Remaking the 1960’s television show, The Man from U.N.C.L.E (made by Guy Ritchie) seemed like it would be a great idea. Using some of today’s biggest stars: Armie Hammer, Henry Cavill and Alicia Vikander, The Man From U.N.C.L.E was bound to be a summer blockbuster.
The story follows Napoleon Solo (Cavill), an American thief turned spy, and Illya Kuryakin (Hammer), a KGB agent with psychological episodes, as they are forced to work together. Their mission is to stop Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki) from enriching Uranium and building a nuclear warhead.
Staying true to the 60’s theme: the wardrobe, automobiles (including boats and helicopters) and actors are all unbelievably beautiful. Cavill is always dressed in the finest suits, an idea that is personified by the line, “You look important… or at least your suit does.” This movie, along with the Italian scenery around them, keeps you interested. Next to Cavill, we see a “dressed down” Armie Hammer. Although he wears plenty of suits, he seems much more comfortable in his paperboy hat and jacket. I could go on and on about the costume design and the set work that was done, but let’s get to the main points of the movie.
Besides the great work done by the costume designers, the rest of the movie was a lost cause. Guy Ritchie is left trying to leave his mark with his editing savvy. He tries to show his talent with an editing montage that leaves you disoriented and confused. The screen is often cut into two, if not four different segments, that are all playing the same scene from different angles. At times CGI is used, both for stunts and “interesting” camera maneuvers, but the feel of these instances are sloppy and half-baked.
As for the acting, the story is similar. Having Cavill, a British actor playing an American, Hammer, an American actor playing a Russian, and Vikander, a Swedish actress playing a German, seemed like a way to get the most beautiful actors into a movie and not worry about the roles that they were playing. At no point did I actually believe Hammer’s accent and at times Cavill’s British accent would sneak onto the screen. The acting felt amateur and forced, unless Cavill was luring women into his bed.
We missed most of the action in Cavill’s bed, but there are plenty of action scenes throughout the remainder of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. In the first few minutes of the movie, we are given a car chase between the stars as Solo tries to help Gaby Teller (Vikander) out of Eastern Germany. This mission, although pointless after the Russians and Americans agree to team-up, is an exciting open to the movie. But as the movie continues, the rest of the action scenes fall flat.Every scene felt like there was more footage filmed, but that it had all been cut due to time constraints. A lot of time is spent on the quasi-romance between Hammer and Vikander, but very little time is actually spent foiling Vinciguerra. Actually, while we are looking at Cavill on screen, important plot points and needed closure for the movie is happening off-screen. We are never given reasons to like any of the characters because their scenes of humor and kindness are short and underplayed, while their moments of backstabbing and selfishness are front and center. This causes dangerous situations to seem transparent and lackluster. Although these types of situations may have been fun and usable on a television show, for a feature length film, more needed to be done to build these characters and make the audience admire them.
As a fan of Guy Ritchie, I want to defend this movie. I also liked Armie Hammer and Henry Cavill in The Social Network and Man of Steel respectively. But this movie, besides the wardrobe department, does not deserve to be defended. It was a shallow and half-hearted attempt at an action/comedy that hoped to use big names and familiar territory to sell tickets.
Images from I Digital Times, Geeks of Doom, Bloomberg and Top Gear