MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. Is 007's Country Cousin

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MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. starts 8/14/15.

In the mid 1960s THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. was a major hit. It won the Golden Globe for Best Television Show in 1966, and stars Robert Vaughn and David McCallum were each regularly nominated for best actor at the Emmys or Golden Globes. The show was conceived in part by Ian Fleming, the man who created James Bond, and as such began as a serious spy program. A couple of years in, the incredible popularity of Adam West’s BATMAN show encouraged the producers to lean heavily towards camp, a decision which ultimately doomed the show. The entire series is available on Amazon Prime.

Personally, there’s no such thing as too many spy shows. Campy affairs like OUR MAN FLINT or the AUSTIN POWERS franchise or serious offerings like the latest 007 films starring Daniel Craig—I generally enjoy them all. The latest spy caper to hit the big screen is THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., and once again I wonder about Hollywood’s inability to create something fresh and original, because this film is neither.

It’s not bad, mind you. Henry Cavill, famous in his role as the murderous, neck-breaking alien from Krypton (you know who I’m talking about—good luck, Batfleck!), takes over Robert Vaughn’s role as Napoleon Solo, a world class thief and spy assigned to a mission to use Gabby Teller (Alicia Vikander from EX MACHINA) as a means to find her father, a missing German nuclear scientist. Armie Hammer (THE LONE RANGER) reprises David McCallum’s Illya Kuryakin, a Russian agent on a similar mission to recover the missing scientist, the nuclear warhead or the schematics for it which he’s been forced to develop for Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki from THE GREAT GATSBY), the primary villain in this caper.

Guy Ritchie, the mastermind behind some of my favorite films—LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS, SNATCH, and the Robert Downey Jr. SHERLOCK HOLMES franchise—does a good job capturing the look and spirit of the 1960s and the flavor of the Cold War, but he somehow failed to make a film that was more than the sum of its parts. I thought everyone played their parts well, particularly the beautiful Elizabeth Debecki. You don’t see enough women as the lead villain in a movie. Too often they’re the nutty girlfriend or over-zealous assistant. And yet the film just didn’t hold my interest. The first act was tedious and by the time things started heating up I barely cared to continue. The middle and end was solid enough, but I expected more from Ritchie. I liked the split panel effect he occasionally employed, and the period cars and clothing were well done, but the spycraft was nothing special, there wasn’t much in the way of gadgets, and the fight scenes…well, let’s just say the Galactic Empire’s Stormtroopers are better shots than Vinciguerra’s Euro syndicate muscle. I don’t mind humor, and I don’t mind camp, but I don’t care for films that try to be both serious and campy.

I understand that the original television program was the same way—serious and/or campy, and ultimately that was its downfall too. Again, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with Ritchie’s MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., though he doesn’t allow Hugh Grant’s British Intelligence character drop that reference until the film’s last line. I guess that’s my biggest problem with it. Few in Hollywood seem capable of doing good first acts anymore, so I’m used to fighting off droopy eyelids for the first half hour of most movies. But there’s just not much reason for this film to carry the “Man from U.N.C.L.E. “ tag into the 21st century, certainly no more so then Denzel Washington’s character needed to be THE EQUILIZER earlier this year. It’s OK to be original, really, it is. Originality brought us KINGSMAN. This penchant for rebooting old TV shows as film franchises has me crying “UNCLE!” Make it stop, and take the 3D glasses fad with you. 

3.0 / 5.0