by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)
After reviewing Mission: Impossible 5 the other week, and being thought of as extremely old by a certain podcast host who invited me to share my memories of the M:I TV show because he’s not old enough to remember it, I promised myself I wouldn’t write my The Man From U.N.C.L.E review with stories of my love of the TV show and watching it on random afternoons with my nan. But seeing as no one else I know seems to have ever heard of the adventures of Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin (a name I will only type once, because boy that squiggly red line is long), I am also around 97% sure that I may have just read a Wikipedia article about the TV show and dreamt about actually watching it.
So I will absolutely not be talking about how U.N.C.L.E ran for four years in the mid-sixties, slowly going from mostly serious espionage to slapstick parody. I won’t be able to tell you that it starred Robert Vaughn; a lot of people know him nowadays from BBC’s Hustle and David McCallum; who, apart from other sixties TV shows, I only know him from The Great Escape (apparently, he’s in NCIS, but as we’ve established, I’m not actually THAT old!) and I certainly have no idea about the show and how it turned the world’s Cold War fears on its head by teaming up a Russian and an American agent working for a spy organisation run by a British intelligence officer who, between them, would rescue innocent people caught in the crossfire and save us all when the bad guys tried to take over the world.
Another in a long line of old TV and film favourites being remade for modern audiences, Guy Ritchie’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E sees Man of Steel‘s Henry Cavill and The Lone Ranger’s Armie Hammer buddying up as the unwitting multi-national spy super team; put together mere hours after they’ve been at each other’s throats in 1960’s Berlin trying to extract a valuable asset in the worlds continuing nuclear arms race. Cavill’s Napoleon Solo, a suave ex-con recruited into the CIA because of his extraordinary skills as a professional thief, has found himself on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall on a mission to get Gaby Teller (the always brilliant Alicia Vikander) the daughter of an important nuclear scientist out of Germany and back to his superiors where she can help locate her missing father. At the same time, the pair are being chased by Hammer’s almost super-human Russian agent, Illya Kuryakin (ok, I’ll type it twice, but that’s it) a man on the exact same mission, but has been briefed on Solo’s background and given orders to kill him if necessary. Escaping by the skin of his teeth, Solo leaves the Russian embarrassed and unsuccessful in his mission and goes on about his evening of being suave, sophisticated and charming.
Now teamed up, the spy’s must use every means at their disposal, including Gaby Teller, to stop an impending nuclear disaster, dismantle a shady criminal organisation and, if at all possible, not kill each other in the process.
In true 1960’s TV and film fashion (or so I’ve heard, I’m not very old after all, practically a foetus), the pair and their ward trot about Europe undercover in an attempt to get to the bottom of a mystery that could easily bring about the end of the world. Chasing terrorists and crazy German doctors alike, the pair find themselves woven into a web of cold-war conspiracies and half-truths as they galavant around the most fashionable time in our recent history to bring justice to he world. Constantly trying to one-up each other, working together while trying very hard to work separately in the most mismatched buddy cop movie you’ll see this year, the reluctant partners edge closer to the mysterious organisation, their polar opposite skill-sets begin to compliment each other and what started as a forced partnership slowly develops into the perfect crime fighting duo.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E does a splendid job playing to its weaknesses. It was always considered a bit of a James Bond rip-off (fun fact: Bond creator Ian Fleming was involved in the creation of U.N.C.L.E) and Ritchie takes that feeling and runs with it. Unlike films of its ilk like Mission: Impossible or The Saint, we are not treated to a modernisation of the U.N.C.L.E story. Instead, the filmmakers decided to keep it the film rooted in the show’s 1960’s heritage and that not only separates it from the rest of the films of this particular variety, but fits perfectly into the film making style of its director. Anyone that’s seen Ritchie’s early work, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels or Snatch, will easily recognise the same film style in U.N.C.L.E all these years later.
The bright colours and high class fashion of the idolised 1960’s is on full display here; with Guy Ritchie and his production crew’s attention to detail working wonders in transporting us back fifty years and allowing us to bask in the light of the film’s transcontinental setting. Invoking everything from early TV spy shows like the movie’s inspiration to the Moore and Connery Bonds that we all know and love, Man From U.N.C.L.E is a splendid two hour romp through the espionage thrillers of the past, seen through Guy Ritchie’s Instagram filter directing style and our own rose-tinted memories of the sixties.
I’ve read reviews since I left the cinema that slate U.N.C.L.E for its lack of star power and direction. I don’t think I could disagree more. Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer may not be the world’s biggest stars or the kind of names you can put on a poster to guarantee box office numbers, but they do a brilliant job of bringing Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin (DAMMIT!) to the big screen and while their star power may not be that of Tom Cruise or George Clooney, one could very easily argue that neither was Daniel Craig before he was bond, but look at him now. Cavill’s suave and slick American thief is the perfect partner for Hammer’s hard-as-nails Russian sledgehammer and together the pair form a formidable team in the struggle to keep the world safe.
Don’t let the naysayers put you off. The Man From U.N.C.L.E is a great way to spend a couple of hours. It’s brilliant fun, it’s the most un-blockbuster-y blockbuster we’ll see this summer and I would gladly go and watch it again tomorrow if I didn’t have such a busy schedule of afternoon naps and filling my cardigan pockets with Werther’s Originals to tackle.