Another day another spy movie to review. Just a few weeks after the last spy movie, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, we get another one with The Man From U.N.C.L.E, which is one of the ones I’ve been looking forward to the most. Whilst I was looking forward to it more with Steven Soderberg in the directors chair, Guy Ritchie was a decent choice to replace him. He’s had a good track record recently and his style of directing can work for spy films. The trailers showed off a really slick, throwback to 60s spy films and that is seen throughout the film, which is what I got with the film, making it a ton of fun to watch.
The plot concerns spies Napoleon Solo of the CIA and Illya Kuryakin of the KGB who are forced to work together due to private interests gaining control of a uranium and have captured former Nazi scientists to help them develop a nuclear weapon. To help them with the mission they enlist the help of Gaby Teller, a mechanic from East Berlin who is the daughter of the captured scientist and the niece of an associate of the villains. This is the type of plot typical in spy films of the 60s, refined to the best place it can be due to its focus on the characters. The way the film presents the relationship between Solo and Kuryakin, and by extension the relationship between the US and the USSR works really well due to the nature of trust presented. Throughout most of the film, the two don’t trust each other, bugging each others rooms and being unwilling to work together, as seen through them fighting in their first face-to-face meeting and the way the relationship between the two develops over the course of the film provides the most engaging element of the plot, along with the characters which I’ll get more into later. The tone meanwhile is nailed in this film. There’s a light, breezy air throughout the majority of the film, with there being a lot of great, laugh out loud moments throughout, mainly when Solo and Kuryakin are on screen together, and some great gags about their agencies. However, near the end of the film, the tone takes a shift into something darker for a few scenes which feels really at odds with the rest of the film. There’s also a considerable problem with the villains in that there is no motivation or character for then, meaning that there’s no real investment to see them defeated. There are also a few times when the film recaps things that just happened which feels like they were padding the film out.
With that said, the acting and the writing for the main characters helps the film work incredibly well. Henry Cavill is incredibly charismatic as Solo, having the right mix of ego and charm which fits the 60s tone of the film. His arc in the film is learning to trust others and understand that his desire to work alone does him a lot of harm and Cavill brings this across really well. Armie Hammer meanwhile is a lot of fun as Kuryakin. He works as a great comic foil for the rest of the cast, he gets a lot of the funniest moments in the film (mainly due to his outbursts of violence) and he has the most satisfying character development in the film, learning to overcome the shame he feels for his family and, like Solo, learn to trust. The whole trust element of the film works especially well due to the chemistry that Cavill and Hammer have with each other, they play off each other brilliantly and it results in one of the most homoerotic films of the year. Also worthy of mention is Alicia Vikander who, between this and Ex Machina, is having a great year. As Gaby, she shows herself to be the most capable out of the main three, with her skills in driving, mechanics and her intelligence being highly useful throughout the film. One of the best elements of the film meanwhile is the relationship between Kuryakin and Gaby due to the performances of Hammer and Vikander, who have great chemistry with each other, with the contrast between their personalities being a lot of fun to watch, mainly the scenes where Gaby takes charge. Elizabeth Debicki gives a good performance as the villain, Victoria, being a great intimidating presence despite not having much to work with in the script. Hugh Grant is a lot of fun when he’s on screen but Jared Harris feels a bit wasted.
On a technical level this film is a blast. Say what you will about Guy Ritchie but he can direct action really well, with there being a lot of really fun action beats in the film, in particular a car chase at the start of the film and an infiltration scene in the second act, which are some of the best shows for how fun the film is. The period detail meanwhile is spot on, with the costumes being particularly noteworthy, mainly the crisp, sharp suits for Solo and the dresses for Gaby and Victoria. The costumes even provide some of the best humour in the film, with one conversation about them at the start getting some of the best laughs in the film.
Overall, The Man From U.N.C.L.E is a lot of fun. Sure the plot is a bit flimsy in regard to the villains but with an incredibly charismatic cast, slick, entertaining action scenes and a very witty script, this is the best spy film of the year so far. Just need to wait until Spectre to see if that tops this.
My Rating: 4/5