When news first came through that director Guy Ritchie was making a reboot of a long defunct spy show from the 60s that few people this side of 40 had even heard of, it was met with more than a few raised eyebrows from the film going public.
So, now that the The Man from U.N.C.L.E. has revealed itself, we ask the question, is it any good?
As the trailers suggested, this is a film bursting with energy and oozing in style, with the look of an early James Bond film, and a soundtrack that conjures memories of the Ocean’s Eleven series, it feels like the perfect fit for Guy Ritchie’s cheeky sensibilities. The story picks up in cold war era Berlin during 1963, where we first meet Agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill), an American spy who has been sent to extract the daughter of a missing German Scientist, Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander). The mission goes a bit pear shaped when Solo comes up against rival KGB agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer), who it turns out has the exact same agenda as our CIA agent, and will stop at nothing to acquire his target. Although Solo manages to escape with his precious cargo intact, we soon learn that Gaby’s missing father is in fact building a nuclear bomb for a mysterious criminal organization, and the only way to infiltrate said organization, is for the CIA and KGB to pool their resources to infiltrate a common threat, meaning Solo and Illya must team up and learn to play nice in order to prevent global nuclear annihilation.
What follows is an undercover mission to Italy where Illya poses as Gaby’s fiancé, and the two agents reluctantly go about probing the inner circle of their enemy, all the while being kept on their toes by the feisty woman whose safety they’ve been charged with.
It’s a premise that never takes itself too seriously, and from the outset you can’t help but be swept up in this 60s cold war era spy-lark. The cast are uniformly excellent and all seem to revel in the silliness of it all, especially Armie Hammer who must be thankful this hasn’t turned out to be another Lone Ranger. Henry Cavill fills the role of suave super agent with ease and looks just as good in a 3 piece suit as he does in a certain other blue and red costume. Alicia Vikander also impresses as the sassy Gaby, further proving her range after strong turns in this year’s Ex Machina and Temptation of Youth.
The real star of the show however, is Guy Ritchie, whose confidence as a director has come a long way since the rough and tumble days of Lock Stock and Snatch. Just like Matthew Vaughn before him with Kingsman, it’s clear that Ritchie is a huge fan of the spy genre, and he nails the look and feel of the time period. It’s easily the best looking film the British director has made. And in a year thats seen its fair share of bumper action, he handles the set pieces with an altogether different approach. Every major sequence seems to subvert your expectations in some way, just when you think you know where it’s going. Whether its cutting away from the action, or using a split screen effect as the basis for a killer action montage, it’s a fresh approach that never feels predictable. Disappointingly however, the film does fall victim to shaky cam syndrome during it’s closing moments, and although it never reaches Jason-Bourne levels of queasiness, it feels out of place with the rest of the film’s traditional compositions.
It’s been a strong year for spy films in general, with Kingsman, Rogue Nation and now this bringing something new to the table. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. isn’t going to change your life, this is popcorn cinema that does exactly what it says on the box. Funnily enough, it’s the kind of movie best enjoyed with your dad, who despite probably having seen the original television show, will also get a kick out of the fun, breezy nature in which the story is told. It’s a quality he’ll recognise from the films he grew up with, and something you’ll find refreshing in an age of dark, gritty box office fare. It’ll make you pine for the days when 007 cracked a smile every once in a while.