Sandy Roffey gives the straight,spoiler-free dope in her review of “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”
If you go into The Man From U.N.C.L.E. looking to see the charismatic duo of Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin waging war on the evil group T.H.R.U.S.H., set against the mundane background of suburban life in the U.S., you’ll be disappointed. Unlike in the series in the sixties, the movie doesn’t begin with the already-paired spies working for the United Network Command for Law Enforcement, but rather plays like a prequel.
We begin with a cool, collected Henry Cavill as CIA agent Napoleon Solo, attempting a rescue of Gaby Teller, daughter of a missing German scientist and excellently portrayed by Alicia Vikander, from Berlin. The movie is set in the sixties, and that’s conveyed by the scenery, the plot devices, the film direction, and the script. It has the feel of a lower-budget James Bond, which isn’t that surprising considering that the character Napoleon Solo was created by Ian Fleming.
Agent Solo and Ms. Teller get chased through the streets and homes of Berlin by a brute of a man who turns out to be KGB Agent Illya Kuryakin, the son of a dis-honored father who had been sent to Siberia when Illya was young. This back-story is used as a catalyst for many of Illya’s actions and reactions, but it feels fairly unnecessary. Of course, and somewhat predictably, the two end up having to work together despite their hostility to find Gaby’s father. Armand Douglas Hammer does a fine job of playing his character’s stiffer personality off of Cavill’s smoother, more laid-back Solo, though not quite with the appeal of David McCallum’s enigmatic version of Kuryakin. To be fair, Hammer’s performance fits the script; but because the script gives much more background data about the giant than the series ever did, it suffers slightly for it. The enigmatic Russian becomes the surly giant who struggles to control his inner anger.
With the exception of one small twist about three quarters of the way through, it was a pretty predictable story–especially if you’ve seen the television series. That one twist made it a better movie, though, and the possibility of more twists kept my attention towards the end. There were a few parts of the movie that called back to the original series through art direction, playful misdirection, and cut scenes, and those I enjoyed with nostalgic glee.
Despite the predictability and over-characterization, the movie was enjoyable. Cavill and Hammer played the dynamic pretty convincingly, one-upping one another through a good portion of the movie, and again playing on that sixties rivalry between the United States and the USSR. Cavill played the womanizing ex-thief-turned CIA agent version of the character convincingly, though I confess I kept expecting him to exhibit some Superman-like intensity (you’ll always be Superman to me, Cavill.) And while I felt like the tension between Kuryakin and Teller was a little too easy and pat, it was still pretty convincing. Hugh Grant’s portrayal of Alexander Waverly is amusing if brief, and Elizabeth Debicki’s Victoria Vinciguerra is reminiscent of the femme fatales of the sixties, but with a stronger persona that is not dependent on her male counterparts for existence.
Like any origin story, it sets up all of the pieces for the next chapter, and as much as I felt this movie was “good” rather than “really good” or “great”, I really want to see the next chapter. If the story in the series is the main course, then this was the appetizer, and while it was yummy, it wasn’t completely filling. I hope that Cavill, Hammer, and the rest of the U.N.C.L.E. crew get to bring us the main course, because that is a movie I would pay to see.
all art~ Warner Bros. Pictures