In the early 1960s, CIA agent Napoleon Solo and KGB operative Illya Kuryakin participate in a joint mission against a mysterious criminal organization, which is working to proliferate nuclear weapons. (from IMDB.com)
In 2009, indie director Guy Ritchie (and former husband to superstar Madonna), stepped into blockbuster territory by directing a big screen, modern take on Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr. in the titular role. He followed it with a sequel two years later, but the director has laid relatively low for the past four years. For 2015, he returns to the summer blockbuster by adapting the 1960's spy series The Man from U.N.C.L.E. for the big screen. With Man of Steel's Henry Cavill and The Lone Ranger's Armie Hammer in the main roles as Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, respectively, Ritchie seems more than ready to prime a new potential franchise. While I personally don't think I've ever seen an episode of the original TV series, I have heard of the show and was interested in seeing what Ritchie would bring to the table after his stylized Holmes entries.
In a time where spy movies are dominating the box office -- from Mission: Impossible to the Bond franchise, for example -- it seems like a no-brainer to adapt The Man from U.N.C.L.E. for today's cinematic audience. However, Ritchie and company have set out to make a film that's set in the 60's to also feel (mostly) like a film from that time. As a result, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. feels a lot more like one of the early Sean Connery James Bond films than something made for today's audiences. While that isn't necessarily a bad thing, it probably isn't a good thing if they're hoping to make a successful franchise with these characters. Like Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes movies, U.N.C.L.E. is fun and stylish, utilizing a lot of Ritchie's quirky film techniques and trademarks, but also while aiming to just make U.N.C.L.E. really fun and enjoyable.
But I have to admit, that after having as much fun as I did watching Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation just a few weeks earlier, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. just seemed to really lack in comparison. To be fair, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect going in to watch U.N.C.L.E., and I actually could see myself liking it far more with repeat viewings. From the slick and cool performance from Cavill as Solo and Hammer's convincing portrayal of the Russian Kuryakin, to Daniel Pemberton's full-on 60's influenced score, there's quite a bit to like about The Man from U.N.C.L.E.. And Ritchie even goes the extra mile to make the film funny as well. Still, whether it's pacing or a lackluster plot, the film just feels like it's missing something, and it's tough to know exactly where the fault may lie.
I love classic films, and even some of the aforementioned Bond movies, but while having finally gone through each and every Bond film from the start of the franchise a few years ago, I was a little surprised at how slow some of the really early films were. Dr. No, for example, used the now-iconic guitar and brass Bond theme for a moment in which Connery just strolled up to a pay phone to make a phone call. Nowadays, that same theme shows up during a car (or boat or motorcycle or whatever vehicle) chase or some other kind of thrilling action sequence. The times and audiences have changed so much over the years, and the same kind of movies that worked for audiences back then don't always work today. Still, that's not to say that those movies have lost their merit. If you want near non-stop action, you know to watch a Mission: Impossible film (coincidentally, a film franchise based on another popular 1960's spy TV series), but if you want something that captures the time period it was originally set in, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. really fits the mold.
Honestly, I was concerned about the casting of Armie Hammer as Russian KGB agent Illya Kuryakin. Hammer was decent in The Lone Ranger, but the film itself largely missed its mark. However, Hammer proved to be a strength here and he totally dove into his role believably. Cavill, too, makes a great Bond-type spy (or as a friend pointed out, he's a lot like Neal Caffrey from TV's White Collar as well), capturing that smooth and capable kind of super spy. Unfortunately, he's also got Bond's womanizing ways, and the film finds Solo bedding beautiful ladies twice in the film (which is always ridiculous in these kinds of movies). Ritchie approaches Solo's personality with a good deal of humor and has Solo and Illya play off each other really well. The movie opens with a bang with a great car chase as the two agents first encounter each other, but the film then changes gears for a much more 60's style, slow-paced kind of spy film, before ramping it up a little more for its fun-but-not-exactly-grand finale. While it's nice to see a movie that doesn't always go for the "more is more" approach, it still feels as though it could have been tweaked to be a little stronger.
The content of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is surprisingly lighter than what the trailer may have suggested, but most of the objectionable content falls in the category of sexual content. While no scenes show anything during the act, we hear some moaning over a radio transmission in one instance (which is played for laughs), and see a woman's bare back and side of a her bare breast in another scene as she walks to the bathroom. It's all brief, but used to illustrate Solo's womanizing tendencies. There's a little bit of language, but not much at all, with 1 "a" word, 1 "d*mn" (and another in a song), and 1 "p*ssy" as Solo jokingly tells Illya to be a wuss for a change while undercover. There's some violence, including a torture scene that shows a man being electrocuted, that may be intense for some as well. Later in the scene, another man is electrocuted and we see their chair catch on fire in the background as two people talk in the foreground, and it's played entirely for laughs (since the "victim" is a really sadistic villain).
For fans of the spy genre and even 1960's style filmmaking, you can't go too wrong checking out The Man From U.N.C.L.E.. However, anyone hoping for a non-stop action thrill ride will find Guy Ritchie's latest to be more of a snoozer than what they're looking for. Some of the content may be a bit too edgy for some viewers (especially due to the sexual content), but otherwise, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is decent summer box office fare.- John DiBiase (reviewed: 8/16/15)
The special features include the following:
Spy Vision: Recreating 60's Cool (8:34) - This, the longest of the brief featurettes, covers the costumes and capturing the look and feel of the 60's. Director Guy Ritchie explains how he didn't want to make an exact 60's period film, but wanted to capture the feel of the time more than anything. They also talk about the cars and sets featured in the film.
A Higher Class of Hero (7:13) talks about the film's action. Ritchie wanted to push his own style of doing action to do something new for him. They break down the bathroom fight between the leads and also the awesome opening car chase. They also reveal that the scene showing the buggy riding over the surface of the water was real! (1 "S" word)
Metisse Motorcycles: Proper - and Very British (4:49) - This featurette shows Armie Hammer--who's a huge fan of these bikes--going to the Metisse Motorcycle headquarters and talking to one of the owners of the company. He gets to try one out as well.
The Guys from U.N.C.L.E. (4:57) talks about the main cast of the film, the stunts, the tone they were going for, and shows them having fun on set. It seems like everyone really enjoyed working on this movie.
A Man of Extraordinary Talents (3:16) is all about director Guy Ritchie. The cast and crew talk about working with him, while we learn that Armie taught him guitar on set between takes. We also learn that he loves to play chess between takes as well.
U.N.C.L.E: On-Set Spy (5:16) - This is five really short behind-the-scenes moments that, when accessed with the Play-All function, only barely cross the five-minute mark in total. "Don't Swim Elegantly" shows Solo rescuing Kuryakin in the water; "You Want to Wrestle?" shows them staging and filming the bedroom fight; "Heli Restored" reveals that the vintage helicopter used in the movie was the one Honor Blackman piloted in Goldfinger; and lastly, "A Family Thing" is a fun little anecdote that features Trainee Assistant Director Rory Gibb talking about how his grandfather knew Guy Ritchie and Hugh Grant's fathers! There's a vintage photo of the men from serving in the military together and so Guy, Hugh and Rory recreate the photo here as their descendants!- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 11/14/15)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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