When I was a kid, I loved "The Man From U.N.C.L. E." on TV. Napoleon Solo was played by Robert Vaughn and Illya Kuryakin was played by David McCallum --- both dreamy --- and cool. Now we have Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer thrust into those roles, respectively, and they're not bad, either.
It is 1963 and Solo's assignment is to get Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), the daughter of former Nazi rocket scientist, Dr. Udo Teller (Christian Berkel), out of East Berlin. Solo's arch nemesis, Kuryakin, is after the same prize, sending cars and bullets flying in a tense nighttime chase through the streets of Berlin.
The back story on these two provides some clues as to their demeanor. Solo is only a CIA agent because it was either choose service to his country or go to prison for theft. Kuryakin is all KGB, all the time. His father was a career KGB agent, but some nefarious act had him relegated to a stalag in Siberia. And now they learn they must work together to protect Gaby from a ruthless group of Italians who have her father prisoner, and a nuclear bomb.
David wasn't impressed, but I think "The Man From U.N.C.L. E." is great fun. Director Guy Ritchie, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Lionel Wigram, has a distinct flare for this particular kind of filmmaking. Granted, it's not "Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation", but the movie is set in 1963, so the technology isn't there yet.
But it is entertaining to sort of reminisce about days past. When the series was on TV, the Bond-like gadgets were hip and new. Now, everyone in the theater chuckles at the backwardness of their tools. One scene has Solo cutting a steel fence with a laser-edged clipper, while Kuryakin is right next to him using the actual laser. These are the moments that seal the relationship between the two.
Cavill, who was Superman in "Ma of Steel", is wildly handsome. He's a terrific choice for Solo, who is labeled on his CIA cheat sheet at the end of the film as a womanizer. Ya think? He also has a classic, easy way of acting which reminds me a tad of Cary Grant.
David still hasn't gotten over Hammer in "The Lone Ranger", so he's biased, but I like him opposite Cavill. Kuryakin takes himself very seriously, and Hammer conveys his rigidity well, along with his very short fuse.
Vikander is absolutely, perfectly delightful. She's exactly the right actress to pull off this role --- and she looks marvelous in the fabulous 60's fashions. One scene has Gaby a little tipsy after downing a bottle of vodka in her shared hotel room with Kuryakin (they're supposed to be engaged), and dancing around in her underwear, nightshirt and sunglasses a la Tom Cruise in "Risky Business".
Ritchie assembled quite a crew for this production, and it shows. Costume designer Joanna Johnston and director of photography John Mathieson are both past Oscar nominees, and their work here is impressive. I also loved the soundtrack and original music by composer Daniel Pemberton, which added a great deal to the appreciation of the experience.
Don't pay any attention to David. "The Man From U.N.C.L. E." is totally enjoyable for everyone.
Opinion: See It Now!
Okay, without consulting the internet, how many of you know what the letters stand for in the acronym of the movie title? (answer revealed at the end, no peeking). This will probably be more fun figuring out than if you actually watch the film.
"The Man From U.N.C.L. E." is not "Mission: Impossible --- Rogue Nation", although it tries vainly to grab our attention with a prolonged chase scene in the beginning. Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) is fleeing a Russian KGB operative, Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer). Little do they know at this point, but they will become comrades working to defuse a world-threatening plan (is there any other?) by Italian thugs to get possession of nuclear weapons.
Of course, what's a spy vs. spy film without a beautiful, mysterious femme fatale. That role is filled nicely by Alicia Vikander (the robot in "Ex Machina"), who is easily the only reason to spend two hours watching the film. Her liquor-induced impression of Tom Cruise's "Risky Business" dance is quite entertaining.
Cavill, best known for his Superman role in "Man of Steel" (2013), cuts a handsome, dashing figure, a la Pierce Brosnan as James Bond. He has most of the droll lines in "The Man From U.N.C.L. E.", while Hammer, not quite as drop-dead gorgeous, is the straight man. Hammer tries mightily to convince us with his Russian accent --- ah, not so much.
"U.N.C.L.E." is directed by Guy Ritchie, who didn't exactly strike gold with "Swept Away" featuring his then-wife Madonna, and later helmed two "Sherlock Holmes" movies starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law, neither of which made my heart race any faster. Despite a decent score by Daniel Pemberton and quality cinematography from double Oscar nominee John Mathieson ("Gladiator"), "The Man From U.N.C.L. E." is a dull affair.
The chase scenes are not thrilling. They are not seamless like we've seen in the "MI" series. What should have been a white-knuckler when Hammer is trapped under water is strictly ho-hum. The only time I reacted was when a chief villainess gets her due, thanks to a perfectly directed missile.
Hugh Grant as Waverly, a top British spy, tries to inject humor without much success, thanks to the bland script written by Ritchie and Lionel Wigram. What I did find interesting is that this movie is actually the seed from which U.N.C.L.E, United Network Command for Law Enforcement, is derived.
Opinion: Mild Wait For DVD