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Movie Review: The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (Spoiler Free)

Updated on September 15, 2015

Foreword

This film is based on a 60's spy television series that I've never witnessed. That being said, I will be reviewing this film on its own merit. There might be some references towards the original series, but I'll have missed it regardless.

A film poster for The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
A film poster for The Man from U.N.C.L.E. | Source

My Initial Impressions

It's a fun film, purposefully so. It doesn't really take itself too seriously. It harkens back a bit to James Bond when that genre was at its all time high. There's fancy gadgets, action scenes, various set pieces over various countries, attractive persons, disguises and fake personas, and so forth. It's not a particularly fantastic film, but I found myself entertained. The film is fast paced and I never found myself bored or wishing the film would hurry up and 'get to the point.'

The Plot

Set in the Cold War, an American spy with an interesting background races against a Russian agent to rescue a german on the east side of the Berlin wall.After a series of hijinks, the three find themselves joining together to find the asset's long absent father who may or may not be working for/kidnapped by Nazis to build a more powerful nuclear bomb. Expect a couple of plot twists (this is a spy action film after all), some slick dialogue (particuarly from Henry Cavill, from the latest Man of Steel film), and competitive humor between the three main characters.

If you've seen half a dozen different spy films though, you've seen them all so don't expect to be blown away or really see anything new with this entry of this genre. This film focuses more on the style than the narrative.

Alicia Vikander as Gabby Teller
Alicia Vikander as Gabby Teller | Source

Performance

This might be what caused me to enjoy the film the most. Henry Cavill (who is currently playing the Man of Steel himself on the silver screen), plays the master thief turned American spy and plays it convincingly. His dialogue is on point and I find myself wishing he'd speak even just a little more. Since I wasn't particuarly thrilled with Man of Steel, I found myself a bit more impressed with his acting ability. Napolean Solo and Superman are two completely different creatures, and thank goodness for that.

I was also impressed with Alicia Verkander's range as well. Appearing as the (arguable) titular character from Ex Machina, my personal favorite film for the summer thus far, she is blunt, forward, and full of active energy. For a film utilizing various nationalities and accents, I found myself baffled by what she was attempting to impersonate however.

I've never seen Armie Hammer in a film before but I initially found his Russian stereotype too much of a stereotype. As the film went on it grew on me. His performance is more of a visual one with plenty of 'rage' moments as well as his Terminator-like quality when engaging targets or when struggling not to do so. Elizabeth Debicki (who played the tennis player Jordan Baker in the latest iteration of The Great Gatsby) also offered up an impressive performance who is visually arresting when on screen.

I will proclaim that there is a lot of humor in the film, but there's surprisingly few punchlines. It's like the film wants you to enjoy it and smile, but it doesn't offer you the chance to laugh or it can't figure out how to bring it to a point. Things move fast and that might be the reason, however.

The group assembled
The group assembled | Source

The Style

It's important to recognize the tone and feel for the film. As I've mentioned numerous times before, this film is a bit of an homage to the golden days of spy action films (especially since its origin show ran during the sixties) and its music hones that point. The bites and pieces of technology look appropriately outdated yet everything is so clean and dare I say sophisticated. The wardrobe and costumes fit the period and remain convincing as well. Occasionally frames appear to separate different perspectives in the film during ongoing scenes, which I believe is a device used in the original series. Frankly, I quite liked the presentation.

PG-13

There's a fair bit of action, as well as sexual innuendo, but there's really no lingering shot (aside from the backside of a woman walking topless away from a bed, as well as a garter-scene. There's profanity but it's not used proliferately but rather to emphasize a scene.

The worst of it you can literally witness in the trailer below.

Closing Thoughts

If you're thinking of going to see this film, go do it, or not. Truthfully, there is a lot I enjoyed about this film and I think I enjoyed it more than the most recent Mission Impossible film that's out this summer as well. This film is slick, actor performances felt fresh (a bit more than Mission Impossible's archetype characters and evil rival organization plot and lackluster villain), scenery and costumes are solid. I would look forward to seeing a sequel to this with the same build of creative team. The aforementioned style of this film is also largely unique compared to the other films I've seen this summer.

However, did it blow me away? No, not really. There are funnier films out there, and there were more engrossing action scenes as well as better plots and stories. One of the main draws of this film are brought out from a 60's television series whose fan base isn't a huge contributor to the summer cinematic market. I highly doubt that this film will be able to financially compare with the aforementioned Mission Impossible entry.

If this film, coupled with this review (potentially among others as well) with its trailers don't draw you in, you won't see it. There's nothing terribly unique about it, it's building upon a franchise that hasn't been featured in about 50 years, and it displays several actors you may or may not care about. Personally I enjoyed it and I would see it again but I can't urge anyone to go see it in theatres. It will hit Netflix and Redbox eventually and you may benefit from waiting until that day.

Henry Cavill and Elizabeth Debicki as Napoleon Solo and Victoria Vinciguerra respectively
Henry Cavill and Elizabeth Debicki as Napoleon Solo and Victoria Vinciguerra respectively | Source

Tl;dr

  • Fun spy action thriller harkening back to the Golden Days of action spy films
  • Actors broaden their acting range with their convincing character portrayals
  • Humor is present but at times finds itself difficult to emphasize on it, or drag it out too long
  • Aesthetics and musical score are strong and attractive
  • Plot is a bit overused for the genre
  • Characters and dialogue is slick and plays out smoothly
  • Compared to the other spy action-thriller film of the summer in Mission Impossible, I found that I enjoyed this film just a tad bit more

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Further Reading

Check out some of my other reviews of summer films in 2015.

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