The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
Lets get this out of the way, I was always a big The Man From U.N.C.L.E. fan. I remember it being on some cable channel when I was a kid in Toronto. They used to show it back to back with Get Smart, which is inspired scheduling. The original stared Robert Vaughn (he was in The Magnificent Seven AND Bullett you know) as C.I.A. agent Napoleon Solo and David McCallum (he was in The Great Escape AND 633 Squadron you know) as K.G.B. agent Iliya Kuryakin, as a mismatched pair of spies fighting the international machinations of T.H.R.U.S.H. The show got more tongue in cheek as the series went on, but for a series that Ian Fleming had a hand in, it had style and was good 1960's excitement. Get Smart came about because of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.'s success and is much funnier. Interestingly, Get Smart ran a series longer than U.N.C.L.E., the show it was spoofing. So, this summer's blockbuster season brings us Guy Ritchie's re-imagining of The Man From U.N.C.L.E..
The plot, well, is rather pointless, as the film is built around the banter between Henry Cavill (otherwise known to you and I as Superman) as Solo and Armie Hammer (unfortunately known to you and I as the Lone Ranger) as Kuryakin. Needless to say, Solo is dispatched by the C.I.A. to grab the daughter of a former Nazi rocket scientist who has developed a simpler, faster method of enriching uranium. Said daughter is played by the truly wonderful and rather underused Alicia Vikander. Forced to team up, they head off to meet up with Daddy, grab the bomb and the enrichment method and save the world. Really, that is about it, which for a movie just shy of two hours, is stretching it a bit. Luckily, the dialogue is snappy and the chemistry between Cavill and Hammer keeps things ticking along nicely. Vikander's Gabby Teller is thrown in a love interest for Kuryakin and there is good playfulness between her and Hammer, but while her part is terribly surface, she does steal the spotlight in key scenes. I could watch her dance in those pyjama's for two hours, you could have kept the rest of the film! That said, the film looks stunning. Cinematographer John Mathieson, who previously shot Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven for Ridley Scott, does a stunning job evoking the 60's look and feel of the film, throwing in some lovely flourishes to keep the action moving forward. The show always had style and the film the same in spades. There is a wonderful scene where Solo and Kuryakin are trying to escape a factory and get stuck in a harbour. Cavill, sat in a truck munching on someone else's lunch, plays it wonderfully as Hammer is chased around in a boat. It is the highlight of the film for me, after all the Vikander scenes of course. Mind you, I did take a big step out of the film when they cut to a "Milanese Race Track" which is filmed at Goodwood. Granted, only a Revival buff would know this, but still, I did giggle.
This is not a film for the thinkers, but as summer popcorn fare, it ticks all the boxes. The film has clearly been designed with a franchise in mind, now that our three leads are firmly introduced. It is solid stuff and I think you could have a lot of fun with the characters, the only issue being that this film is paper thin. Jared Harris and Hugh Grant pop up in "Basil Exposition" mode and don't add much beyond that. But, these moments and complaints are as fleeting as the original series' theme tune on the radio in Solo's truck, it is not about plot, it's about the stars. Going forward, if they work Vikander in better next time, and figure out something interesting for them to chase (yes, I know that Gabby was the MacGuffin, but it needs more than that), they'll have a nice summer franchise on their hands. That is important as we need an antidote to whatever superhero/superheroes are currently destroying a city without thought whatsoever. So, to sum up, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is good popcorn fun, which criminally under uses one of it biggest assets, but sets up an interesting fun series future, box office pending of course.