Or more like The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Begins. Despite the film’s name, this Guy Ritchie adaptation of a fondly remembered 1960s television series is little more than a set up for American smooth talker Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill taking on Robert Vaughn’s role) and Russian Ilya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer in the David McCallum role) to join forces and stop a threat far bigger than the one their respective countries presented to one another during the Cold War.
The characters are presented as intriguingly flawed from the off. Solo, for having gambling and womanising issues is press-ganged into serving his country rather than going to prison, while Kuryakin has anger issues that stem from his upbringing.
The decision to make this a period piece is one that works in its favour. Ignoring the very obvious parallels between the Cold War and the character’s relationship, it also represents a time of deep uncertainty that plays into both the after effects of World War 2 but also the threat of nuclear armageddon. It also rather cannily sets it apart, visually at least, from the glut of modern day action films that were released in 2015. It’s for the best as other than its visual style there isn’t much to the story that hasn’t been done better elsewhere.
Alicia Vikander is Gaby Teller, the female foil in all of this, who thankfully is never once presented as a weak character who needs the men to save her. While both Solo and Kuryakin give this a good go (it was the 1960s after all), she is still somebody who remains entirely independent and capable.
Ritchie’s direction is solid, coming from the same school as his Sherlock Holmes movies. For all the issues that some people had with those films, I loved their style and approach to the material. That applies here, too. I used to watch the original Man from UNCLE television series when I was younger(on repeat, of course – I wasn’t around in the 1960s), so I have a small amount of fondness towards the source material.
I can’t say that this big screen version ruined any of it for me. At it’s core it’s just a standard spy caper, filled with exotic locations, engaging action sequences and, admittedly, a somewhat poor villain. Elizabeth Debicki is good value as the seductress Victoria,
While I can’t fault The Man From Uncle on a technical or performance level, there is something about it that doesn’t quite gel. Some of the plot developments are a little obtuse and not explained clearly. Elsewhere character motives are a little unclear but this isn’t enough to stop you enjoying the action.
In fairness, much of the appeal lies in how Solo, Kuryakin and Gaby interact with one another. They’re a fun bunch to be around and the spy caper just adds to this.
Much like the Roger Moore era of James Bond, this is a spy film where you don’t have to engage your brain too much to enjoy it. If further sequels should appear, they would be welcome for the Solo/Kuryakin banter alone.