Director: Guy Ritchie
Starring: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander
There’s a phrase used when talking about American Football, referring to the NFL as “a copycat league”. What it means is, any time a great team starts winning a few championships, it will only be a matter of time before other, currently inferior teams start plagiarising their style, their plays and their strategy in an effort to get better results. If the James Bond franchise is the current title holder, with a winning formula for making the perfect spy film, then ‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E’ is standard copycat attempt, duplicating elements of the great 007; just not quite in as immaculate a manner as the recent blockbuster, ‘Spectre’. Don’t get me wrong, this effort certainly maxes out its limited talent, playing right to its ceiling, yet the film simply lacks that championship guile.
Not content with taking inspiration from Bond, ‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E’ is based on the 1960s American TV show of the same name. We meet Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill), a debonair CIA agent, who teams up with his former nemesis and KGB operative, Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) for his latest mission. The pair must attempt to overthrow a Nazi-sympathising couple’s nuclear coup before the malicious, aristocratic South American lovers can pawn their newly built nuclear warhead to the highest bidder. As the two spies humorously aggravate each other, they also learn to work together and trust one another, giving them a real chance to stop the villains before its too late; how cute.
Guy Ritchie, the terrific director who brought us ‘Snatch’, ‘Lock Stock’, and the ‘Sherlock Holmes’ redux applies his typical flair to the picture, so we at least knew going in that it wasn’t going to be bad. While somewhat deficient in that cultish flair we recognise as a Ritchie staple, ‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E’ certainly tries to distract from its ordinary narrative with charming characters and effervescent set pieces. This may be nothing spectacular, yet you can’t help but find yourself dazzled at times. Speaking of dazzled, Cavill (Man Of Steel) actually replaced the dazzling Tom Cruise, which probably made the film better (or at least less douchey). Which leads me to my main critique – that through its convincing attempts to play to its strengths ‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E’ still seemed to lack that winning, superstar punch – or the flair that takes good movies and makes them great.
Is ‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E’ a completely original picture that breaks barriers? No, it’s quite unsurprising actually. But in that sense, ‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E’ plays like a mash-up of ‘Hitman: Agent 47’, ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’, ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’, ‘Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol’ and numerous other contemporaries, utilising some of their best pieces, while discarding their flaws. To call this film a poor man’s James Bond does not do it justice either. If James Bond is the Ferrari or Lamborghini of spy films, what we have here is something more akin to the BMW – sporty, but not as stylish; speedy, but not as turbo-charged; glitzy, but not as exclusively iconic.