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Film Review: The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
In August 2015, Guy Ritchie directed and co-wrote, with Lionel Wigram, The Man from U.N.C.L.E, based off the 1964 television series of the same name. Starring Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Jared Harris, and Hugh Grant, the film has grossed $95.4 million as of September 14.
During the Cold War, CIA and KGB agents Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin are forced to team up in order to stop a mysterious criminal organization bent on destabilizing the balance of power by stealing nuclear weapons and technology. Meanwhile, the only lead is the daughter of a vanished German scientist named Gaby Teller, who is the key to infiltrating the organization.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is quite a fun film, especially in the characterization it gives towards its three main characters. For one, there’s Napoleon Solo who at first glance seems to be quite the ace. He’s the top agent of the CIA, dresses very stylishly and is quite a charmer and Casanova, noted as being a serial womanizer in the end credits. However the film deconstructs Solo’s position as the ace, seeing as he’s really a thief made to work for the organization who really wants to go back to his former life. Underneath the dapper exterior, he’s shown as being a petty narcissist who has trouble adapting to other cultures. But this is soon reconstructed because it’s established that he worked hard to be the Ace that he is as a way to get back at his CIA handlers who blackmail him into doing the work. He’s also not as flippant about meaningful items as initially seen as he recognizes the significance Ilya places on his watch and returns it at the end.
Then there’s Ilya who, despite being a brusque and surly KGB agent prone to violence, is just as charming as Solo and much more chivalrous, seen when he’s apologizing to an old German for breaking into her home while he’s chasing Solo and Gaby. But there’s more to that, evidenced in how he seems to have quite a refined knowledge of haute couture along with being a chess master, photographer, power boater and wrestling champion. But it all makes sense that he’d know how to do all that along with being such a bruiser as it’s established that his mother raised him alone and was forced to do unpleasant things for the two of them to survive. He had to grow up roughly, but also spent his time on the aforementioned skills to take his mind off his rough life.
And those two help to bring about a film that interestingly reconstructs the genre of 1960s spy fiction. The main genre started being deconstructed with such films as the Bourne films, making adaptations of other shows from the era into comedic parodies. However, this film brings it back because it takes the Cold War seriously as it does with the threat of post-war western terrorists. And though the spies are a crook and a soldier turned spies, they’re given the job because they’re the agencies’ best. What makes it better is that the film seems to be incredibly self-aware of the time period it’s being shown in and its comedic moments serve to not poke fun at the film, but at things like the bizarre situations the characters find themselves in as well as the conflict of personalities stemming from Solo and Kuryakin’s narcissism.
What helps the above is that Ritchie decided to set the film in its original period instead of the modern day. But what that does is actually show how the original show influenced another modern spy fiction work that serves to completely parody the genre: Archer. And there are quite a few similarities to that, namely the comparative characterization that Solo, Kuryakin and Teller have to Archer, Barry and Lana. There’s also how the original show popularized spies in black turtlenecks. Further, watching Solo and Kuryakin team up nearly feels like Archer and Barry being forced to work together.
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