The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Plot Summary:
In the early 1960s, CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and KGB operative Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) participate in a joint mission against a mysterious criminal organization, which is working to proliferate nuclear weapons.
Is 2015 the year of the spy? Kingsman was a huge early win. Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation is excellent. Spy got good reviews, although I didn’t like it nearly as much as the previous two. Can The Man from U.N.C.L.E. keep the hype train running at full steam ahead with American Ultra and Spectre on the horizon? Does this remake of a 60’s show have enough substance to balance out it’s incredible amount of style? I am happy to report that it indeed deliver and the state of the Year of the Spy is strong.
U.N.C.L.E. centers around an unlikely duo of super spys brought together to defeat a colossal threat. The catch is that our heroes are on opposite ends of both the spy spectrum and the Cold War. Napoleon Solo played by Man of Steel’s Henry Cavill is your classic James Bond. He is a master theif who is clever, ego driven, and a hit with the ladies. Illya Kuryakin played by Arnie Hammer (aka the Winklevos twins) is more of a modern James Bond. He is a blunt instrument who gets the job done with all the subtlety of the Incredible Hulk.
The film’s success hinges on the pair’s individual characterizations and their overall chemistry, which to be honest doesn’t work from jump. During the first couple of scenes I found myself rolling my eyes at Solo’s American accent and Kuryakin’s general Russianness. Thankfully, after the first half hour I was completely on board. I remember one scene in particular involving a boat chase where it all clicked for me. “I see. Solo is supposed to be almost too perfect and Kuryakin is supposed to be unrealistically macho.” After that point I was able to enjoy U.N.C.L.E. a lot more.
The supporting cast is well suited to handle such a fun film. Alicia Vikander plays civilian mechanic Gaby Teller who accompanies our heroes on their journey. She has excellent chemistry with Hammer, who she spends most of her time apologizing for. Without giving too much away, the villain works equally well. It is the classic “steal a warhead and then win everything” scheme that so many villains have used before but the characters make it work.
Let’s talk about Hugh Grant. I imagine there was a conversation on the set of Bridget Jones’ Diary that must have gone something like this.
Hugh Grant: “Hey ol’ chap Colin Firth, how strange would it be if in thirteen years we were both in non-Bond spy movies as the badass and unappologetically English secret agents?”
Colin Firth: “Quite strange considering we would both be 54 and until that point almost completely devoid of prior action experience.”
Hugh Grant: “Indubitably.”
Hugh doesn’t spend a ton of time on screen but what he does with it is possibly the best part of the film.
The other big star of the film is the style. If you like 60’s people wearing ’60s outfits, driving ’60s cars, you will love The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Most of the that success can likely be attributed to writer/director Guy Ritchie who most people will recognize from Snatch and the non-Cumberbatch Sherlock Holmes series. He does an excellent job of making everyone look impeccable in every shot. The score is also undeniably fun, if not a bit distracting at times. My main gripe with U.N.C.L.E. came from some bits that felt over-edited. Panels of overlapping action were zipping around the screen in a fashion that seemed like it belonged in Ang Lee’s The Hulk. It doesn’t happen too often but when it does, you feel it.
All in all, U.N.C.L.E. is another solid entry into this year’s ever expanding slate of spy films. Is it the best of the year? Probably not. U.N.C.L.E. lacks the earnest awareness of Kingsman and the bizarre stunts of Mission: Impossible but it carves out a nice niche for itself with it’s singular style and the dynamic between Solo and Kuryakin. Were it released in a different year, U.N.C.L.E. might have been the surprise spy hit of the summer but alas, we are spoiled. U.N.C.L.E. is a fun ride through an era that everyone desperately wants to return to minus the looming threat of nuclear annihilation, but thankfully U.N.C.L.E. has that part taken care of.
Matthew Nando Kelly is an incredibly cool and handsome staff writer for Pop-Break who was allowed to write his own bio. He focuses on film, television, music, and video games. Matthew also has a podcast called Mad Bracket Status where he discusses pop culture related brackets with fellow Pop-Break writer DJ Chapman. He has an unshakable love for U2, cats, and the New Orleans Saints. His twitter handle is @NationofNando. Did we mention how handsome he was?