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?

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45 thoughts on “FlixChatter Review: The Man from U.N.C.L.E (2015)

    1. Hi Alex, it seems that it was in development hell for some time, lots of A list stars passed on it. I guess that might’ve been a sign.

      Hmmm, I don’t know which old tv shows I’d like to see get made as a film. I think Hollywood’s made pretty much all of them, or will do so in the future, ahah.

        1. Y’know I have only seen him in The Social Network and this one. He’s ok, but not terribly charismatic. Better than Liam Hemsworth tho.

  1. It’s usually a bad sign when big named directors and actors passed on the project, I remember Steven Sodenberg and George Clooney were attached to it for a while and then Tom Cruise and of course he left the project too. I’ll probably give it a rent when it hits Bluray.

    1. Yep, I think Cruise made the right decision to focus on Rogue Nation instead. He has the star power though so he probably would make UNCLE a more exciting film. Cavill is one gorgeous man but that doesn’t make him a star.

  2. Ruth, just read a review about this on another site and he loved it. Sure is a lot of eye candy–I wondered if it was as good/bad as The Kingsman. All of this is just hype for Spectre. I can’t wait to see it!

    1. Yep, it’s Tom’s review right? I just left a comment there, seems that we’re on opposite sides on this one. I think Kingsman benefited from a more charismatic cast, even Taron Egerton is more fun to watch than Cavill though he’s not nearly as good looking. Looks alone doesn’t make an actor instantly charismatic.

        1. It’s funny because as I was watching Cavill on screen, with his perfectly-cut dimples & finely-tailored suits, I just don’t get the hots for him… same with Hammer who’s just as chiseled. I actually prefer someone a bit less ‘perfect’ but with more of an edge.

  3. Ouch! And I just read a review that was really high on the film. Sounds like this one is going to split audiences. It certainly seems to have bombed at the box office.

    1. I was agonizing whether I should give it a 3 but I really think it’s more of a 2.5/5 for me. I enjoy looking at the gorgeous cast and set pieces, but it hardly makes it a compelling movie. It has style in abundance, but so is a Giorgio Armani photoshoot :\

  4. Tom

    Great piece Ruth, I see where you can fault the film. Only time will tell whether I remember this one later on down the road! 🙂

    1. Hi Tom! I could barely remember any of it even a month later, ahah. The Rome scenery is glorious though, if anything, the movie made me want to go back to the eternal city! 🙂

  5. I’ve read some positive reviews for this (in fact although yours isn’t negative it’s the first one I’ve read that is less enthusiastic, if you know what I mean). I was initially going to give it a miss as I’m not really a fan of Ritchie’s schtick, but I might give it a go at some point. Maybe small screen, and I like the sound of the slick retro look. ‘As bland as a Minnesotan hot dish’ is a new one for me – my brother-in-law’s from Duluth so I’ll have to use that one on him!

    1. Hi Stu! I tried not to rip it too much but really this is such a frothy movie, like cotton candy! It’s perhaps the least crass of all Ritchie’s films in terms of language, but it didn’t have as many fun characters as his previous films. Your brother in law is from Duluth?? Ahah, well I hope he’s not offended. I do love my [adopted] home state of MN!

    1. Hi Natalie! Yeah, it’s only worth a rental IMO. I did like the fact that they gave us free food/drink during the press screening of this movie though 🙂

  6. I thought they could have done a little more marketing on UNCLE since not many people know anything about it or the TV show … I’m one of them haha. By the sounds of it, I’ll be checking out Rogue Nation over this one.

    1. I think they promoted this thing up a storm, they’re like everywhere! But whether they made the connection w/ the tv series or not I don’t know. Regardless though, no amount of promotion can save a movie that’s so flippant. No wonder Rogue Nation still makes more money at the box office in its third weekend.

  7. Didn’t do much for you huh? There seems to be a difference of opinion among the reviewers I trust; some like it a lot, others share your meh reaction. Still not sure if I’ll bother!

    1. Hi Mark! Well, it was fun in some parts and it was enjoyable seeing all the beautiful people and beautiful scenery, but it all rings pretty hollow to me. All style no substance can only go so far.

  8. It left little impression on me. I normally like Armie, but it didn’t quite feel like anyone showed up for this. And I thought Vikander sounded Irish for lots of the movie.

    1. Yep, after all that gorgeous-ness, when it’s done I literally turns to my hubby & shrug. I like all the actors, but they’re barely given anything to do.

  9. I really enjoyed. It wasn’t great art but I didn’t expect it to be. I liked that it was actiony without being ridiculously so, no cars driving through one building then landing in another with no damage to either vehicle or driver etc. When they fought they got banged up, even if they were fabulously dressed while doing it. I liked all the performers and thought Hugh Grant was a terrific Waverly with a very definite Leo G. Carroll vibe, the original Waverly. I did use to watch the original show, not regularly but enough to know the back story so maybe that helped. I’m sorry to see it didn’t do as well as hoped I liked it alot more than most of the CGI heavy action junk that’s dumped on us nowadays.

    1. Hi Joel! Yeah maybe the fact that you enjoyed the TV show made you nostalgic 🙂 I didn’t dislike it, I just didn’t think it deserves a higher rating just because it’s a stylish movie. The two leads lack charisma to me, regardless how good looking they are. I think the action was fun, just not as memorable to me as say, Rogue Nation.

  10. This is one I want to get around to eventually – I watched the show as a kid and loved it! According to my family, ha! Interested to see how Guy Ritchie handles the 60s.

  11. jackdeth72

    Hi, Ruth:

    Didn’t like the idea when it was first pitched and kicked around. Wasn’t impressed or moved by its trailer, Also getting tired of directors messing with or re-imagining my pleasant childhood memories.

    Securing my Soapbox:

    Carry on.

    1. Hi Kevin! You have every reason not to be keen on thie remake idea. It seems that it was in development hell for ages, perhaps they should’ve put the kibosh on it.

      1. jackdeth72

        Or at least delay it to add a few key cameo or development scenes with David McCallum (‘Ducky’ from NCIS). Because if it doesn’t have David McCallum in it. Or playing Illya Kuryakin. It AIN’T ‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’!!!

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  13. Nice review. I first thought it was a decent B movie, but it’s actually been in the back of my mind since I saw it last week. It’s a problematic film, sure, yet I seem to have really enjoyed it. I even thought the cast had great chemistry. :/

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