We both enjoyed the movie a lot. The plot is an origin story, something I don’t believe was ever done in the TV show, and shows how CIA operative Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and KGB agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) meet, first as opponents, then as reluctant allies, and finally become (less reluctant) partners. Some of the reviewers have criticized the film as more style than substance, but, in the 1960’s style was what it was all about. (After all, in 1960’s television, you couldn’t have the overt sex and ultraviolence that passes for substance in cinema these days, so you had to have something to attract viewers.) Director Guy Ritchie and his coterie of co-writers did a nice job of capturing the “U.N.C.L.E.” feel, with location establishing shots, and multiple split-screen montages. True to the TV series, although there was considerable violence, notably in the climactic assault on the villains’ lair, it was handled with a light touch and no gore. Also, the bad guys were ultimately defeated by an exercise of wits, and not merely by measuring who has the greatest endurance in a bare-knuckle slugfest—astonishing. This was the thing we appreciated most about the film. Most updates/reboots take the basic premise and then impose modern standards of speed, brutality, and amorality. “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” most avoided these clichés.
Cavill and Hammer do nice jobs with their re-imagined characters. Solo is both a decorated soldier and a notorious art thief, dragooned into the CIA’s service as an alternative to prison. Kuryakin is a veteran of the Soviet Special Forces who volunteered for the KGB, but has unresolved anger issues relative to his father--. Unlike the TV show, where Illya tended to do most of the breaking-and-entering type work, both men share the heavy lifting, although Solo’s path-of-least-resistance style contrasts nicely with Kuryakin’s (often equally effective) bull ahead tactics. The rivalry between the two is fought out in every field from spy gear to fashion and is fun to watch.
The men are well matched by the ladies, Alicia Vikander as an equally reluctant member of the spy team, and Elizabeth Debicki as the exotic and deadly master villain, “Victoria”. Victoria is a great character with wonderful fashion sense, and who, if she were in a James Bond movie, would, in my opinion, go down as one of the great opponents, along with Goldfinger and Scaramanga.
The plot is a 60’s classic nuclear paranoia idea, which plays out well enough, although it must be noted that a good part of the fun comes from noting the 60’s and spy references. (Hearing part of the TV U.N.C.L.E. theme on the radio; characters named for SPECTRE agents; ect.)
The movie ends with U.N.C.L.E. going from an ad-hoc to a formal team, which makes one hope there might be sequels.
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