The Man from U.N.C.L.E. review: new franchise?

Guy Ritchie is like… so hot right now. At least, it seems so, after his career had hit a little blip right before the Sherlock Holmes films put him back on the map.

Then for his next trick he thought he’d turn his hand to the spy genre, specifically resurrecting a nostalgically adored ’60s TV show, The Man from UNCLE. Remembered fondly by those of a certain age, utterly unknown to those younger than that.

But no matter. Whether you’re young or old(er) most of us can get on board with a sexy cast dressed in gorgeous clothing, their tongues planted firmly in their cheeks as they swan around the globe foiling evil plots. Can’t we?

And if we’re talking tone (which we are now), this film sits somewhere between Austin Powers and Bond, the Roger Moore years, which is no bad thing. Or if you’re seeking a more modern reference, it would make a nice triple-bill with Spy with Melissa McCarthy and Kingsman, with Colin Firth; as you’ve never seen him before.

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Concerning story: we have handsome American spy Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) trying to rescue pretty girl Gabriella Teller (Alicia Vikander) from East Germany, as he needs her help to get close to her nuclear scientist father who’s been kidnapped by an evil, Paris Hilton-esque woman wearing far too much jewellery. They’re aided by a handsome yet prickly Russian Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer), told by his superiors he’ll have to team up with the annoyingly smug American to complete his mission.

Ultimately this film isn’t really about plot. It’s about the laddiest of all laddy things, banter! And Cavill and Hammer do this pretty well, bouncing off each other and working effectively – if chaotically – as a team, despite their grudging reluctance. However, most of this film does feel like an intro to a franchise – as the studio would no doubt love it to be.

Do we have the spy version of Lethal Weapon on our hands? Too early to call. I wouldn’t be averse to a second film. It nipped along at a decent pace, looked great and had a killer soundtrack (as you’d expect from Ritchie), so giving these characters another mission wouldn’t be a bad idea.

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But on the downside, as far as quibbles go, I have two.

First, it’s 2015, and in this day and age Ritchie must surely have been able to give a lady of Alicia Vikander’s talents more to work with. She starts off ok then descends (slight spoiler) in the final third into classic, uninspired territory of the female needing to be rescued by the male leads. It’s tiresome and it would have been nice to mix this up. She had a frisson of chemistry with Armie Hammer’s character, so why couldn’t he have been the one needing to be rescued by her?

Secondly, despite me saying the story is incidental, the characters (and actors) still need something credible to sink their teeth into and give the audience a reason to care. For me, the story started well but lacked a bit of punch as it progressed. I found my attention wavering somewhat in the middle. (This never happend with Lock, Stock and Snatch – Mr Ritchie, take note.)

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In general though, it’s a fun ride. An easy, popcorn fest of a movie. Standout for me was probably Armie Hammer’s performance, although Hugh Grant does turn up at the end and almost steal it.

So go see it.

Turn your brain off and your smile on and soak it in.

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