Wednesday, August 26, 2015

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

© Warner Bros.

If Ocean's Eleven were a spy movie, it would be The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Guy Ritchie's newest mod-tastic action comedy is a bit lighter on the thuggish violence than it is dripping in style and charm. The talented cast make this more or less silly film incredibly fun. Not to mention, beautiful to look at.

Based on the US television show of the same name that aired all the way back in 1964 (for four seasons), Cold War tensions collide when a suave and womanizing CIA agent, Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill), is forced to team up with Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer), an intense Soviet spy. They are, of course, mortal enemies who must work together to uncover the whereabouts of a nuclear bomb being developed by private arms dealers. They enlist the help of German auto mechanic, Gaby (Alicia Vikander), whose familial ties to the scientist building the bomb make for an obvious infiltration.

Cavill and Hammer are too handsome for their own good, which makes them perfect counterparts. Their rivalry is well-established—visible through a myriad of stink-faces they give each other—and the novelty of an American having to get along with a Russian isn't lost on us (though admittedly, the concept is beginning to feel dated). Vikander should be everyone's new girl crush, not just because she's beautiful but because she possesses subtly of character, something entirely unnecessary in a story this overt. Her performance in Ex Machina was evidence of her skills, and the best part is that she doesn't play the same character here. She holds court with the suave agents, and elicits an equal amount of charm. Granted, her accent vacillates between German, British, and her natural Swedish, but it all adds to the air of espionage. At least that's how I'm going to argue it.

Acting and fashion aside, the action is the first thing you'll notice is pretty light. Explosions are few and far between, unlike what we're used to in the Bond oeuvre, but there was something inherently right about it all. These are spies, we're talking about, and there's a concerted effort to not get caught or be seen. What a concept, huh? It makes for less death-defying stunts, but it also leaves some breathing room for shenanigans and fun banter.

Guy Ritchie's usual violent style isn't completely absent, but it's so understated, most viewers might miss it completely. None of the heroes or the villains are thugs, they're diplomats and agents, and they move, act, and speak as such. But there's still some mild torture and frightening inferences to keep the imagination going and the tension high. And hey, this is based on an overly playful television series from the 1960s, the fact that it's not full of cheese and dad jokes should be considered a blessing.

What I enjoyed most about UNCLE is that is has something for everyone. It's clever and exciting at times, and there's plenty of "pretty" to look at. At the end of a summer season full of movies trying so damn hard, this was pretty effortless. It doesn't soar to great heights as a result, but then again, it doesn't need to. Looking at the tailored suits and 60's mod dresses was as enjoyable as experiencing the featherweight action, and I got to look at Henry Cavill almost the entire time. Asking for more would just be selfish.

Rating: ★★★½ / 5 stars

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