Handsome stars save ‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’
I could review The Man from U.N.C.L.E. like a professional film critic. I could write this like a woman who studied film theory at a reputable university and who wrote a thesis paper on 1960s cinema. I could talk about Guy Ritchie‘s trademark slick style, Hollywood’s onslaught of remakes and sequels, or even make an argument about how the spy genre has evolved along with political views from the Cold War to the War on Terror. I could give you something that expounds on the cinematic and storytelling elements of a major motion picture, or I could tell you the real reason it’s worth seeing this film: the off-the-charts handsomeness of its two stars, Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer. And let’s be honest here, you’re reading Trashwire, not the New York Times, so I’m here to give you the goods on this fun, flashy spy flick with eye candy to spare.
Cavill and Hammer star as Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, a CIA agent and KGB spy who begin on opposite sides in the 1960s Cold War era, but must team up to stop Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki), an international crime boss who is in the process of procuring a nuclear weapon. Their only hope, it seems, is Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), whose Nazi scientist father knows a thing or two about enriched uranium and just so happens to be missing. The guys go undercover in Italy, with Solo channeling his past to pose as an art thief/dealer and Kuryakin playing Teller’s finance who has traveled with her to meet her Uncle.
Of course, they face danger at every turn, and they handle it like the highly-trained, seasoned secret agents that they are. In one scene, the always calm and collected Solo is so chill that he enjoys a brief snack while Kuryakin battles a team of henchmen chasing him in a speedboat. In another, the guys pause for a mid-torture conversation and they have a chuckle when they realize they may have accidentally killed the guy they were trying to torture.
While there isn’t much for the female characters to do aside from look pretty and cause trouble, Solo engages in his fair share of seduction, and the always rough Kuryakin is given a minuscule romantic side plot as his relationship with Teller develops. The guys are exaggerated, James-Bond-type characters, which isn’t surprising when you consider that Ian Fleming helped create the original TV series. Sometimes that Bond mentality works, sometimes…not so much.
And therein lies the chief flaw: the film struggles with tone and pacing. It’s visually delicious, with slick 1960s fashion, a gorgeous cast, and cool split-screen action, but it doesn’t seem entirely sure what it wants to be in terms of story. It takes an old spy show from the 1960s, but doesn’t straight-up make fun of it, a la Austin Powers, and the target audience is way too young to be pulled in by a nostalgia factor. It contains action and fight scenes, but doesn’t go as far with stylistic flare as some of Ritchie’s other films. It’s neither a 100% lighthearted caper nor some kind of cheeky political commentary on U.S.-Russian relations, nor is it a tense, fast-paced, high-stakes thriller, despite dealing with Nazis and nuclear war. Often it feels like the film is trying to transition between moods before the audience knows quite what they’re aiming for. Sure, everything looks amazing, but at times it can feel a little lacking in terms of substance.
Still, it’s not without fun, and it remains a rather enjoyable film experience. I’m sure much of that is due to the almost illegally handsome combination of Cavill and Hammer. Seriously, isn’t there some type of handsome limit built into MPAA rules somewhere? I would watch those two read the phone book and be totally into it. Half the time I was unconcerned with the plot and more concerned with the handsome-off taking place on screen between these two square-jawed, blue-eyed, dapper gentlemen. Just like with Magic Mike XXL, it’s not hard to enjoy a film when you get to look at something gorgeous the whole time. So The Man from U.N.C.L.E. may not have a stellar story, but it’s got enough eye candy to be worth a watch.