Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Having never heard of the property, I wasn't expecting much when I first clicked the trailer for The Man from U.N.C.L.E. All I had heard about the project was the casting, which at least had me intrigued. Henry Cavill was great in Man of Steel, and Armie Hammer has been terrific in films like The Social Network. The trailer seemed to promise a fun and exciting throwback to early spy films. Combine that with the director of the underrated Sherlock Holmes, and I had a feeling this was going to be a pretty good time at the theatres. It was only after I was already looking forward to seeing the movie that I found out from my parents that it was based on a popular TV series that they loved as kids. I still don't know a whole lot about that original show, but from what they've told me about it, director Guy Ritchie seems to be honoring the spirit and tone of that 1960's series.

Napoleon Solo is an American super-spy, recruited by the CIA after becoming a master thief. He's been assigned to an extraction job in East Berlin, rescuing a girl named Gaby Teller, whose father was an alleged Nazi scientist who defected to the U.S. near the end of WWII. The U.S. government believes that Gaby can influence her uncle (who works at a shipping company owned by Nazi sympathizers using her father to create a nuclear warhead) into giving them information about the wealthy couple who own the shipping company in order for them to stop the weapon from being built. However, in order to do so, the CIA reluctantly agree to team up with the KGB, putting Solo with the man from whom he barely escaped in East Berlin, Illya Kuryakin.

From the opening scenes, this movie put a smile on my face that pretty much remained in place until the credits rolled. One of the primary reasons was the exceptionally light-hearted and charismatic performance of Henry Cavill as Solo, who displayed comedic chops I didn't know the Superman actor had. Not only does he pull off the humor, but he's a credible spy as well, and it's not surprising to hear that he was a front-runner for the role of James Bond before losing the part to Daniel Craig. Opposite him is Armie Hammer as the Russian spy, whose accent is actually pretty good, if not a little over the top at times. Hammer is given the unenviable task of playing the straight man, though he is also given moments to shine with his hilarious outbursts of uncontrollable rage at inconvenient times. Probably the weak link in the cast was Alicia Vikander as the put-upon Gaby, who never really made that much of an impression. A lot of that can be attributed to the way in which the character was written (true to its 1960's roots, the female isn't given a whole lot to do, which is unfortunate), but she seemed a little flat in her performance.

I've heard a lot of complaints about the plot of this movie being unoriginal, and while I can't entirely refute these claims, I would simply argue that the plot is merely a conduit for the exciting action and the entertaining character interaction between the competing spies. Seriously, the chemistry between Cavill and Hammer is terrific, which seems to be a trademark of Guy Ritchie's films (who pulled off a similar feat between Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law in Sherlock Holmes). What I will say for the plot, is that it makes complete sense for the period in which this film is taking place, and it's a big enough threat to justify the uneasy alliance between the CIA and the KGB. By far the most memorable thing about this film, and the reason I left wanting to see a sequel, was the characters of Solo and Kuryakin, and the story was perfectly set up to develop their relationship.

In conclusion, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is an incredibly fun experience, and one that people should definitely take a chance on this summer. You know a movie is good when it sets up for a sequel that you can't wait to see, and hopefully the box-office receipts will convince the studio to go through with it. My wife and I were both laughing throughout the entire movie, and there's rarely a dull moment in the entire 116 minutes. The word I keep coming back to with this movie is entertaining, so if you want to be entertained, go and see this film! I give it a solid three and a half stars.

THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. is rated PG-13 for action violence, some suggestive content, and partial nudity