Bringing television shows to the big screen is certainly nothing new, but unfortunately for every Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation we get a dozen films like I Spy or The Wild Wild West. I’m sure Warner Bros was hoping to get another good franchise going and cash in on all that James Bond and Mission Impossible money, and though The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is leaps and bounds better than the likes of The Wild Wild West, I don’t think that will be the case here.
The studio wisely decided against updating the time period as having it set in the swinging sixties during the height of the Cold War lets the show stand out from other Bond like spy movies, sadly that’s about the best thing I can say about this movie. One of the biggest missteps the movie makes is thinking we needed an origin story for our heroes; the people who made the original series didn’t think we needed one and that show ran for four seasons. So instead of using more of its 116 minute running time on a decent plot we instead have to wade through a senseless, “Will they, won’t they” Bromance subplot.
The movie starts off in East Berlin where Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) is trying to get a woman named Gabby Teller (Alicia Vikander), whose father was one of Hitler’s top rocket scientists, out from behind the Iron Curtain. It seems her father has gone missing and is believed to be in the hands of Victoria (Elizabeth Debicki) and Alexander Vinciguerra (Luca Calvani), some Nazi sympathizers living it up in Italy, and who want him to build them a super-nuclear bomb. The tricky bit is that Solo must get Gabby out of East Berlin while Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer), a KGB agent and possible T-1000, has been tasked by his Russian masters to stop him.
Eventually the C.I.A. and the KGB realize they have the same goal and thus Solo and Illya are forced into an uneasy alliance. So are new friends must work together in the hopes that Gabby’s Uncle Rudi (Sylvester Groth), who is in cahoots with the Nazi couple, will lead them to her father. This leads to the films second stumbling block; the really boring villains. I know director Guy Ritchie is going for the hip and slick look of the sixties but having Eurotrash Nazis is just too old and plaid out to be even remotely interesting. Any time they weren’t on screen I forgot they existed.
Unnecessary backstory and coma inducing villains would seem enough to cripple any action film, but then to add insult to injury Guy Ritchie never gets the movie out of first gear. The pacing of this thing is so ponderously slow, not helped by the convoluted yet tedious plot, and never really reaches the level of the opening action sequence of Napoleon Solo trying to outmaneuver Illya Kuryakin. Once these two are no longer enemies, and their conflict is replaced by vapid villains with the charisma of a 1950s lampshade, the movie is doomed. Not even a forced and rather awkward romance between Illya and Gabby can help.
The only saving grace in the film is that it looks like Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer seem to be having fun, which is at least a step up from their performances in Man of Steel and The Lone Ranger. Cavill especially looks to be relishing the chance to dress up like Sean Connery and has easily the most fun stuff to do in this flick, while poor Armie Hammer gets stuck with silly backstory about being ashamed of his Stalin loving father. Together the two have fairly decent screen chemistry, certainly more than what’s between Armie and Alicia Vikander, and if they had been given more cool stuff to do as a team it would have helped bolster the poor script. As it is for just under two hours we are treated to a couple of handsome chaps running around Italy as they try and find a Nazi Nuke, seduce gorgeous women, with an occasional pit-stop for Hugh Grant to show up to help explain the plot.
Clearly The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was intended to be a stylish thrill ride, a throwback to the spy films of yesteryear, and Guy Ritchie completely nailed the stylish part perfectly, but he really missed the mark on the whole thrill ride aspect of it. Some of his artistic choices in editing are just bizarre and seem left over from his Sherlock Holmes movies. So overall I can say the two lead actors gave passable performances, the look of the film was a nice homage to the spy genre of years gone by, but unfortunately its poor script and lethargic pacing crippled it beyond repair.