FlixChatter Review: The Man from U.N.C.L.E (2015)

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I saw this at a very early press screening three weeks ago but there was an embargo to even tweet about it. By now I could barely remember much about Guy Ritchie’s movie, but if I were to describe it in one word, it’d be frothy. Just like Mission Impossible, this movie is based on a 1960s TV series of the same name. I actually never watched it, but basically U.N.C.L.E. is an international counter espionage agency, and the acronym stands for United Network Command for Law and Enforcement.

Ritchie certainly got the retro look right for The Man from U.N.C.L.E., just as he did with Sherlock Holmes‘ Victorian London in the 1800s. In fact, the style is the only thing going for this movie – from the exotic Mediterranian locales to the extremely good looking actors wearing those stunning 60s clothing. Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer play enemies-cum-partners, CIA agent Napoleon Solo and KGB operative Illya Kuryakin, respectively. They reluctantly have to work together on a mission against a mysterious criminal organization. It’s set during the Cold War so naturally the [clichéd] plot has to involve nuclear weapons proliferation. It only seems alarming on paper but given the humorous tone of the movie, you’re not supposed to take any of it seriously. The movie has a deliberate Bond vibe but perhaps more in line with the mischievous spirit of Roger Moore’s era.

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Ritchie has experience with bromances, pretty much every film he’s done from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Rocknrolla to his latest Sherlock Holmes with Jude Law & Robert Downey Jr. has bromance elements. I think Hammer and Cavill have a decent chemistry, though not as effortless as Law and RDJ, and neither has quite the star power. As much as the two male mannequins are gorgeous to look at, unfortunately they’re as bland as a Minnesota hot dish. [Actually, it’d be an insult to my home state’s cuisine as I actually think tater tot hot dish is pretty tasty!]. I suppose there’s not much the actors can do when their characters are only as deep as a cardboard cutout. They give each of them a backstory of sort, i.e. Solo was a criminal before he was a spy, but still the characters are pretty much one dimensional.

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Ritchie assembled an International cast for this movie which results in an amusing hodgepodge of accents. We’ve got a Brit playing American (Cavill), an American playing Russian (Hammer), a Swede playing German (Alicia Vikander) and an Aussie playing Italian (Elizabeth Debicki). Not to mention Irish actor Jared Harris (son of the late Richard Harris) doing his best Texan drawl as Cavill’s CIA boss. Overall the actors did okay with the accents, though Hammer’s Russian accent is quite hilarious and rather distracting. I guess I find Russian accent even coming from Russian actors as amusing because it always sounds so exaggerated. Thankfully Hugh Grant as the leader of U.N.C.L.E. sticks with his own British accent.

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I really want to love this movie and I have to admit there are some fun moments and the setting and costumes are fun to look at. But overall, no matter how pretty the package is, it can’t really fix a hollow story. I think Ritchie aims for cool escapism from the dreaded Summer heat, but really, it wouldn’t hurt to inject just a teeny bit of substance into the whole glamorous affair. It feels like watching a two-hour retro fashion commercial, with ocassional gadgetry and gun play that never feels even the least bit threatening. The quota of beautiful people is off the charts, even David Beckham has a cameo and we’ve got Italian model Luca Calvani as Debicki’s sidekick.

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I was impressed with Debicki in The Great Gatsby but she’s barely given anything to do here, I think Vikander’s character fares a bit better but barely scratching the surface of her talent considering what she could do in Ex Machina. I have to mention that even though Cavill is a beautiful man built like a Greek god [I mean he IS Superman], I find him lacking in virility on screen. He doesn’t quite have that sparkle in his eye that make him belieavable as a ladiesman, to me anyway, I have a feeling a lot of ladies would disagree.

One thing I find distracting is the music that’s overused or used in an overblown way that it becomes a sensory overload with all the frenetic CGI action. There is one particularly funny scene when Solo nonchallantly watches Kuryakin fights for his life in a speedboat chase whilst he snack on a sandwich he found on a parked truck. But for the most part, all the action is forgettable as you could barely invest in the story. I’m not saying The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a bad movie, but it’s the quintessential style over substance. There’s a not-so-subtle hint of a sequel at the end but I don’t think there’s enough going for it even for a single movie.

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Have you seen Man from U.N.C.L.E? Well, what did YOU think?