Friday, September 4, 2015

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Review

Under the best of circumstances I'm not a fan of spy movies. They tend to boast a lot of senseless action with a half-baked story so convoluted it's often hard to know who you're supposed to be rooting for. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015) is based on the 1964 television series by the same name. The trailer was just interesting enough to draw me in. The movie itself stuck so fast and true to spy movie tropes that it ultimately won't stand out among other spy films, try as it might.
At the height of the Cold War, a mysterious criminal organization plans to use nuclear weapons and technology to upset the fragile balance of power between the United States and Soviet Union. CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and KGB agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) are forced to put aside their hostilities and work together to stop the evildoers in their tracks. The duo's only lead is Gabriella "Gaby" Teller (Alicia Vikander) the daughter of a missing German scientist, whom they must find soon to prevent a global catastrophe.
Initially I thought that The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was an original film. I hadn't heard of the TV series at all, and I like to think myself reasonably well acquainted with "vintage" pop culture. The series ran for a good four years and earned a number of Emmy and Golden Globe awards. I have never seen the series, but as I understand it, the film strays from the television show enough that viewers unfamiliar with the original series will still follow its twisting intrigue and understand its nods to other spy satires.
The cast was pretty good overall. I'm not familiar with the leading lady yet, though she did quite well. Apart from her, we've basically got Superman and The Lone Ranger trying to outperform each other. Henry Cavill really shines in this movie and Armie Hammer and his Russian accent tries to keep up. Cavill has got all the charm of a Bond, all the intelligence of a Sherlock, and the leading man potential of Superman. Cavill does some death-defying feats, impresses the ladies, is saving the country, and doing it all with not a spot on his suit or a hair out of place. Cavill has chemistry with pretty much every single person that graces the screen next to him - even the ones who don't actually speak.
Like so many spy movies, there's lots of intrigue and deception. This usually looses me somewhere around the second plot twist, but in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. everything is played by the book and I could ultimately predict where who was going to double-cross who and where allegiances lie. While this caused the story to be predictable and by extension somewhat bland, it was kind of nice to have a spy story I can easily keep up with. There's plenty of spy movie tropes that end up being major plot devices and results in an unremarkable story with some decent scenes here and there.
The trailer for The Man from U.N.C.L.E. used a lot of gratuitous shots of women as romantic interests or eye candy alone. Including a one brief shot of a woman who is naked except for a pair of underwear (and only shown from the back, of course). This misleads us to think there's lots of nudity and sex. While there is implied sex, nothing is ever shown on screen. And the aforementioned near-nude shot is as risqué as it gets. The content of the movie stays within in its PG-13 rating, though some parents may not approve of what short bits of nudity do make it on screen. I also don't think that The Man from U.N.C.L.E. should be written off as a hyper-masculine, anti-feminist film. Gaby is as integral to Solo's mission as Kuryakin is. Gaby is a woman in the traditionally masculine role of car stunt-savvy chauffeur, and even that is far from her only role.
There are a number of funny scenes in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. I wasn't expecting that. It really is funny to watch Kuryakin and Solo try to outshine each other. They frequently catch each other trying to plant bugs on their mission partner. When trying to break into an enemy compound, the two go out of their way to make the other jealous of their superior spy equipment. The speed boat scene is probably my favorite; Kuryakin is driving the boat being pursued by enemy henchmen and doesn't notice Solo fall out of the boat. Solo swims ashore, takes out a guard, and casually eats the guard's lunch while watching Kuryakin be shot at and fail to lose his pursuers. The comic relief was very welcome, but didn't do enough to elevate the overall quality of the story.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a decent spy movie that sticks to tried and true spy movie tropes and  it will probably be lost and forgotten among the other spy movies out there before too long. It's as if it tries too hard to make itself similar to other movies and it doesn't give itself a chance to shine. The cast is great and the sets and locations are superb, but the movie tries to distract from its unremarkable story with talented and charismatic stars, glitzy sets, and action scenes. This adds up to an uneven action thriller with just enough style to overcome its lack of substance. If you're into spy movies, it's worth seeing. But it's so unremarkable, that it's not worth the price of a ticket. It's a renter.

What are some of the best spy movies you've ever seen? Comment below and tell me why!

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