TL;DR – While not the best movie I have seen this year, it’s full of charm and a lot of fun, well worth a look
Before I start I should mention I have not seen the source TV show, unlike Get Smart, MASH or Hogan’s Heroes etc. it just did not get a lot of reruns on TV where I live, so I no idea if this is a faithful adaption or not, on a side note can you imagine how bad a remake of MASH would be, so I am just judging on what I saw in the movies.
The basic premise for the film is that the world is in the middle of the Cold War, and Europe is divided between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. However, a new threat is rising (or an old threat is resurfacing, the movie needed to be more clear on this) that has forced the two enemy’s the USA and the USSR to work together. As far as settings go, it’s a pretty good one, it allows you to create tension easily among the characters, but it also allows you to revel in the 1960s and all its charm.
This is a film that if the two leads didn’t work, then the rest of the film would be a total mess. Thankfully this is not the case. Henry Cavill is great as the American agent Napoleon Solo, even if that is a ridiculous name for a character. Napoleon, is a womaniser, a conman and a thief, but at the same time, he has a sense of composure that fits his character well. The real stand out for me is Armie Hammer as the Soviet agent Illya Kuryakin, he has a charm I was not expecting and also a physical presence unmatched by the rest of the cast. He also has an understandable motivation for everything he does. Together both Cavill and Hammer help drive the film and give the movie a lot of its strength. Alicia Vikander works well as Gabby Teller, a mechanic from East Berlin caught up in the villain’s plot, and the rest of the supporting cast works quite well, with special mention to Elizabeth Debicki who give the main villain Victoria Vinciguerra a sense of power and importance.
While the casting is quite good another key aspect of why the film works is the style it uses throughout. The production design is really quite spectacular, they really work hard to recreate 1960s Europe and it is a lot of the small touches that ground the film. There is a really good use of sound, using the lack of music, or the lack of sound effects to give a scene heightened tension. Also, it was nice to see at times the use of zooms and pans (CGI-assisted of course) to help give a sense of geography in the big fight scenes. It today’s tendency to cut to a new shot every second, taking that moment to let you know where everyone is, is kind of refreshing.
While this is a good film there are some things that don’t quite work. Generally, the special effects are quite good but there are a couple of shots that really do look like CGI. The story needed a little work, like a lot of Guy Richie films (see Sherlock Holmes) the story tends to lack a sense of scope which they then try to make up for with character interactions and stylish filmmaking which is good, but it would also be nice to have an in-depth story as well. Also as this is an origins type of film, it does feel like they have held back a bit so as to leave room for a sequel and some of the pacing at the start is a bit off.
Look this is not going to be my favourite film of the year, but the tone is spot on, the characters are compelling, the action is good, and overall it is an enjoyable 2 hours. With this in mind, I recommend The Man from U.N.C.L.E. even if United Network Command for Law and Enforcement is once again a really silly name.
Directed by – Guy Ritchie
Screenplay by – Guy Ritchie & Lionel Wigram
Story By – Jeff Kleeman, David Campbell Wilson, Guy Ritchie & Lionel Wigram
Based on – The Man from U.N.C.L.E. by Sam Rolfe
Starring – Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Jared Harris, Luca Calvani & Hugh Grant
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: PG; Ireland: 12A; NZ: M; UK: 12A; USA: PG-13