Editor’s Notes: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is out on Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack November 17th.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (Warner Home Video) was a popular TV series that ran from 1964 to 1968 and was inspired by the popularity of the James Bond films. In fact, Ian Fleming, the author of the Bond novels, is the individual credited with giving the show’s central character —Napoleon Solo — his name.
The feature film takes place in the early 60s at the height of the Cold War. An opening sequence finds American spy Solo (Henry Cavill, Man of Steel) trying to avoid being killed by top Soviet agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer, The Social Network) as an elaborately staged chase gives way to a daring escape from East to West Berlin. But it soon comes to light that a former Nazi has kidnapped a German scientist and is well on his way to creating a nuclear bomb. Both America and the Soviet Union cannot allow this to happen and decide to pool their top agents — Solo and Kuryakin —to seek out the bad guys and thwart their nefarious plans.
The original TV series was a clever weekly excursion into the world of spies, femme fatales, and maniacal villains bent on world domination. It was fun to see how Solo (Robert Vaughn) and Kuryakin (David McCallum) joined forces to combat and prevail over these villains. The new picture, however, suffers from two very stiff leads who have movie star looks but who lack that twinkle that makes the lighter moments of the film sparkle. Hammer works hard to convince with his Russian accent and Cavill attempts to look calm and in charge under even the most dire circumstances, but the script by director Guy Ritchie and Lionel Wigram never comes to full life. Having been a huge fan of the original TV series, I was disappointed with this movie.
The plot is really a lead-up to how the organization named U.N.C.L.E. — United Network Command for Law and Enforcement — came about. The film is distinguished more by its production design than its script. Vintage era cars, clothes, and props are meticulously correct, lending a terrific period feel to the proceedings. Alicia Vikander co-stars as a young woman with clandestine loyalties, and Elizabeth Debicki exudes pure villainy as beautiful Victoria, whose soft spoken patrician manner veils a cold-blooded murderess. Hugh Grant pops up as Waverly, Solo’s boss who’s on hand mostly to provide exposition and keep the audience up to speed.
Rated PG-13, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is a good film that could have been far better with added wit and more expressive actors who understand how to deliver comic lines. As it stands, it has lots of action which is unfortunately sandwiched between overly talky scenes. The movie opens the door for potential sequels, which is practically de rigueur in action pictures these days.
Bonus extras on the Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack include several behind-the-scenes featurettes.