Guy Ritchie’s films tend to favor style over substance, even when they hit on the harder side of violent. It’s made his initial forays into studio filmmaking, 2009’s Sherlock Holmes and its sequel, odd fits for Ritchie, but he appears to have found a way to work in the studio system with The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Adapted from the hit 60s TV series of the same name, U.N.C.L.E. is a fizzy piece of pop that takes full advantage of its Cold War setting to create a visually pleasing, lightweight adventure.
In the midst of the Cold War, CIA spy Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) is forced to team up with KGB agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) to work with East German mechanic Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander) in order to find her father, who’s been kidnapped by Italian Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki) to work on a nuclear bomb. In order to find and rescue Gaby’s father, Illya poses as Gaby’s fiancée with the hopes that her Uncle Rudi (Sylvester Groth) will arrange an introduction, while Solo attempts to charm Victoria to get the intel needed.
It’s a slightly complicated, definitely convoluted plot, and occasionally works against the film’s inherently light charms. Make no mistake, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is unabashedly frivolous, and the film works better when everyone’s working in this mode. 2015 has already seen a string of successful spy films (Kingsman: The Secret Service, Spy, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation), and what makes The Man from U.N.C.L.E. stand out is its ability to be silly. In part because it’s set half a century ago, the visuals are more pop-oriented, with attention paid to the style of clothing and the colors of the sets.
It helps that Ritchie nailed the casting choices here. As Napoleon Solo, Henry Cavill is incredibly dashing, but the character is made more interesting by having a criminal side that gives him a bit of an edge. His reason for being a great spy is because the alternative is a jail sentence for being a con man. Armie Hammer is possibly more integral to making Illya Kuryakin work, though; Illya has a roughness to him, and Hammer gives him an underlying gentleness. It’s a nice twist on traditional spy stories, which tend to paint Russian spies as the villains; some of the same characteristics pop up, but with a different understanding. Once the two are paired together, they’re absolutely delightful. Their collective charm overwhelms everything else on screen, including Vikander, who unfortunately gets a bit lost behind them. Their conversations on fashion alone seem bound to inspire scores of fan fiction, in the way they contrast their masculine professions with topics far more effete.
The eye for style is what makes The Man from U.N.C.L.E. such an enjoyable treat. It’s a great “bromance,” for lack of a better term, that maintains a sense of fun throughout. For fans of the genre and the time period, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a perfect cap to a summer of fun films.