I always find it helpful to wait a day or two after seeing a film to write about it. It gives me time to digest it in my brain, and my feelings often change. For example, I went to an advanced screening of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. on Monday night, and left thinking it was okay. The crowds at these things are generally enthusiastic–maybe they’re in a good mood because it’s free.
But after chewing on it a while, I realize how misguided and dumb this film is. Directed by Guy Ritchie, and based on a TV series that no one under 50 is probably familiar with, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. attempts to do just what the show did–cash in on the craze for spy films, particularly James Bond and his imitators, like Matt Helm or Flint.
I barely remember the show, which ran from 1964 to 1968, but I remember the ephemera that came from it, like action figures and lunch boxes. In effect, this film is really an adaption of the lunch box.
The gimmick here is that it’s the height of the Cold War, and an American CIA agent, Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and a KGB agent, Ilya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) are forced to team up to stop a billionaire (who has a private island, of course) from making his own nuclear warhead. They enlist a scientist’s daughter (Alicia Vikander) to help them, but she’s got her own secrets. Much of the film is the hostile byplay between the two agents, and a lot of double entendres. It’s an action comedy that is pretty good with action but not so hot with comedy.
The opening sequence, when Cavill gets Vikander out of East Berlin while Hammer is chasing them, was so good that it set me up for disappointment. There’s also a pretty good chase on the winding roads of somewhere in Italy. But too much of the film is just flash–lots of great period frocks for Vikander to wear, and comic moments when the anger-management-challenged Hammer beats the tar out of someone who annoys him.
I admire that Ritchie has set the film in the ’60s instead of updating it, so it looks great. But the script is a mess, not making much sense. The real villain of the piece is the billionaire’s wife, a Lady Macbeth type played with coiled elegance by Elizabeth Debicki. This is a nice twist on the villain thing, but not enough is done with it. I did laugh at sight gag in which she demands the phone after Cavill taunts her.
Hugh Grant is on hand as their boss Waverly, who was played by Leo G. Carroll in the TV series (goodness, can Grant be that old?). He does his Hugh Grant thing, and almost seems like an impersonation of himself. The film ends with a declaration that a sequel is intended, but if there is they’ve got to come up with a better story or it will just be all sizzle and no steak.
My grade for The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: C-.