Not every movie can be brilliant and have substance. Some movies are just guilty pleasures; they embody the essence of pop culture – sometimes cringe worthy, yet fun. Guy Ritchie’s newest film is precisely that, a victory of appearance over substance. Is that a bad thing? Yes and no.
This will be just another movie that rides the wave of a popular TV show from back in the day. While Mission Impossible - Rogue Nation, which has a similar television background, seems to be doing great in theatres, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. can’t really take pride in being on the same level.
The story is centered on two antipodal agents, forced to work together for the common good, despite their hate for each other. Henry Cavill plays Napoleon Solo, an obnoxiously smug CIA agent with an obsession for his wardrobe, while Armie Hammer takes the other leading role of Illya Kuryakin, a Soviet KGB spy. Both of them are lone wolves, used to working on their own, but now have to learn to adapt to the unfavorable circumstances.
My guess would be that the filmmaker chose to cast two stars who are visually flawless and hope their good looks would be enough to swoon the audience. In the end, the pair closely resemble Ken dolls instead of lethal spies, but hey, at least they’re good eye candy right?
And of course no Ken doll is complete without Barbie on his side. Alicia Vikander plays the leading female role of Gaby Teller, a German auto mechanic whose father, a rocket scientist, had been abducted by the main diabolical villain, Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki). Although she received quite a lot of screen time, her character seems to be there solely for aesthetic purposes – the Barbie doll. She is a lovely asset for the two gentleman, arm candy with no conviction, energy or emotion.
The film is full of attempts at humor, sexual references and great chemistry between Cavill and Hammer, but somehow fails to be as lovable, charming and enjoyable as the TV show it was based on. The main problem arises when Guy Ritchie introduces scenes that are supposed to be intense, action-packed and serious. The director held nothing back; he aimed to make every one of these action sequences grander, better and with more pyrotechnics. The effort would have been welcomed if it had been in sync with the rest of the film. Instead, we got a unique combination of humorous scenes with a satirical tone and action sequences that are supposed to keep us interested. It simply doesn’t work; one moment we will witness our two protagonists fighting over the colour of their ties and the next, an attempt to match the suspense of action scenes from James Bond or Mission Impossible. The end result will only leave you quizzical.
The real star of this film is the costume crew. Set in the 60’s, in the middle of The Cold War, the outfits and overall cinematography refer to the era beautifully. Presentation is the only thing that managed to salvage this film from turning into a badly executed spy parody. Every once in a while, you will spot a hat, a dress or a coat that is worth looking at and can at least temporarily distract you from the averagely scripted dialogues.
To be fair, there are films that are much worse than The Man From U.N.C.L.E.; at least it tries to be interesting and humorous, and has a certain gentleman’s charm to it. However, it doesn’t quite hit the mark and turns out being neither intense enough to be placed in the “serious” category, nor ridiculous enough that it could work. The film floats between the two ends of the spectrum, thus leaving you confused. It is one of those films that you won’t be able to call “bad”, but you will somehow avoid re-watching it.