‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’ is A.D.E.Q.U.A.T.E.

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2015 has been a busy year with the spy genre. Already within the calendar year we’ve had Kingsman, Spy, Mission: Impossible, and, somewhat, Furious 7. The latest tale of espionage to join the growing list is Guy Ritchie’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E., which is the big budget revival of the ‘60s spy show. For better or worse, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is a Guy Ritchie film through and through. It features some slick stylistic flourishes and some wobbly storytelling, but is Guy Ritchie’s best film since Snatch.

The film opens in Berlin. The year is 1963 and Cold War tensions are running high. CIA operative Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) crosses Checkpoint Charlie and enters East Berlin. Solo is seeking out Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), a mechanic whose father, a rocket scientist that worked for the Nazis, has gone missing. Gaby doesn’t have long to think about Solo’s offer as their plans to defect have been heard by Ilya Kuryakin (Armie Hamer), a KGB superspy. The very next day after Gaby’s thrilling defection, both the CIA and KGB have reliable information that a group of fascists have captured Gaby’s father and are close to developing a nuclear bomb. Reluctantly, Napoleon, Ilya, and Gaby are traveling to Rome to infiltrate this neo-fascist conspiracy.

Everything going on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is heavily stylized, from the opening credits to the chic ‘60s garb that the stars wear. For the most part, the film is a nice-looking movie filled with nice-looking people. Adding the charms is a robust sense of humor that can creep in on any scene at any given time. There are a couple of incredibly well-executed gags. But for all the glitz and charms on the screen, Ritchie and co-writer Lionel Wigram, working from a story co-credited to Jeff Kleeman and David C. Wilson, never get story of espionage up to par. For a spy film, there are very few twists and turns, and each with limited impact. Adding to the underwhelming elements, there’s not really a good villain in the film, just a collection of half-sketched characters that can serve any purpose needed at its given time.

But Guy Ritchie’s biggest flaw is in the manner with which presents his action. Amazingly, his set-ups to action are far more thrilling than when the action actually unfolds. Much to the film’s credit, it avoids an excessive amount of subpar action sequences, opting for more moments of character and humor than bullets flying. Ritchie also employs another stylistic tic from his well-known arsenal of trick. Nearly any time there’s a reveal or a twist, Ritchie turns back the clock and adds in a missing shot here or there to complete the scene. It might work better if any of these reveals weighed more heavily on the story or the characters, but they simply don’t.

In his first starring role since Man of Steel, Henry Cavill is given a lot more leeway to inject life in his performance than as Superman. But Cavill also delivers all of his lines in this smooth, smarmy manner that only grows to be tedious as there’s little change to his vocal inflection. As the Russian Ilya, Armie Hammer doesn’t come out as well. In scenes where he’s not required to speak in his silly Russian accent, Hammer is effective. But the real star of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is Alicia Vikander, who is also given the character with the most depth. She nails all of her beats, be they action, comedy, or drama. Between this and her performance in Ex Machina, we’ll be seeing a lot more of Vikander. The film also features Jared Harris and Hugh Grant in minor roles, the latter, I assume, because ‘90s nostalgia is in right now.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. isn’t a great movie, nor is it a bad one. It’s a film that occupies the middle ground between the two. It may be hurt by coming later in a year that has been filled with fun spy fare, but the film mostly holds its own throughout its breezy two-hour running time. More importantly, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is the most entertaining Guy Ritchie movie in over a decade.

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