I feel fairly safe in saying that Guy Ritchie’s latest offering provides the viewer with style over substance. Much like the director’s previous Sherlock Holmes installments, The Man from U.N.C.L.E (an abbreviation which isn’t explained until the closing credits, and one I certainly can’t remember) is an absolute treat to look at, and delivers a nicely palatable mixture of laughs and action, yet lacks the characterisation and/or killer plot that would make it a truly great movie.
In The Man from U.N.C.L.E (nope, still can’t remember what it stands for) Ritchie takes us back to the early 60’s and that jolly merry-go-round of international relations which your parents might remember as the Cold War, in which professional thief turned ultra-smooth CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) must ply his trade. Cavill, when he’s not saving the world as Superman, unsurprisingly scrubs up well, conducting most of his intelligence work in a full suit, along with a stonking American accent to boot. Pretty soon, deep in the foggy side-alleys of Berlin, we meet his opposing number Illya Kuryakin, a Russian agent played very well by a surly, perpetually scowling Armie Hammer. Soon one of a large selection chase scenes is in full motion, as Solo extracts the daughter of an alleged Nazi turned US scientist from hostile territory, escaping the cyborg-like Kuryakin (Hammer no doubt channelling his inner Schwarzenegger) in the process. From thereon in we follow a perhaps slightly overcomplicated plot concerning a secret society intent on building and detonating nuclear weapons, which calls for our American and Russian agents to team up and be flung around a series of cool locations in the aim of stopping them, leading to a conflict of personality and nationality inherent in the reluctant teamwork of Solo and Kuryakin, America and Russia, that probably could have been better utilised for comedy purposes, what with the smooth talking, womanizing nature of Solo clashing with that of the awkward, oft violently sociopathic Kuryakin. But it works well nonetheless. Ritchie certainly proves he has a knack for depicting quirky protagonist duos here.
Yet without a doubt the roaring success of this film is the visuals, the 60’s style, class and pizzazz, brought wonderfully to life in a wildly colourful explosion of snappy clothing, awesome cars and lavishly decorated sets. It makes the film, which can be slow and confusing in places, consistently watchable, just for the spectacle if nothing else. U.N.C.L.E (still not sure) absolutely nails the retro, nostalgic feel with the brash confidence so characteristic of the era itself. Cold War espionage never looked so good.
The action isn’t bad either. Some of the sequences are, to Ritchie’s credit, pretty creatively shot. One scene in particular where Solo escapes a water-chase into the front a truck on the dock, and proceeds to watch as comrade Kuryakin’s boat is pursed by baddies and explosions, helping himself to jam, bread and classical music, was immensely satisfying and worked perfectly. For the most part Ritchie implements enough breaks of pace in the action (look to Mad Max: Fury Road for a recent masterclass in this) to make it intriguing. This combines with the top-notch visuals more than compensates for the fairly uninspiring, run-of-the-mill storyline.
As an entertaining summer blockbuster, you can’t go wrong here. The fact that it’s a reboot of a 60’s TV show too, thus widening its appeal, could prove a shrewd business move as far as audience figures are concerned. It also provides a refreshing departure from Marvel’s cinematic onslaught, which, although I do enjoy Marvel a great deal, can be a bit much at times, setting itself up well for a sequel at the end which may or may not happen.
So if you’re up for a visual spectacular, with a perfectly cast Cavill and Hammer paired with enough grit and glitz to cover up the bog-standard plot and dialogue, look no further than the Man from U.N.C.L.E, and see if you can spot David Beckham in the mix whilst you’re at it (yep, he’s there somewhere).