The second blockbuster based on a ‘60s spy series to hit this summer, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. provides a stylish jaunt back to the Cold War.
Following a red-tinted title sequence that provides a potted history of recent U.S-Russia relations, we find ourselves in 1963. Suave CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) extracts scrappy car mechanic Gabby Teller (Alicia Vikander) from behind the Iron Curtain, only narrowly escaping from the KGB’s Ilya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer), a Soviet Superman with a volatile temper. After this antagonistic first encounter – Solo takes a shot at Kuryakin; Kuryakin tears the bumper off Solo’s car – the two find themselves forced into an uneasy alliance.
There are fascists to be thwarted, like jewellery-bedecked ice queen Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki) and her scrap-booking torturer, facilities to be infiltrated1, and nuclear secrets to be recovered. Solo and Kuryakin’s, AKA Cowboy and (Red) Peril's, strained relationship is consistently amusing – the former enjoys an impromptu picnic dinner, listening to Italian jazz, while the latter is being chased down and shot at – and Hammer and Vikander’s rough-and-tumble chemistry keeps things interesting during the film's middle stretches.2
Despite Lionel Wigram’s and director Guy Ritchie’s droll script, liberally sprinkled with double entendres, there’s nothing hugely memorable about the action on display: a stop-start car chase through East Berlin, a panoramic dune buggy pursuit – it’s nothing that Mission: Impossible hasn’t already offered up.3 Cavill charms, Hammer broods, and Hugh Grant pops in for an amiably sardonic turn as future boss Waverly.4 Ritchie brings his usual bag of hyperkinetic tricks – cross-cutting and split-screens abound – with a few nice Spaghetti Western touches.5
"How’s that for entertainment?” Cavill asks coolly during the Man From U.N.C.L.E.’s too-neat denouement. Not bad, Mr. Solo – solid, but hardly likely to shake up Bond.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. gets 3*6
1 Which incorporates a variation on the old “The Russian’s used a pencil” anecdote.
2 Her bedroom dance in sunglasses and striped pyjamas to Cry To Me is wonderfully kitsch. Thanks to Charlotte Ambrose for confirming the song title.
3 Vikander’s role definitely feels like a throwback given Rebecca Ferguson’s ass kicking.
4 His greying hair and age spots also bespeak an endearing lack of vanity on this occasion.
5 Like the rattlesnake rattle al a Ennio Morricone that warns us when Kuryakin’s about to go ape6 This is a film that doesn’t even require my perhaps somewhat over-elaborate x out of 10.