A favorite ‘U.N.C.L.E.’ has much to offer
By Bob Bloom
“The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” is a jaunty excursion, a Wayback Machine action feature that looks at the world during simpler times — the Cold War.
The movie, based on the popular 1960s TV series, is directed with wit and verve by Guy Ritchie, who employs the same sensibilities he brought to his reboot of “Sherlock Holmes” to this fun-filled spy vs. spy outing.
As in the TV show, the feature centers on the team of American agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and Soviet agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer). They are bitter rivals forced by their governments to team up to thwart a plan by unrepentant Nazis to unleash a nuclear bomb.
The plot is secondary to the who-they-are-and-how-they-came-to-be partners origin story.
The story, set in 1963, finds Solo trying to extract the daughter (the lovely Alicia Vikander of “Ex Machina”) of a gone-missing nuclear scientist from East Berlin, with Kuryakin failing to stop him.
This incident does not endear the Russian to his new cohort when the two are compelled to combine forces.
The film’s most enjoyable segments involve displaying the contrasts between the two superspies: Solo is more suave, sophisticated and deliberate, while his Soviet counterpart lacks any subtlety whatsoever. Kuryakin is like a bull in a china shop with anger issues.
Their byplay does become a bit repetitious after a certain point even as you realize it is an attempt to establish their characters for future adventures.
Ritchie gives the film a ’60s vibe. He uses multiple-screen shots at times as well as a lively musical score filled with tunes from the era.
Cavill and Hammer both jump wholeheartedly into the spirit of the project, bring a light, tongue-in-cheek approach to the nonaction sequences, while turning deadly serious during the action moments.
Compared to the latest features in the James Bond franchise or the “Mission Impossible” reboots, “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” is rather quaint.
And while the film plays basically as a setup for a franchise series, it is difficult to see how it can be sustained against a 1960s — or even 1970s — backdrop without quickly emitting a been-there-seen-that vibe.
Taken on its own, however, “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” is a nifty end-of-summer soufflé that will keep you entertained with exciting stunt work, beautiful European vistas and sharp one-liners.
Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and The Film Yap (filmyap.com). He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Other reviews by Bloom can be found at Rottentomatoes: www.rottentomatoes.com.
THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.
3 stars out of 4
(PG-13), action violence, partial nudity, sexual situations, language