Superman and The Lone Ranger put aside differences to protect nuclear secrets. In a different time that would've been box office gold. But this generation thinks of the actors who play those roles as lacking in personality (most only knowing The Lone Ranger from trailers). Luckily, Guy Ritchie's The Man from U.N.C.L.E. reboot gives the two a sleek retro playground and they both have more presence than I've seen them before.
Henry Cavill plays Napoleon Solo, a cocky American spy working under Sanders (Jared Harris), who sends him into East Berlin to get Gaby (Ex Machina's Alicia Vikander). Soon, Napoleon and Gaby are forced to work with nigh-superhuman ex-KGB Illya (Armie Hammer) to get to Gaby's father (Christian Berkel), the keeper of some nuclear secrets. Spy stuff happens.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. isn't a deep twisty-turny spy thriller, and one could call it a bit on the fluffy side. However, the intention seems to be more on character, and I felt the movie suffered the rare times it tried to get complicated in a spy flick kind of way. Napoleon, Illya and Gaby play really well off each other, and the best scenes keep it simple: break into the safe, run from the baddies, etc. Speaking of baddies, 6'3 Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki, also 6'3) hits a great, almost Bond level of villainess, and there's enough reason to see the movie for her wardrobes alone.
Although the opening rescue is shot with hard shadows like a pulp novel cover, most of U.N.C.L.E. is as bright and flashy as its soundtrack. And oh my, its soundtrack. From the Roberta Flack titles to Daniel Pemberton's outstanding work to a little Morricone thrown in for good measure – this is a soundtrack that goes well beyond the quality of the movie, to be honest. It's almost sad that you go in knowing how visually striking Guy Ritchie is, because you sort of take it for granted. At times it felt like he was in cruise control, but there's some really inventive moments, and the cinematography is as good as you'd expect.
There's a good sense of humor throughout, capitalizing on either Napoleon and Illya's rivalry or Napoleon's arrogant dry timing. Ritchie even plays off the fact that you're always wanting another Guy Ritchie action sequence with some fake outs. My favorite scene involves Henry Cavill sitting in a truck.
Tonally the film is interesting because, as I said, U.N.C.L.E. is certainly funny, and is more focused on character than action. But it's not a parody or a wink-and-a-nudge like 21 Jump Street, and it doesn't have the luxury of the source material being a comedy like Get Smart. The luxury it does have is that most people know the source material is highly regarded but don't know much by way of details. This gave Ritchie enough freedom to go the action comedy route while still embracing the genre and time period without needing to poke fun at it or any dated conventions of the show.
I want to go into how the women are represented, namely Gaby. Gaby is a strong woman, a bit of a tomboy but it doesn't cover her femininity. And she is perfectly competent without the boys, the boys who are traditionally manly stereotypes between the impeccably dressed suave American and the quick-tempered Russian. At first, this didn't strike me as odd but it did stand out, in the same way as when I'm watching something of the same era or earlier and a minority is in a high position of authority or status for the time. Which in this case I feel is good and great, especially because the movie is striving much more for entertainment than historical accuracy, and having Gaby be just as able as the manly 60's spies is much more interesting. It reaches almost cartoonish levels, as she has enough strength to hold Illya down on the floor when earlier in the movie he ripped a trunk off a car with his bare hands.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a little light and might not stick with you long, but I had a lot of fun and there's a reason every review headline has the words “slick” and “stylish”. Guy Ritchie's slick and stylish 60's pop romp delivers a movie draped head to toe in cool. Perhaps forgettable, but cool.