By Travis Wood
The Cold War, espionage and the threat of a nuclear disaster, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” has all the trimmings of a classic, post-World War II spy film, but told with a slick, modern style.
“The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” is adapted from the 1964 television series of the same name. CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) travels to East Berlin to extract Gabby Teller (Alicia Vikander). Teller holds the key to finding her father, a former Nazi scientist, who is constructing a nuclear bomb against his will. However KGB agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) is also after Teller, and does not take kindly to Solo’s presence. After spending the first 10 minutes of the movie trying to kill each other, Solo and Kuryakin must work together at the behest of their governments, find Teller’s father and put a stop to his captors’ evil scheme.
Cavill and Hammer work well off of each other and create extremely likeable “frenemies”. Solo is a stereotypical, suave, womanizing spy who usually opts for the more refined approach. Meanwhile, Kuryakin is a brutish (sometimes childish) spy with rage issues, but still serves as a charming counterbalance. While there is plenty of potential for Solo to be the brains and Kuryakin to be the brawn, both have their own shining moments and missteps, making them feel more like equals. One standout scene has the two arguing over the finer points of fashion in picking out a dress for one of Teller’s disguises.
Teller is a character specifically created for the movie to be the third part of the team, the television show focused on Solo and Kuryakin as a duo. While her inclusion was welcome, her character sometimes felt bland. Vikander did not give a bad performance, her character just simply felt like a plot device to keep things moving, and she served as a damsel in distress in one of the film’s biggest action scenes.
Unfortunately the main villain of the film, Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki), was also very bland. She had no development or motivation behind her evil plot to build a bomb, she just felt evil for the sake of being evil. Again, Debicki’s performance was well done, but it did not stop her character from being forgettable.
Overall, the film hits many classic story beats when you think of classic spy flicks, but its charming leads distract from its fairly standard plot. Despite the retread of such storylines, director Guy Ritchie (Sherlock Holmes) injects a retro/modern vibe that makes the film compelling enough to interest the viewer. However some of the more stylized parts of the movie, such as split-screen montages, felt more distracting than they did innovative.
While the film has all the qualities of being something special, it does not quite live up to its potential. It is worth a watch, but you should probably wait to rent it on DVD or Blu Ray.
“The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” is now playing in standard and IMAX theaters. The film is rated PG-13 and runs for 116 minutes.