Monday, August 17, 2015

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Review

From the get-go, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. feels enthralled with the world it inhabits. Guy Ritchies entertaining Sherlock Holmes movies took giddy pleasure in enhancing the detailed period setting with high-octane action, and while U.N.C.L.E. feels more subdued than those two films in terms of action, there's a similar spry sense of spirit in how it treats its 1960's time period. Old timey TV's, cars and music (which contains some unorthodox songs that typically aren't used in cinematic depictions of this time period) can be found around every corner, and it's hard not to be won over by that aspect of the movie.

On the other hand, the rest of the feature feels a bit like it's going through the motions. That's not necessarily a bad attribute considering the likable visual quality of the motion picture as well as a few fun action beats (Armie Hammer tossing a motorcycle onto an antagonist is a sight to behold). It's actually in the dynamic between the two leads of the adventure where the movie sputters, with our main duo consisting of American agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and Russian agent Illya (Armie Hammer) having to work together to stop a nuclear bomb wielding foe.

Putting these two characters from those specific countries of origin in an adventure in the middle of the Cold War lends an opportunity for some subtext of countries learning to work together that the script heavily utilizes, though even that unique bit of connotation can't save the more tired-and-true nature of how they grow in the story. They start out not liking each other, adventures happen, they get on each other's nerves, more adventures happen, they start to respect each other, ya get the point and can probably see where they're going to end up as characters before their first action sequence is over. 

No harm in using age old storytelling techniques if you can bringing something new to the table, but alas, there's just nothing truly interesting stemming from their dynamic. Not a large amount of jokes between the two lodge into your memory after you dispose of your popcorn tub and even the basic chemistry between the duo is nothing to write home about. Armie Hammer at least delivers an authentic Russian accent and some jokes stemming from his overly serious demeanor. Cavill meanwhile is solid, but not really noteworthy, though watching him in this movie made me realize that this guy looks somewhat like if a Ken doll came to life.

Even with that sort of flawed partnership leading the film, director Guy Ritchie does manage to create some fun action scenes that employ some fun thrills and laughs in equal measure. Unfortunately, the main villain Napoleon and Illya have to face, Victoria (Elizabeth Debicki), is a dud, lacking the sort of distinctive personality or presence that marked recent successful spy movie antagonists like Valentine in Kingsman or Silva in Skyfall. She's not truly bad, but she's a bland cipher to build an action movie plot around.

I actually feel a bit bad for criticizing The Man From U.N.C.L.E., since it does feel like it's heart is in the right place here. This isn't a cynical cash-grab, but rather, a story that seems like it appealed directly to Guy Ritchies sensibilities. But even the most notable intentions can't excuse the more glaring problem in The Man From U.N.C.L.E., though at least this cinematic endeavor can hold its chin up high knowing it's, in my book, at least a zippy decent time-waster. It had the potential to be more than that, but hey, at least there's some cool 1960's influenced sets and props to gaze at. That's gotta account for something.

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