Editor’s Note: The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is currently open in wide theatrical release. For more on the film, read The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: Guy Ritchie’s Latest Foray into Glib, Slick Hollywood Filmmaking by Mel Valentine.
With films of every genre, the common critique “style over substance” is quite often true. Hyperkinetic editing, whip pans, and similar techniques can be used to cover up shoddy scripts as commonly as they can be used to enhance good ones, and covering up definitely demands less effort. So, when a film comes around that displays these qualities, an extra-analytical lens is needed to determine what exactly those stylistic choices are there for. And in Guy Ritchie’s latest, such style is practically a character of its own, as usual. But, is that for better or worse?
This question is difficult to answer, considering that The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is loads of witty fun, and seems primarily concerned with making that fun as gratifying as possible.
This question is difficult to answer, considering that The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is loads of witty fun, and seems primarily concerned with making that fun as gratifying as possible. It’s a TV-to-film adaptation of a popular series from the 60’s with the same name, chronicling the exploits of unwilling partners-in-espionage Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer), one a CIA agent, the other a KGB operative. Convoluted yet simple story short, along comes a criminal organization with bombs, threatening to use what’s at their disposal. Thanks to the resulting circumstances, Cavill’s caricature of an American must team up with Hammer’s caricature of a Russian, in an effort to stop this organization from using their nuclear weapons. As Alicia Vikander’s female lead, Gaby, states in the film’s trailer, that doesn’t sound very friendly. And she’s right, it isn’t. Solo and Kuryakin clash hard and often. What ensues hinges entirely on their familiar combined evolution from enemies to friends, and while this journey may be far from new, here it’s refreshing and entirely entertaining.
Impressive action, innuendos, and lavish costumes all blend together in a frenzy of a good time.
Guy Ritchie’s first Sherlock Holmes is an example of style over substance. It tries to outwit the audience, but does so by keeping the audience uninformed, and sloppily attempts to conceal this misstep with the director’s style. Thankfully, the majority of focus here is allocated to little moments between Cavill and Hammer, and while the world-saving plot isn’t all that special, it’s competent enough. That’s not what the film’s trying to do. It’s trying to juxtapose the childish rivalry at its forefront over increasingly more unfit scenarios, and accomplishes that rather well. Cavill is charismatic and charming in his role, triggering big laughs simply by speaking. Undoubtedly he has a blast playing up the “Big Strong American Man” cliché with hilarious extravagance. Hammer counters this wonderfully as the quieter yet brutish character, whose comedy lies more in the reactions both his demeanor and actions receive. Alicia Vikander, fresh off of her brilliant performance in Ex Machina, is a great addition to the duo, offering a sly ferociousness that makes for many fun moments. Each location and sharp-looking scene these two are placed in impresses the eyes, and as the subsequent shenanigans win you over, impressive action, innuendos, and lavish costumes all blend together in a frenzy of a good time.
In many ways, this is a buddy cop Bond film, and if that sounds intriguing to you, rest assured you’ll find yourself enjoying it. The Man From U.N.C.L.E is a briskly paced adventure, one that may not have a deep or intricate plot, but one that knows this, doesn’t try to prove otherwise, and delivers on what it wants to do.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E is a briskly paced adventure, one that may not have a deep or intricate plot, but one that knows this, doesn't try to prove otherwise, and delivers on what it wants to do.