In 1963, after a mysterious criminal organization led by Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki) captures a former Nazi scientist to create and sell a nuclear weapon, American spy Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) must team up with Russian spy Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) to protect the scientist’s daughter, Gaby (Alicia Vikander), and stop the threat of nuclear warfare.
There’s not much for me to say about The Man From U.N.C.L.E. And I think a lot of that has to do with me going into the theater assuming it would be complete horseshit. Turns out, I was wrong. Though this movie isn’t unique enough to stand out among other spy movies, it’s thoroughly enjoyable. It’s your typical Guy Ritchie bang-boom-pow action sequences paired with a James Bond-like game of intrigue and the humor of Ocean’s Eleven. Like I said, not original, but there’s something there giving it the necessary oomph to be “pretty good.”
I think that “oomph” is Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer’s chemistry, which is weird to me because I don’t find either particularly good at acting. Hell, they’re not even household names, and one of them is freaking Superman. But their pairing here is perfect. Cavill gets to be the debonair former thief working for the CIA while Hammer gets to be the stoic KGB agent with a violent temper and heart of gold. It’s the first time I’ve watched either actor and thought, “Huh, I kind of like him.” Though, I’m going to credit Ritchie and the screenwriters for Cavill and Hammer’s sudden introduction to charisma. Clearly, U.N.C.L.E. had a good script that pushed them to have more fun.
Here’s something interesting, too. Cavill (who’s British) plays an American, and Hammer (who’s American) plays a Russian. Do you think this was purposeful casting? At first, I wondered why Ritchie hadn’t cast an American in the American role and a Russian in the Russian role. It would’ve saved time and money with speech coaches and accent work. But after seeing the movie, it seems purposeful.
At their foundations, Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin are stereotypes. Solo’s the smooth-talking, womanizing, overconfident jerk who gets himself into trouble. Kuryakin’s proud, distant, and has almost bionic strength (which Solo jokes about after their first encounter by calling him “it”). Who better to stereotype the smug American than a cousin from across the pond? And who better to stereotype the scary Russian than someone from the country that created the “Red Scare”? It’s kind of hilarious casting when you think about it.
“But what about the women?” you’re wondering. There’s Alicia Vikander’s tiny but tough Gaby and Elizabeth Debicki’s villainous goddess Victoria. I regret to inform you that they are little more than sexual tension props for the male characters and mannequins for fantastic 1960s European fashion (Seriously, the costuming is on point).
Vikander’s Gaby was a bit of a hellion for the two male leads, but her character didn’t grow from the moment we met her to the end of the movie. So, yeah, she’s forgettable (with exception to her dance/fight scene, which I adored). Debicki’s Victoria is dynamic only because Debicki herself is SO tall and has a bone structure that can’t be ignored (which paired nicely with the heavy 1960s makeup). But again, no character growth. She’s like a Bond Girl. We’re told she’s as cunning as she is beautiful, but she rarely gets the chance to truly “scoop” the protagonists because the script does it for her.
Overall, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. isn’t anything special, but it’s a decent spy romp with impeccable costuming and enjoyable action sequences. It even makes Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer look like interesting actors, so, I mean, that right there is worth something.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: B+
For my radio review of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. on “Pat & JT in the Morning,” visit this link (starts around the 26:06 mark)