In the year 2015 there are five blockbuster spy films vying for the box office zeroes, including such well-established franchises as 007 and Mission Impossible. However, among the Kingsmen and secret services, The Man from U.N.C.L.E takes the cake as the worst titled out of all of them. Perhaps with a better name and more marketing, Guy Ritchie’s new flick could get the numbers it deserves. Yet overall, it stands as a perfectly enjoyable (and soon-to-be obscure) espionage romp.
The hook is a familiar yet entertaining one taken from the TV series of the same name: the CIA’s best agent (a past crook) must align himself with the KGB’s finest (a soldier of noble Russian lineage) to defeat their common foe, the Italian Fascists. Buttered over a Cold War spread, the tale is stuffed with Chekov Guns, twists, turns, and that Ritchie touch of suave. The aesthetic almost spells out the director’s name, with a meticulous detail to fashion and music; not to mention cinetography constructed as a moving Piet Mondrian painting.
And none come so smooth as Henry Cavill playing Napoleon Solo, the American fill-in Bond of this film who personifies the chic style that Ritchie drives for. As for Hammer’s turn as Communist foil Kuryakin, this marks a comeback role for the fine actor after his stumble in the Wild West with The Lone Ranger. Composed of snark, muscle and tragedy, Armie’s character provides a heart for the team. The chemistry between all three leads – including Alicia Vickander’s feisty attitude with a few tricks up her own sleeve – is the selling point of this film. Hugh Grant’s brevity of screen time is also made up for the charisma he pulls off as he eventually emerges as a big player in this world of cat and mouse. Elizabeth Debicki is deliciously spidery as the big bad of the film too, but is unable to make up for her small presence on screen the same way Grant does unfortunately.
It’s a shame then, that this slew of scoundrels and spies build up to a monumental fizzle. The final act, a grand invasion of the enemy base complete with car chases, never ignites the adrenaline in the blood, nor does it really grab our interest. The stakes may be high, but the audience’s interest is not so much. [SPOILERS] But as we reach the end, when we finally get Hammer, Cavill, Vickander and Grant assembled like a Cold War Avengers, the film abruptly finishes with the vague tease of a sequel that we will probably never see. This proves the great undermining of the film, as the asset of the adventure, the ‘team’, never get their chance to show off when finally together.
Oh well, one can hope for Ritchie to get a sequel for this in the future. In a year full of spies, Ritchie’s take on the genre feels different and deserving enough for a sequel, but I suspect that not all the Ritchie snazziness will get it noticed. For a one time affair though, The Man from U.N.C.L.E earns its licence to thrill.
Directed by Guy Ritchie
Written by Lionel Wigram
Starring: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vickander, Elizabeth Debicki, Hugh Grant
Run Time: 116 mins