Directed by Guy Ritchie
Written by Guy Ritchie & Lionel Wigram
“File under: shameless, unimaginative reboot of dormant 60s television show”, and you may be missing the mark with Guy Ritchie’s latest. The notion is tempting, especially given the recent rumblings in pop culture about Hollywood pushing out sequel after reboot after sequel, seemingly devoid of any kind of originality. The argument can be saved for another day, but suffice it to say, yes, there are a lot of sequels and reboots, but I also believe there is plenty of great, original stuff every year too. Of course, as a young man in my 20s, I never saw, or for matter of fact heard of the television show this film is based on, so I will not comment on how it remains faithful to source material or not. But this only serves as evidence that old can become new again to entertain a whole new era of audience.
Set in the 1960s, as should be no surprise, makes this film a period piece as opposed to current affairs, as it must have been in its original format. Perhaps this is surprising, and perhaps this lessens the impact of the film on the viewer, having the luxury to look back on history with no real current threat of truth. However, the CIA Agent, Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill), and KGB Agent, Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer), make for a great mismatched team as they employ the help of German Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander) to help them covertly uncover a plot by a rogue group of ex-Nazi loyalists from obtaining a nuclear bomb and starting World War III. The plot is not the true attraction here. Rather the cast of characters and their ability to illuminate the screen from start to finish seems to set The Man from U.N.C.L.E. apart from other stale reboots.
Following a fairly standard, formulaic spy plot that involves the bad guys pursuing nuclear war against the world, Guy Ritchie puts intrigue to the back burner and instead ramps up the charm and personality of his characters, who very clear carry this picture past anything but standard and deliver a very entertaining ride. Each with their own unique set of traits which set them apart, the characters in this film fit together almost too perfectly to create the type of “spy team” that I could see maintaining a nice little trilogy of films, sending them around the world solving international problems and rescuing the world time and again.
Cavill, for one, plays Solo in such a sly, cocky manner which, when compared to the high strung communist machine of Hammer’s Kurykin, brings a balance to the pair which is not seen in the individual. Alicia Vikander’s star continues to rise, bringing her talents to a character like Gaby who keeps both spies in check on their mission. And even though the evil plot may seem conventional, the baddie is anything but, adding another ingredient to the perfect cast of characters. I think the greatest charm of the film is its ability to be serious, but to certainly never take itself too seriously. Ritchie, as with Sherlock Holmes, has married the concepts of high crime with comedy in a way that makes the thrill of deception and espionage a heightened drama while at the same time maintaining the level of light witticism of a comedy.
For my tastes, there are few genres more intriguing and more likely to please and entertain than the spy comedy adventure, as specific as that may sound (I am a huge James Bond fan afterall). I would be remiss in revealing that I was pleasantly surprised by this film, having little to no expectations going in simply based on my past lack of enthusiasm for Ritchie’s style and penchant for over-stylizing his action and characters. He seems to do more of the same here, but gets the recipe just right, creating balance between the extremes and delivering a highly entertaining film. As I mentioned earlier, spending time with these characters is what makes the film worthwhile, and is also what makes a potential franchise intriguing given the fact the initial installment is somewhat lacking in imaginative plotting.
*** – Very Good