The opening credits of “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” provide the most Guy Ritchie-est history lesson of all time. Cool music and effects splash all over the screen as Ritchie gets everyone caught up on Nazi Germany, World War II, and the Cold War. This quick recap may insult the intelligence of some, but keep in mind that many of those watching aren’t aware of the bitter intelligence war between the United States and the Soviet Union.
After that fancy setup, Ritchie wastes no time in introducing us to the campy, tongue in cheek, 1960s send up fun that runs throughout “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” We meet Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill), the suave CIA spy who hopes to smuggle Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander) from East Germany across the infamous section of the Berlin Wall called Checkpoint Charlie.
Solo’s main opposition, other than heavily armed Soviet guards, is Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer). Illya is a hulking, seemingly superhuman KGB spy who is also pursuing Gaby. It turns out that Gaby’s father was a Nazi and Hitler’s most beloved rocket scientist. He has gone missing, kidnapped by former Nazi sympathizers who hope to use him to build a nuclear bomb as they are hell bent on winning this real life game of “Risk”.
This mysterious evil group is led by Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki), the wife of an Italian playboy, Alexander (Luca Calvani). Since it is in the CIA and KGB’s best interest to stop a Nazi rebirth, Solo and Illya team up and hope to use Gaby as bait to lure out her father, thus stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
It all sounds very serious, but “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” is most decidedly not. The three reluctant partners jet off to Rome, where Illya poses as Gaby’s architect fiancé with hilariously awkward results. Solo, seemingly eating up watching his nemesis have to dumb down his super soldier training, quips away at him as the stoic Russian is forced to take his unkept rage out on a few obnoxious Italians every now and then.
Just like the average at best “Sherlock Holmes” movies, Ritchie goes heavy on the bromance. Solo and Illya seem like they are constantly on a first date, simultaneously mocking and making doe eyes at each other. Their chemistry is perfect and the only thing these polar opposites have in common is that they are really, really, really good looking.
Thankfully, Ritchie and his screenwriting partner Lionel Wigram don’t force a love triangle on us, even though Gaby spends the first half of the movie as a mouthy, one dimensional, yet ridiculously attractive piece of scenery. However, after a few double crosses bordering on triple crosses (if that’s a thing), Gaby becomes something completely different and it leads to one of the coolest sequences in the entire film.
The just mentioned sequence proves that Guy Ritchie still has the skills and imagination to be more than the British Michael Bay. Ritchie shows creative restraint for the majority of “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”, letting the clever script, gorgeous locales, and Oscar-worthy costuming speak for itself.
There are moments when Ritchie lets loose and “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” is much, much better than it should be. He cleverly uses flashbacks for plot and humor purposes and, at times, seems content to let his cinematographer John Mathieson use basic tracking shots (GASP) to show the action.
If anyone had given up on Guy Ritchie as a truly inventive director, the boat chase scene should turn those non-believers around. It is inspired, thrilling, riotously funny, and is the finest ten minutes that Ritchie has ever shot.
“The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” does get a bit convoluted, particularly when introducing Hugh Grant’s Waverly. It stinks of franchise set up, which doesn’t do his thinly written character any justice. There’s also a gruesome moment that references the torture practices of Nazis, which is far too serious when compared to the rest of the film.
However cheap the sequel planning seems, seeing Cavill, Hammer, and Wikander reprise these roles would be worth a shot, if not welcomed. The three of them are fantastic, even if their accents aren’t exactly spot on. It is tough to tell if their acting is poor or if they are so darn good looking that you don’t even notice or care.
Cavill has more life in ten seconds of “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” than he had in all of the wretchedly boring “Man of Steel.” Hammer completely redeems the travesty of “The Lone Ranger” with a manly, yet damaged performance. Vikander continues her breakout 2015 with a role that couldn’t be further from “Ex Machina.”
“The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” is quite entertaining and, clocking in at a slick 116 minutes, it absolutely zips by. Despite the high stakes real world that it is set in, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, which only adds to the fun. This is a potential sleeper hit that has thrown Ian Fleming’s charm, John le Carre’s smarts, and Guy Ritchie’s wit and style into a blender and made a tasty late summer treat.
Own The Man from U.N.C.L.E. on Blu-ray Combo Pack or DVD on November 17 or Own It Early on Digital HD on October 27!