The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Review
"It's official: spy movies are allowed to be fun again"
There was a time in the wake of The Bourne Identity
and Austin Powers
when spy movies were afraid to be fun. Spies had to be gritty, stern and embroiled with shaky cam-laden fight scenes with no hint of a smile. But now, with Guy Richie's The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,
coming out in the wake of Kingsman: The Secret Service
, it seems like spy movies are allowed to have levity once more. Perhaps it's no coincidence that Kingsman
's director, Matthew Vaughn also produced Richie's formative films Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels
And fun is what The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
is, through and through. The movie never takes itself seriously, but avoids crossing over into the territory of parody or full-blown comedy. It's just here to have fun, cheeky adventure. And when one of your main characters is named Napoleon Solo, the option of taking everything seriously goes right out the window.
The film stars Henry Cavill (Man of Steel
as the aforementioned Napoleon Solo, a top American spy during the Cold War. After an adventure in East Berlin, he is ordered to team up with the KGB's top agent, Illya Kuryakin, played by Armie Hammer (The Lone Ranger
, The Social Network
), in order to stop a Nazi plot involving nuclear bombs. They begrudgingly join forces, along with a German mechanic with important familial ties (Ex Machina
's Alicia Vikander) to the Nazi organization.
The dynamic between Cavill and Hammer is wonderful. As agents of enemy states who actually first met while in conflict with each other, the two are bitter allies. Even their methodologies conflict with each other. Solo prefers to be sly and cunning while Ilya's anger issues and formidable combat prowess causes him to prefer to work more like, well, a hammer. Cavill is charming as Solo, showing us the old-fashioned, all-American hero that should have been showcased in Man of Steel
. Hammer has plenty of charm as well, but he gets to play it more in a rough-and-tumble, perpetually grumpy way. Vikander is a nice wild card in the mix, the non-spy coming along with them, although she's often more professional than her cohorts.
The movie does not actually have that many all-out fight scenes, instead choosing to focus on the characters' cleverness and problem-solving in many situations, instead of their fists. This is extremely refreshing, and much more engaging than watching guys duke it out. Many times the film lets you get into its characters' heads as they observe and piece things together, bringing you along for the ride; although sometimes it goes a little too far in explaining things, flashing back to show us things we have already figured out.
The fight scenes that we do get are good as well, bringing along much of the film's cleverness to keep them from being stale. Unfortunately, these scenes are cut with far too many obscuring close-ups which are so common nowadays, keeping the audience from getting a good look at what's happening at times. Fortunately, outside of the fights the cinematography is quite excellent, keeping things crisp, clean and exciting, while participating in much of the spy work as well as the comedy. It also contains one of my favorite "GoPro POV
" shots I have seen to date.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
is a fun, innovative spy film that is a breath of fresh air in a genre that has been stagnating, and a pleasant return to form for Guy Richie, who stepped out of his box a bit with his Sherlock Holmes