Lacks substance but makes good-enough use of style and genre cliches for popcorn fun
It has been a year of sequels, spinoffs, remakes and spy flicks. This one's a combination of two -- a film remake of a TV spy-fi series from the 60s. It's apparently very popular back then but the oldest spy TV series I remember watching when I was young was Mission: Impossible. I guess that is a good thing as an audience as I couldn't compare it to the classics. There weren't any reviews until a day before its release, and when they did, they weren't mostly positive. Directed by Guy Ritchie and co-written by co-producer Lionel Wigram, both who did the recent Sherlock Holmes films (2009, 2011), we can expect great style to be delivered, but everything else may a hit-and-miss.
This is like an origin story reboot for the franchise with the main characters meeting and working with each other for the first time in the 60s Cold War period. The current Superman, Henry Cavill (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Man of Steel), plays Napoleon Solo, a skilled and intelligent CIA agent who's a former high art thief. He is paired up with Soviet Russian spy Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) to save the world from another nuclear war. Kuryakin introduced as though he's a villain chasing down Solo at the very beginning of the film, where there's an immediate showcase of witty, non-slapstick action. Unfortunately this opening scene is probably the best action there is in the film.
With the help of new female character Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), the U.N.C.L.E. duo's mission is to find her vanished father who's a scientist that's believe to be developing nuclear warheads for a criminal organisation. Although there are a lot of twists and turns, there's nothing really new for the genre and the concept of forced partnership between the funny one and the serious one is very overused. It was perhaps, however, remarkably purposeful during the post-World War II tension back then for portraying American, Russian and Britain as a heroic team
For such a genre, it is crucially essential for the two protagonists to have comedic chemistry, which is decent between Cavill and Hammer but not as tight as it should've been. This might be due to the rather simple script that crams up everything with high pace instead of proper character development. One might wonder, where's the intelligent dialogues and moments we usually see in Guy Ritchie films? There is hardly any here but thankfully there aren't too many poor moments as well. The role of Solo was originally offered to Tom Cruise but he turned it down for Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation and was replaced by Cavill, which I felt is a mistake in casting for character that needs to be like Tony Stark. Cavill is charming, no doubt, but he's not loose and small enough as an opposite of Kuryakin, which is probably the breakthrough role for Armie Hammie who's an absolute star of the show. Many may only remember the American actor as one of the Winklevoss twins in The Social Network (2010) and forgotten that he's the lead actor in The Lone Ranger (2013), but his performance here as the no-nonsense Russian agent is hilarious and he does the fake accent quite well, I suppose.
Alicia Vikander (Ex-Machina, A Royal Affair) is quite an eye candy but the progress of her character is strangely rushed and forced at times whereas Hugh Grant's important character Alexander Waverly is disappointingly limited. However, even with all the downsides, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. makes good use of some genre cliches, manages to muscle more than a few funny moments and its elegant style along with the music by Daniel Pemberton does help make dull moments slightly more engaging. Lack of substance it may be, but it's a decent old-skool corny kind of fun. It may be highly appealing to do a film adaptation of The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. spinoff, but that would not happen any time soon with Vikander's character now in the mix. When they do, hopefully it won't end up like Charlie's Angles (2000).
What I would've named the film: "Two U.N.C.L.E., an A.U.N.T.I.E. & a G.R.A.N.D.U.N.C.L.E." (acronyms, anyone?)
Malaysia censorship: I did not notice any scenes cut at Warner's press screening but the sound of indicated sex may have been dubbed over.
Second opinion: My girlfriend liked the film as well and went all girly over Henry Cavill but she still prefers Kingsman out of all the spy comedies released this year thus far.
Verdict: It may not be the best of all the spy flicks this year, but it's entertaining enough.
Rating: 3 / 5
Based on: 1964 - 1968 TV series by Sam Rolfe titled "The Man from U.N.C.L.E"
Genre: Spy action comedy
Running Time: 117 minutes
Director: Guy Ritchie
Screenwriters; Guy Ritchie, Lionel Wigram
Cast: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Hugh Grant
Malaysia Release Date: 13 August 2015
Local Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures Malaysia
Production: Ritchie/Wigram Productions, Davis Entertainment
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