoria (Elizabeth Debicki, The Great Gatsby (2013)) for being related to a World War II fascist. In it’s entirety, almost all main characters receive the development they require in order for the audience to understand them. Of the cast, the top three rightfully go to Cavill, Hammer and Vikander. Hammer and Cavill have great chemistry for the bickering duo that they are. What’s great is not only that they don’t like each other because of each other knowing their partners’ background, but also for the fact that one is Russian and the other is American. Working with the enemy probably is not a job anybody wants to do. The buddy cop trope of opposite personalities exists but instead of it being shown in attire it is demonstrated through personality, which is different.

    Cavill plays it cool and slick, while Hammer plays it brash and hot tempered. These are two extreme opposites yet they both get the job done and that’s extraordinary. This also helps in the comedic delivery because of how well they bounce their zingers off each other. Vikander also works because of her ability to be her own character and have her own moments. That also means she doesn’t need Cavill or Hammer’s character to support her; she can actually manage her own. The action is nicely stylized as well. More of this element goes hand-in-hand with the spy genre where Solo and Kuryakin are required to go around as other characters. Another situation might be when the two are trying to outrun another character so that they aren’t caught and their cover is blown. It’s crafty business and it looks fun with the energy put on screen. The only thing that may be a bit off putting is the costume design for the finale build up. The costume designer to this production was Joanna Johnston (Hellraiser (1987) & Forrest Gump (1994)).

    For the display on screen much of the color schemes and designs look very much like Cold War era clothing. Yet when it gets closer to the finale, Hammer and Cavill dress in military suits that resemble that of The Expendables (2010). The rest is fine though. The cinematography shot by John Mathieson is brightly lit and has plenty of landscape to see whether it’s urban or rural terrain. The musical score provided by composer Daniel Pemberton is interesting too. Although he doesn’t have a main theme for the franchise itself, he does give separate themes for the characters. An example would be Kuryakin where every time he gets angry. But even this, Pemberton also creates a score very close to that of what someone would hear from the era. It’s psychedelic and also relaxing to listen to. Pemberton also includes drums and timpani for various action cues although they are a not as memorable as the other tracks mentioned before. However, this is largely a solid effort that should not be ignored.

    Its main leads have natural chemistry thanks to some adequate writing. It does however suffer from infrequent times when the plot can get confusing for no reason because of it being in the spy genre. But it’s not much to say when the music and visuals to the movie add to the style of how closely it matches the era that its source material spawned from. The action is also fun seeing how the characters get around.

    Points Earned –> 7:10

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