THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten for Shockya. Databased on Rotten Tomatoes.
Director: Guy Ritchie
Screenwriter: Guy Ritchie, Lionel Wigram, story by Jeff Kleeman, David Campbell Wilson, Guy Ritchie, Lionel Wigram based on the television series “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”
Cast: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander
Screened at: Warner Bros., NYC, 8/5/15
Opens: August 14, 2015
Chances are that most people who will attend “The Man from “U.N.C.L.E” will not be familiar with the TV series that ran from 1964 to 1968, and given the way college students today are all majoring in computer science and business, they will not be conversant with the politics of World War II. In that latter category, suffice it to say that nobody still thought that this was the war to end all wars, particularly since victory in Europe and in the Far East simply segued into the Cold War as two allies, the U.S. and the Soviet Union, broke apart, competing for superiority on the athletic field and, grievously, in tense propaganda battles.
In the former category, 105 episodes were screened on TV from ’64 to ’68 with contributions from Ian Fleming (author of the James Bond series), showing the battle between U.N.C.L.E. and T.H.R.U.S.H., the latter aiming to conquer the world and setup a two-party system—the masters and the slaves.
That James Bond’ish concept is obvious in Guy Ritchie’s movie, the director known for two Sherlock Holmes movies and the more eccentric “Lock, Stock and Barrel,” which is about a collision among assorted thugs.
“The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” is largely a three-hander featuring Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo, Armie Hammer as Ilya Kuryakin,” and Alicia Vikander as Gaby Teller. The concept is promising enough, particularly given the theory that spies from both sides often know one another and may even work together. Though the Soviet Union and the U.S. had become mortal enemies by the 1960’s, the two adversaries are ordered to work together to prevent an international criminal organization centered in East Berlin from acquiring the knowledge to make an atomic bomb, which they expect to sell to any country with the money and thereby increase world tension. (If you’re drawing a parallel with today’s headlines, with Iran’s struggle to make nuclear weapons while the West acts to checkmate the intention, you’re on the money.)
Thus, though Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and Ilya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) open the movie with a high-speed chase and a fist-fight to the death, they are ordered to cease the violence and work together at least until the nuclear bomb is taken from evil hands and perhaps destroyed. Of course romance is a strong part of the action, namely Gaby Teller’s (Alicia Vikander) smooching with Kuryakin, but she is being used for more political purposes such as discovering the whereabouts of the scientist who developed the bomb, Gaby’s estranged father.
Ritchie, who co-wrote the script while serving as director, alternates violent action (including a torture scene involving the delivery of severe electric shocks to a principal performer) with fairly inane dialogue. Though Henry Cavill appears to be designed as early James Bond, particularly Sean Connery given Cavill’s ultra-cool composure and perfect American intonation, he comes across as a fancy clothing model rather than as someone with a genuine personality. In that respect, Armie Hammer fares better as the less cool KGB agent, which may have been responsible for Gaby Teller’s warming up to him rather than to Cavill.
Given mostly humorless interchanges among the threesome, a set of standard action sequences (filmed largely at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, England, Royal Victoria Docks, London, and Goodwood Motor Racing Circuit in West Sussex, UK), watching “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” is a fairly ho-hum experience, though one which is set up for the inevitable sequel.
Rated PG-13. 116 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – C
Acting – C+
Technical – B-
Overall – C+