Director: Guy Ritchie
Starring: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. pairs two actors who starred in two action movies that didn't impress critics. For Henry Cavill, that would be Man of Steel, and for Armie Hammer, The Lone Ranger. Both were entertaining films that audiences enjoyed, judging by composite ratings, but critics found enough fault with each to keep the negative reviews pouring in. As I often do, I found myself in the middle of the debate, not as a mediator, but as someone who enjoyed watching despite their respective flaws. Both were based on classic heroes, both had over-the-top action, and while I didn't jump on board as completely as your average fan, I didn't hold back as much as the majority of critics. My point is, here was a chance for both men to prove that they can do cheesy action well, that they have the talent necessary to amuse audiences while also living up to critical expectation. And while I wouldn't call U.N.C.L.E. a complete flop, neither was it a redemption.
The 1960s was a dangerous & complicated time for the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. After splitting post-WWII Berlin down the middle and taking control of either half, a Cold War would begin between these powerhouse countries, a standoff that neither could afford to lose. But sometimes a greater threat can unite even the most unlikely of allies, and that's exactly how our story begins. American agent Napoleon Solo and Russian agent Illya Kuryakin are both after the same girl, German mechanic Gaby, whose family is waist-deep in ex-Nazi nuclear strategy. To uncover a plot that will threaten the entire globe, Solo & Kuryakin must work together to keep Gaby safe, to aid her in contacting her relatives, and to discover what exactly is planned for the rumored atomic weapon. Both governments have their own interests, both men have their own desires, but when it comes to covert intelligence, there are no two better agents for the job.
I already stated that I enjoyed both Man of Steel and The Lone Ranger, and I should mention that I also like both of these main actors, Cavill & Hammer. I find them both appealing, believable, and naturally talented, so I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, as least to a point. Cavill as Solo was incredibly smooth, so James Bond, quite handsome, debonaire to a fault, cool as a cucumber, but still a bad ass ultra-spy. Hammer was equally capable as Kuryakin, with a nice accent, brooding good looks, depth to his character, brute strength, and a command of each scene he appeared in. The guys worked, as far as that goes, and in that vein they may have changed a few minds among the critics who have come to see them as a crappy Clark Kent and a ridiculous John Reid. If their lines were a touch silly, well, I'm sure watching the 60s TV series now would lead to the same feeling.
But I can't stop there, as much as I'd like to, because there were some major problems with U.N.C.L.E., although most had nothing to do with the two leads. Guy Ritchie's direction of this fast-paced espionage flick was awful, to put it bluntly. He mishandled every action sequence, sped through every motion that we wanted to watch in detail, skipped an entire raid-the-fortress would-be gem, and generally shook the camera at us whenever there was movement. There was hope that directors would learn from Fury Road what today's action audiences want, and M:I5 showed that some were listening, but U.N.C.L.E. was a reversion back to the age-old choppy shoot-em-up montages that so many of us have grown to hate. And I must mention the misadventures of Miss Alicia Vikander. After impressing me with perfection in Ex Machina, she has let me down twice now, in Son of a Gun in a role that didn't suit her and here playing a part with about as much finesse as a rhinoceros. She's Swedish for Pete's sake, not Russian or German, and neither is she a linguistics expert, stop forcing her to fail. So, no, this film is not spectacular, nor is it a complete redemption for two men who might have been looking for it. But they weren't the issue, others were at fault, though the result is the same either way; a good movie that I doubt sticks with many of us, other than those who lived & loved the old program.