The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: One Of Last Year’s Better Spy Movies

Last summer, I aimed our Archivist column at blockbuster movie relevance. When Mad Max: Fury Road blitzed theaters, I dug up a film about a very different apocalypse, as well as a genuine Ozploitation flick. When Jurassic World turned brains to useless mush, I covered a double feature of monster movies, including a Ray Harryhausen classic. Sadly, I missed The Man From U.N.C.L.E. when it hit cinemas, without leaving a mark, but I did have the pleasure of seeing all eight of the original theatrically released movies from the 60s, starring Robert Vaughn, and David McCallum. “Sadly”, indeed, for this labor of love from Guy Ritchie could have been a hit in a summer less inundated with major franchise genre films.

2015’s revamp of the classic TV show functions, unsurprisingly, as a kind of prequel to the stories told in the 60s. The U.N.C.L.E. agency does not yet exist, and after enemy agents, Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) of the CIA, and Illya Kuryakin (Amie Hammer) of the KGB run afoul of each other in East Berlin, a common enemy is discovered: Nazi sympathizers (Elizabeth Debicki and luca Calvani) who seek the necessary components to build nuclear weapons. An unprecedented alliance is begrudgingly formed between the Cold War opponents. Together, they must aid Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander) in tracking down her father, a former Nazi scientist turned U.S. collaborator, captured by the would-be despots.

Familiar premise aside, there isn’t much to dislike about this clever and stylish update. For those acquainted with the original U.N.C.L.E., not much has changed. The cars are cool, the cast is pretty, and the wardrobe is fabulous. However, while Solo is the same calm and collected smarmy-charmer established by Robert Vaughn, the once deadpan and one-dimensional Kuryakin is given surprising depth and the cast’s strongest character arch. Paired in a romance with the immensely charming Alicia Vikander, the two become the heart of this mostly superficial fun-machine.

Superficiality isn’t always a bad thing, especially when it’s delivered with so much creative action, quality humor, and a smart, hard-earned climax. It’s truly a shame so few took a chance on this one, but I can hardly blame the masses for missing what sounded like the least interesting of the many spy movies in summer 2015. In my humble opinion, this was the second most enjoyable offering from the genre behind Melissa McCarthy’s espionage turn this year. As far as spy movies go, U.N.C.L.E. gives both Spectre and Rogue Nation a run for their money in entertainment value.

The music, created by Daniel Pemberton is a slick mix of acid jazz (in more of a Lalo Schifrin sense than that of a 90s night club) and Spanish classical guitar, and the soundtrack also boasts a few choice tracks of 60s pop from the many countries wherein the film is set. Although I would have appreciated a brief nod to Jerry Goldsmith’s original theme, the new music, though not instantly recognizable, does separate itself from the source material to create a new cool mood.

It might not be essential viewing, but The Man From U.N.C.L.E. delivers.

THE PACKAGE

The Guys From U.N.C.L.E.: Behind the scenes travelogue

Spyvision: Recreating the ‘60s cool: Music, clothes, cars, design…

A Higher Class Of Hero: All about the characters

Metisse Motorcycles: Proper And Very British: Really cool featurette following Armie Hammer on a tour of the Metisse workshop. He nerds out with the owner, goes for a ride, and falls off. Thoroughly entertaining.

U.N.C.L.E.: On-Set Spy: A lot of candid footage of the cast and crew having too much fun making this movie… the kind of stuff that makes you want to make movies, yourself.

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the author

Ryan Lewellen has loved movies ever since he was programmed that way by his creators from a universe parallel to, but reachable from, your own. He knows he shouldn’t be telling you that, but in 3 years, 2 months, 29 days, 16 hours, 30 minutes, and 55 second’s time, your awareness of our existence shan’t factor, for it is your fate and fate is inescapable, human. Enjoy your final moments reading his movie blog.

  • Fritz Leipold

    I DID catch The Man from UNCLE in the theater, and was so taken with the witty script and retro feel of the film that I saw it a few more times. It was a far better film than whatever iteration of Mission Impossible they’re up to now, and by far the most fun I had at the theater last summer!

  • Darla Doxstater

    I hated this movie so much I saw it 19 times in the theater. I kept hating it so much, I bought the digital copy as soon as it became available. Then I hated it even more when the Blu-Ray was released–twice, because I decided I needed a backup to hate in case something happened to the original hated set. I’d really appreciate it if WB would authorize a sequel or two or three so I could hate those, too.

    ETA: I’m still hating it an average of once per week.