Escapism is Always in Fashion

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
(USA, 116 min.)
Dir. Guy Ritchie, Writ. Guy Ritchie & Lionel Wigram
Starring: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki
Alicia Vikander, Armie Hammer, and Henry Cavill star in The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Warner Bros. Canada
Audiences looking for a swinging time at the movies need not fret if they haven’t seen the old TV show The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Guy Ritchie’s new film of the same name resurrects the 1964-1968 television drama from obscurity and gives it a stylish revamp with Henry Cavill as suave American spy Napoleon Solo and Armie Hammer as gruff Russian operative Illya Kuryakin. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. improves upon some misguided efforts to adapt TV for the big screen, as it creates a story that precedes the original work so that one can appreciate the effort whether one’s a fan of the series or hearing of the show for the first time. Origins stories are all the rage these days, anyways, but this stylish actioner set in the swinging 60s gives summer movie season something new. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is an action caper of the Mad Men era—it’s chic and sexy entertainment.

The film gets off to a roaring start with a grand opening sequence that gives audiences the who’s who on all the players. Solo rolls past Checkpoint Charlie into an auto garage and tries his German on a mechanic named Gaby (Alicia Vikander). He quickly changing gears and taking steps to extract Gaby and get her over the Berlin Wall. A big honking man, Kuryakin, follows in hot pursuit and gives their flight quite a fight. Cars zoom around the old city as swinging music roars on the soundtrack, and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. coasts audiences into escape mode for two hours of fun.

Solo and Kuryakin soon become begrudging allies when the Yanks and the Russians put their Cold War grievances aside. Their agencies decide to work together in a convoluted plot to stop some nuclear warfare at the hands of a vivacious power hungry socialite (The Great Gatsby’s Elizabeth Debicki, in the running for the Queen of Chic) and use Gaby as their access card. (It’s a long story.) Solo and Kuryakin play a fun mismatched pair as their egos compete and clash just as strongly as they do in the opening chase sequence, but in the mutual aim of the mission.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. entertains greatly, if inconsistently, as Solo and co. undergo covert affairs and charm the audience with the ooh-la-la intoxication of their European caper. The plot throws some good twists that compensate for a handful of set pieces that overstay their welcome, while some punny one-liners let Cavill charm everyone in the theatre and offset the comparative dryness of Hammer’s performance. Vikander, meanwhile, is an unexpected comedic highlight after dramatic turns in Ex-Machina and Anna Karenina and tailor-made for this fun and surprising role. Debicki is spot-on icy posh, while Hugh Grant makes a likable small role as the man who leads them all to U.N.C.L.E.

Ritchie stages one attractive action sequence after another with glamour shots in between. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. has something for everything since its flair for action and its sense of style go hand-in-hand. Glamorous threads deck out each member of the cast perfectly, especially Debicki and Vikander, while Cavill gives James Bond a run for his money in the style department. Perfect use of picturesque Rome, from the ancient ruins to the timeless architecture, adds a trendy elegance to the entertainment

Pretty clothes and scenic locales make the stitchings of Ritchie’s film extra pretty as the director employs split-screen and funky subtitles to amp up the swagger. The music by Daniel Pemberton makes The Man from U.N.C.L.E. an energetic runway on which the photogenic cast struts its stuff. It’s like To Catch a Thief with Ocean’s Eleven energy, or a spectacular Vogue spread done as a two-hour action sequence. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. might be based on an outmoded TV show, but this film shows that escapism is always in fashion.

Rating: ★★★ (out of ★★★★★)

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is now playing in wide release.