It’s a pretty safe bet that the vast majority of the moviegoers who catch The Man from U.N.C.L.E. will have no idea it was a hit TV show in the 60s; it was long gone before they were even born.
So why bring it back as a feature film at all? Perhaps so director (and co-writer) Guy Ritchie could have some fun putting together a nifty little retro piece. Or maybe it’s because he really loves the classic mid-60s James Bond movies and always wondered what it would be like to direct one.
Either way, Man (the movie) is solid entertainment– full of pretty people, sandpaper-dry humor, and exotic locales… with a bevy of fistfights, shootouts, and car chases thrown in for good measure. It’s as classic a spy flick as there can be (with a plot that we’ve seen a gajillion times before), but Ritchie and the cast elevate it enough to make it stand out as the summer movie season winds down.
Henry Cavill (Man of Steel) stars as American spy Napoleon Solo, and Armie Hammer (The Social Network) is Illya Kuryakin, a KGB agent. They’re reluctant (to say the least) allies in a joint attempt to thwart a former Nazi’s plan to build an atomic bomb during the height of the Cold War. Helping them is Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina) as Gaby Teller, whose estranged (and disappeared) physicist father is rumored to have been kidnapped by the bad guys to help build the bomb. That’s it– that’s the whole plot. Pretty simple (and, yes, pretty standard).
What Ritchie lacks in story, though, he makes up for in style. His expert use of the era’s fashion, cars, and vernacular make watching Man a little like catching an episode of Mad Men… if Don Draper was a secret agent. (Heck, Mad Men’s Jared Harris even makes a quick appearance.) Stuffed to the gills with vintage appeal, Man even uses an old-school 60s font for the occasional subtitles. It’s almost as if Ritchie was channeling Steven Soderbergh (who was at one time attached to direct); Man has the same jaunty vibe (and editing style) as Ocean’s 11.
There are a few parts along the way where Man starts to sputter a little. Solo’s super-casual, laissez-faire attitude actually detracts a bit– it’s hard to feel any tension when the hero dispatches every opponent without even wrinkling his suit. (At one point Solo calmly munches a sandwich while explosions and gunfights erupt behind him.)
In the end, though, Man survives as a breezy, stirred (not shaken) good time, and it leaves us with the perfect set-up for a sequel– so this might well be the beginning of a nice little friendship.