“The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” Movie Review

    “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”, whose title represents an acronym for United Network Command for Law Enforcement, is a curious exercise in the repetitiveness of today’s spy thrillers and arrives with what appears to be very little originality  to set it apart from the recent “Mission:Impossible” entry, as well as the upcoming new Bond film “Spectre”.  Each of these films follow the exploits of covert agents representing their respective countries as they attempt to take down some mysterious and nefarious world organization who threatens mankind with some sort of nuclear device.  Taking place in the 1960s Cold War era between the United States and Russia, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” attempts to set itself apart from the aforementioned films, which occur in present day, and delivers a highly stylized take on that period in history courtesy of writer/director Guy Richie (“Sherlock Holmes”, “Snatch”).  Where the problem begins to present itself is how worn out this material has really become.  In 2015 alone, films such as “Kingsman: The Secret Service”, “Spy”, and the upcoming “Spectre” join “Mission: Impossible” to create a sort of spy thriller overload in that each of these films follow, or will follow in the case of the Bond film, the same familiar trope over and over again.  This takes away any chance of a real surprise as Richie seems content with merely doing this one by the numbers, relying on his own signature style to carry the film rather than injecting any real substance.

     The film is based on a mid 1960s British television series of the same name which itself was likely created in order to capitalize on the success of the Bond series which set the standard for this sort of fare with 1962’s “Dr. No”.  Richie collaborated on the screenplay with “Sherlock Holmes” scribe Lionel Wigram, but the result brings nothing really new to the table.  In fact, the film is populated with many of the same types of villains and scantily clad women you would expect in your typical Bond film, only there is not one but two protagonists grappling for their share of the spotlight.  Napoleon Solo (played by none other than the Man of Steel himself, Henry Cavill) is an American covert agent ordered to team up with KGB operative Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) to stop a hidden criminal organization that is trying to, you guessed it, possess and ultimately use a nuclear weapon.  To do so, they enlist the help of an auto mechanic, Gaby (Alicia Vikander), whose father may be working with a terror group that intends on creating said nuclear weapon.

     We’re introduced Richie style to the three main characters via a rousing and inventive action chase sequence in which Solo attempts to extract Gaby from East Berlin, as Kuryakin is on both of their tails, wanting Gaby for the same purpose.  This, of course, demonstrates the tensions between the U.S. and Russian governments at the time, as well as the competition between agencies to succeed at their mission before the other can.  Though Solo succeeds this time, imagine his reaction when he finds out his next mission is to team up with Kuryakin to stop a terror group that threatens both countries equally.  This makes for several scenes of rather comical banter between Cavill and Hammer of which they both play off each other with exceptional timing and wit.  If only there was more of this throughout.

     Vikander seemed to be labeled the next big thing after her breakout performance in “Ex Machina” earlier this year.  In “U.N.C.L.E.”, she’s solid, but nothing to be excited about.  Though this could simply be a symptom of her having to play third wheel within a story designed completely around the two male leads.  Perhaps the film would’ve benefitted from a more memorable villain for the trio to deal with, but Richie instead chooses to create one in more of a Bond girl mold with femme fatale character traits.  This results in Elizabeth Debicki’s Victoria character as being nothing more than a cardboard cut out who walks around in high heels and a high society up do while the men in the film, particularly Solo, exhibit the usual and expected physical attraction she is looking for.  And maybe that’s the real problem here.  It seems as though Richie and Wigram struggled a bit in creating the intelligent female characters this story sorely needed.

     With the closing shot clearly insinuating the fact Warner Brothers intends on making “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” a new spy franchise with sequel potential galore, I would definitely hold off a bit and see how this material resonates with the rest of the world.  With all of the choices audiences have with this genre, it’s hard to imagine these characters doing anything more than bringing up the rear behind the likes of Ethan Hunt, James Bond, and even Melissa McCarthy.  The proceedings never really move away from that run of the mill feel and there are large stretches that seem boring and unnecessary.  Both Cavill and Hammer flourish in their roles and there’s no doubt seeing them again in the right story could work since they both possess the kind of charisma and physicality needed to be successful.  Hopefully next time they won’t be telling the same story we have already heard so many times before.  GRADE: C