There are two scenes in “Man from U.N.C.L.E.” that describe the movie better than words possibly can. But, nevertheless, I am going to detail those two scenes with words right now.
1.) After being thrown from a boat during a high-speed water chase, Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) swims to shore, and instead of figuring out a way to get back into the game, he lounges inside a truck, eats the fancy lunch that attractively sits beside him, turns on the radio and watches the chaos unfold while listening to the radio—all before realizing he actually has to do something and crashes the truck into the enemy boat. 2.) Solo’s partner, Illya Kuryakin, (Armie Hammer) has just saved him from being tortured by an aloof Nazi, the two of them then strapping said Nazi to the chair in hopes of extracting their own info. While outside debating how to go about treating such a terrible person an electrical glitch sets off the machine and we watch the man silently burn to a crisp with immense dead-pan hilarity.
As you can now imagine, “U.N.C.L.E.” works as well as a satire just as much as a homage to the 60’s era of spy flicks that inspired the TV show in the 60’s that has since inspired the movie today. There are guns, gadgets, gals, cars, spies named Napoleon, boat chases, fancy eateries, bomb plots, bright colors, aging-but-yet-too-old Nazis, but all in a movie turned just so slightly askew—usually to comedic effect. Think a PG-13 “Kingsman”, even though that movies R-rated shenanigans has the upper-hand here. Sorry, PG-13.
The same genre-spinning style finds its way into the characters as well—while still evoking a sense of lady-killing Bondness—for the American spy, at least. In that regard we can look to Napoleon Solo who, unlike Bond who commits to his job with an undeniable perfection in all skills like driving or combat, usually finds himself getting beat up or finding his arrogance is actually causing the problems he encounters. Take for instance, after bragging to Illya about his skills while cracking a safe, claims this safe “has no alarm” only to find out it really does, ruining their mission. Cavill (a.k.a He With the Perfect Posture) injects a certain tongue-in-cheek spirit all while looking like a combination of Cary Grant and Tom Cruise, minus all the running that usually accompanies the latter.
And though some people may, with a desire to be the most politically correct person in the room, find fault in Hammer’s casting as a Russian I can think of fewer movie stars audiences actually recognize who fit the bill better. He’s tall, bulky, stern, blonde and looks great with a facial scar. Like all movie Russians he’s intense and tough, but here he’s written with a gooey, buffoonish center that shows itself as he fumbles in sharing his feelings with Gaby (Alicia Vikander), our movies leading lady. Though for some reason scenes with him are almost ruined with overdramatic, over-filmed showcases of his bottled up, Russian anger almost being let loose I still enjoyed watching him use his KGB slapping techniques to knock out the bad guy.
Like director Guy Ritchie’s other blockbusters, the “Sherlock Holmes” series, the movie is about the two of these men go up against massive odds. Except here the two couldn’t dislike each other more and prove a harmonized pair, one being dashing and easy with the ladies (easy being the primary word), the other hard-boiled and slightly awkward. Together they are stubborn and reckless, making for a perfect action-comedy pair simply for the sole purpose of entertainment, like Riggs and Murdock from “Lethal Weapon” , or Holmes and Watson who started it all. They even have their own unique way of banter that involves insulting the other sense of dress and style like, “That tie doesn’t go with those pants.” Before coolly walking out of the room.
However, though the mayhem they cause and the chemistry they exude are the main reasons you should see this film, they do have a story to go about, and in that department you don’t have expect much. One reason is because the story itself isn’t very substantial, and two it doesn’t really matter if it was to begin with. It involves bad people, femme fatales, bombs and everything you’d expect from that combo. This genre thrives on simplicity, acting only to depict handsome people doing bold things and saving the world in the process. Only in the last decade or so have the Bond movies tried to add some depth while the “Mission: Impossible” movies have simple upped the game with massive stunts that prove Tom Cruise is no mortal man. There’s elegance here, and Ritchie and co-writer Lionel Wigram realized that thought the story wasn’t going to be special that everything else could be, masking the “meh” with ten times more “wow”.
The women—Vikander and the statuesque Elizabeth Debicki—are European and sexy, making it all the harder to take your eyes off the screen while proving their metal alongside all the men who usually dominate movies like this. Their smart, seductive, and put the men in place with ease like when the two bicker and Vikander confidently makes them feel like children. You can’t put a price on strong women.
No, there’s no substance to be found, and that may turn off some people who crave complexity with their action-adventures. But like “Indiana Jones” before it “U.N.C.L.E.” works to awaken a sense of nostalgia in those who loved watching old school action with well-dressed men and women, foreign baddies, red-herrings and slick editing. Though I’m not comparing this movie to the greatest action movie of all time, Ritchie proves with skill at bringing out the hilarity in peoples flaws and matching his leads perfectly. Normally I would get insecure watching so many beautiful people in the same frame, but this movie gets a pass.