This movie, based on the popular 1960’s television series starring a young Robert Vaughn, is a perfect example of Style over Substance — and I don’t usually go for that. Yet, somehow, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was able to win me over with its charm, and I must admit that it’s a pretty solid flick. Despite essentially glossing over its plot, which involves a nuclear warhead, international espionage, and some very earnest attempts to save the world, the movie manages to be a ton of fun. Guy Ritchie’s super-slick direction and a few fantastic performances by the young cast — Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, and Alicia Vikander — keep the boat upright for an entire 116 minutes.
While Ritchie is responsible for a few of my favorite flicks, including Snatch and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, he’s also capable of making some real stinkers. (Swept Away, for example, was one of the most atrocious flicks I’ve ever sat through.) And ever since Revolver and RocknRolla, which were both unique and interesting, the talented director has been more reliant on the works (and scripts) of others, borrowing Sir Conan Doyle’s detective for a couple movies and then rebooting an old TV show. (Next, he’s taking on a Knights of the Round Table movie, which seems a bit too ambitious. But I’ll watch anything that attempts Arthurian legend.) Anyway, my expectations were not exceptionally high when I popped The Man from U.N.C.L.E. into my DVD player, but in the end I was pleasantly surprised. Although Ritchie seems to be pulling his little non-linear pranks for no good reason these days (showing us part of a scene and then going back to it a few minutes later to fill us in on what we missed), he still hasn’t dropped the ball completely, like I keep half-expecting him to do.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. gets points for including a strong and sympathetic Russian protagonist — the type of character that has been largely absent from Western cinema for the past few decades. (American audiences, at least, got used to seeing Russians as “bad guys” in the 80’s and 90’s, and it’s refreshing to see that trend changing 15 years later. Another recent British film to do this well was Last Passenger, IMHO.) But the best thing about The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was it’s subtle but acerbic humor, which was present throughout. (A scene that involves accidental electrocution, in particular, had me rolling!) I’ll give it a fair rating because it’s so terribly fluffy — but also lots of fun.
Three pot leafs out of five: