Henry Cavill successfully evokes Cary Grant charm in The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
As a self-described pop culture addict, I knew very little about The Man from U.N.C.L.E. I had a passing knowledge that it was a television show from the 1960s involving an American CIA agent joining with a Russian KGB agent, but that’s as far as my knowledge took me. So I was able to go into the advance screening of The Man from U.N.C.L.E with an open mind. I came away from the film with a smile and appreciation for Guy Ritchie’s fresh take. This is the movie I was hoping Matthew Vaughn’s The Kingsmen would turn out to be and gives Henry Cavill the role that should elevate his superstardom (more on that in a moment).
Set against the backdrop of Cold War era 1960s, Cavill stars as CIA agent Napoleon Solo, who must put aside his hostilities toward KGB agent Illya Kuryakin, played by Armie Hammer. Their joint mission is to stop a mysterious international criminal organization that plans to use nuclear weapons to destabilize the world’s powers. Their only lead is Gaby Teller, played by Alicia Vikander. She is the daughter of a vanished German scientist who may be the key to tracking down the organization and prevent a worldwide, atomic catastrophe.
The film also stars Elizabeth Debicki, Jared Harris, and Hugh Grant, but ultimately its success rests on the chemistry of the three lead characters. They mostly succeed. Henry Cavill is the standout. He has the charm, likeability, and bravado to make his Napoleon Solo character feel simultaneously familiar and fresh. A borderline arrogant American CIA spy, (nothing original there), yet his comedic timing and facial mannerisms blend perfectly with his chiseled frame and physicality to create a fully realized performance. He carries the film and puts Zack Snyder’s direction of him in Man of Steel to shame. Obviously, Guy Ritchie has a better idea of how to maximize Cavill’s charisma for Solo than Synder did for his Superman film.
Unfortunately, Armie Hammer is not as successful in his portrayl of Kuryakin, although some of the problems are not entirely his fault. As an action comedy, Kuryakin’s backstory and personality limits Hammer’s chances for comedy. His KGB agent has more of a tragic backstory with a tense and explosive personality. In one of the film’s funniest moments, Hammer’s Kuryakin has commandeered a speed boat and is evading multiple enemy boats in a high speed chase. Hammer’s action cuts back and forth with Cavill enjoying a nice Italian meal while watching the ensuring chaos. I wondered if Hammer’s performance was limited due to his intense focus and concentration on sustaining a credible Russian accent. Whatever the case, his performance nowhere achieves the comedic heights of Cavill.
Hammer is often used as the set-up for the comedic payoff of others, especially Cavill and Alicia Vikander’s Gaby Teller. The attraction and sexual tension between Vikander’s Gaby and Hammer’s Illya is playful and welcome, but again, it’s mostly at Hammer’s expense. Most recently starring in Ex Machina, Alicia Vikander more than holds her own among the two lead characters.
I find Guy Ritchie to be an interesting director. His style is a fusion of Tarantino, Soderbergh, and Michael Bay. I don’t find his directing style to be particularly consistent or original, but he employs just the right amount of stylistic variety to prevent him from coming across as a knockoff or inferior hack to those other directors (although I would rank Ritchie high above Bay’s directing talent). With that said, the film is a whole lot funnier than I had anticipated. Having collaborated previously with the two Sherlock Holmes films, Ritchie’s screenplay with Lionel Wigram builds slowly where the second half of the film has more pace and pleasures than the initial set-up and build-up.
[mks_pullquote align=”left” width=”300″ size=”22″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]“…the film gets stronger and more inventive as it goes along”[/mks_pullquote]Like most remakes and origin stories, the film has to spend a larger amount of time introducing characters and motives, which often slows things down. Once the set-up is established, the film gets stronger and more inventive as it goes along. If The Man from U.N.C.L.E (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement … I had to look it up) is enough of a critical and commercial success to greenlight a sequel, the Napoleon Solo character (and not the Superman role) may be where Cavill gets the opportunity to showcase his true acting range. Although I suspect this is a remake that no one was asking for, I hope this isn’t the last we’ve seen of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Rating: PG-13 (for action violence, some suggestive content, and partial nudity)
In Theaters: August 14, 2015 (Wide Release)
Runtime: 1 hr. 56 min.
Warner Bros. Pictures – Official Site