Guy Richie ushers us into his Cold War espionage thriller with some sassy 60’s tunes as he tries to lay the ground work for an amusing pastiche type spy romp but takes a long while, the final third actually, for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. to hit expected heights. Richie’s film is littered with as many yawns as laughs and I suspect I kind of approached this film more seriously than I ought to have early on and that soured my experience a bit.
Adapted from a 1960s television series, U.N.C.L.E. (permit me guys) does come to the races early on as the captivatingly named American spy, Napoleon Solo, executes an elaborate extraction of a former Nazi scientist’s daughter, Gaby (Alicia Vikander), from Soviet territory east of the Berlin wall. The extraction has its bumps in the form of KGB agent and seeming physical specimen, Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) who comes close to thwarting Solo’s mission but succeeds in ripping the boot cover of whatever 60s vehicle his targets were fleeing in. Gaby’s dad is some form of nuclear expert working on a revolutionary uranium enrichment process that of course could provide certain nations a boost in a certain arms race but more pressing problems present themselves as we soon learn he may, against his will, be working for a group of Nazi sympathizers and neo fascists who have their own plans of terror for a nuke. What follows is the reluctant collaboration between Solo and Kuryakin as the CIA and the KGB opt to work together as this nuclear threat, led by Elizabeth Debicki’s Victoria Vinciguerra, looms.
There were a lot of latent homo erotic gags making rounds following this film’s release but I must say there wasn’t much by way of an amusing bromance in this flick. Cavil as Solo is a former master thief and chiselled as ever as he struts in his fancy bespoke-three piece suits and needless to say men and a women want to be him and exponentially more want to be with him. Cavil brings some abrasive suaveness that took some getting used to for me and his performance, although solid, had me questioning the Bond links earlier in his career. Hammer as Kuryakin I quite liked. He isn’t necessarily the physical mammoth he is made out to be by the script but his clichéd love for chess and daddy issues were a nice touch that aid the film by way of depth later on and it helped that his Russian accent wasn’t preposterous. The two male leads provide some serviceable chemistry but not enough to carry this film through the more laboured moments following its quite upbeat opening although, to its credit, it resists the urge to venture into bromance territory – it would most likely have been a fail.
Richie has been one of the enjoyably unique and stylized directors of the new millennium (I know he’s had some major duds) and his gusto and pizazz are always welcome no matter the setting but he is pretty flat here. Yes the film is spiced with very enjoyable sequences with bonus points for the strong humor notes hit but this film screamed pastiche during marketing and I thought I was paying for some enjoyable Bond riffs a la Kingsmen but Richie does not appear to embrace the said route. He appears more interested in establishing a legitimate 60s aura with fixations on apparel, sound design and overall art direction but that particular sales pitch didn’t move my needle. In some respects Richie’s characters aren’t really in sync with the disjointed pastiche world he creates and perhaps they may have been more suited to a more conventional action thriller. Richie, oddly enough, doesn’t even appear interested in action sequences with neatly edited montages standing in for something more exciting or even visceral.
The films female leads aren’t given much to do and with Debicki’s Vinciguerra fleetingly enjoyable devious but seldom playful turn as Vikander searches for more presence and a definite tone for her character. Is she the vulnerable damsel or the feisty type? This point actually works to the characters credit to be honest but a bit more on her plate she could have handled I reckon considering the turn the film takes later on. By end the U.N.C.L.E. initiative is birthed and maybe some ways down the line we get a get a more assured sequel from Richie. In the name of ending this review in positivity, how about THAT early gag with CIA and KGB meet – hilarious.