August 13. 2015
2015 has been a great year for espionage films. From the beginning of the year, there was "Kingsmen: Secret Service". Just this past summer, there was "Spy" followed by "Mission:Impossible - Rogue Nation." All of these were very successful, both commercially and critically. And now, another spy film is gunning to join that illustrious list.
'The Man from U.N.C.L.E." was originally a TV series from the mid-1960s developed by Sam Rolfe. It starred Robert Vaughn (as American agent Napoleon Solo) and David McCallum (as Russian agent Illya Kuryakin). U.N.C.L.E. was an acronym for the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, a secret international counter-espionage organization, aiming to maintain worldwide political and legal order. This series lasted for four years from 1964 to 68, becoming a cultural icon of sorts at that time with its audacious theme of US-Russian cooperation at the height of the Cold War.
This reboot of "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." for the modern generation retained the Cold War setting. American agent Napoleon Solo and Russian agent Illya Kuryakin are forced to work together to prevent the nefarious plans of glamorous but ruthless arms dealer Victoria Vinciguerra. They connect with Gaby Teller, the daughter of a kidnapped German nuclear scientist, as a means of getting closer on Victoria's tail. But it would appear that Gaby also is not all she seemed to be, or is she?
Henry Cavill carries the film as Napoleon Solo. With his elegant chiseled looks, Cavill credibly portrayed the cool and capable spy Solo, as much as he was able to credibly portray Superman last year. He also succeeded in pulling off the smart-alecky personality of Solo, a man with a bristling sense of humor -- something we would not have expected from his deadly serious Superman performance. Henry Cavill was suave personified here. Considering George Clooney and Tom Cruise were the first choices for the role of Solo, I'd say Cavill did not do badly at all in this lead role.
Armie Hammer is quite a handsome actor himself, but he could not really lift his career off the ground after his breakthrough role as the Winklevoss twins in "The Social Network." Forgettable films like "Mirror Mirror" and worse "The Lone Ranger" did not do his career any favors. Here in U.N.C.L.E., Hammer was able to hold his own against the charismatic Cavill in the charm and action fronts. However, since he is basically the straight man here as the "aloof and serious" Russian stereotype, he often found himself behind Cavill's shadow.
I have been looking forward for the next big project of Swedish actress Alicia Vikander since I first saw her in "A Royal Affair" three years ago. Her Hollywood career is picking up with her turn as the enigmatic automaton Ava in the acclaimed "Ex-Machina" released just earlier this year. Now with her role as the mysterious Gaby Teller, she finally gets her biggest break. It is just too bad that she did not get as many slambang action scenes like that other Swedish babe, Rebecca Ferguson, did in "M:I Rogue Nation."
Elizabeth Debicki makes a good impression as the main villain Victoria, with her towering beehive, striking haute couture and naked ambition. Luca Calvani also registered well onscreen as Victoria's husband, the debonair playboy Alexander. It was also great to see Hugh Grant again, playing British agent Waverley. I am thinking that if a franchise was ever made out of this film, we would see more of Grant since this character Waverly was the officer in charge of Solo and Kuryakin in the TV series.
Compared to "Kingsman", the technical hardware we see in "U.N.C.L.E." would be described as less spectacular. Compared to "Spy", the wit we see in "U.N.C.L.E." would be described as less riotous. Compared to "M:I Rogue Nation", the stunts we see in "U.N.C.L.E." would be described as less breathtaking. However judged on its own, this film version of "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." as directed and co-written by Guy Ritchie is not at all bad. The 60s-inspired production design, hair and costumes were so fab. (Those huge yellow subtitles can be distracting and hard to read though.) Despite having tentative pacing in some scenes, it was still fun and entertaining to watch overall.
But do I dare say it, after Superhero fatigue, could it be that there may also be Spy fatigue setting in? But no, there is still the new James Bond film "Spectre" coming this November, and I doubt if anyone will be giving that a miss. 7/10.