Review: The Man from U.N.C.L.E. – Snazzy sixties spy cinema

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The Man from U.N.C.L.E.Wow, 2015 is turning out to be a premier year for spy movies. With Kingsman: The Secret Service, Spy, and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation already setting the bar for espionage excitement incredibly high, I didn’t think there was any way that The Man from U.N.C.L.E. could possibly compete – fortunately I was completely wrong. This snazzy sixties secret agent spectacular is one of the best movies I’ve seen this year.

I came to this film with only a very vague idea of what it was about. I had never seen the (1964 – 68) television series on which it was based and probably would not have known the show existed were it not for noticing a couple of kids who sported Man from U.N.C.L.E. lunchboxes when I was in grade school. Somehow I completely missed the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement boat, so this review is from my U.N.C.L.E. ignorant perspective.

Stylishly helmed by writer/director Guy Ritchie, Man from U.N.C.L.E. is set during the Cold War of the early sixties, where we have American spy, Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill), recruiting Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander) to help him contact her father, a German scientist who is developing a nuclear weapon for a terrorist group.

Russian KGB agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) is also trying to get to Gabby and the two spies reluctantly join forces, at the behest of their respective governments, to go after the bad guys – which include the sexy femme fatale, Victoria (Elizabeth Debicki), her husband Alexander (Luca Calvani) and a former Nazi officer with a certain set of torture skills.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.Where Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation was a modern petal-to-the-metal action thriller, U.N.C.L.E. is refreshingly more about style and subtle humor. Thank Grood they did not make this a contemporary film full of twenty-first century crudity (a la 21 Jump Street or the more recent Vacation reboot.)

Cavill is great as Solo, an American James Bond if you will, but much better looking. (The US can’t take credit for that, though, because the handsome actor is British.) It took me a while to remember I wasn’t looking at Superman, but once I got past that point I settled into enjoying Cavill’s portrayal of the suave U.N.C.L.E. super-spy.

Armie Hammer steals the show and provides much of the film’s humor as the ill-tempered Russian, Illya. I’m probably one of the only living persons to have enjoyed Hammer as The Lone Ranger, and it was awesome to see him on the big screen again. His chemistry with Cavill was a lot of fun to watch.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.Alicia Vikander also delivers a standout performance as Gabby. She’s tomboyish and sexy in equal doses, which is a complete reversal from her work as the alluring robot, Ava, in the incredible sci-fi film, Ex Machina. I think Vikander is a young actress who is going to have a very long and illustrious career.

The film’s music by Daniel Pemberton and the cinematography by John Mathieson makes U.N.C.L.E. look and feel like it could have been created during the era in which it is set, albeit with state of the art production standards. The visual and audio aspects of the movie amp up its quality while still delivering a fun retro vibe.

Comparing The Man from U.N.C.L.E. to this year’s other excellent spy movies is kind of like comparing apples and oranges; they’ve all been very good, but this sixties-era throwback holds its own and I’m looking forward to (hopefully) seeing another one. In the meantime, there are four seasons of that TV show I can check out. Grade: 8.5/10    

Photos (c) 2015 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

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About the author

Bob Leeper

Bob Leeper is the co-owner and manager of "Arizona’s Pop Culture and Alternative Art Network," Evermore Nevermore. He is the co-creator of the pop culture events Steampunk Street and ENCREDICON, and is a member of the Phoenix Film Critics Society. He also curates the Facebook fan site The Arizona Cave – AZ Fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and is one of the few brave and bold fans of Jar Jar Binks.

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