Author: J.A. Hyde
August 13, 2015

SYNOPSIS: Henry Cavill ("Man of Steel") stars as Napoleon Solo opposite Armie Hammer ("The Social Network") as Illya Kuryakin in director Guy Ritchie's "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.," a fresh take on the hugely popular 1960s television series. Set against the backdrop of the early 1960s, at the height of the Cold War, "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." centers on CIA agent Solo and KGB agent Kuryakin. Forced to put aside longstanding hostilities, the two team up on a joint mission to stop a mysterious international criminal organization, which is bent on destabilizing the fragile balance of power through the proliferation of nuclear weapons and technology. The duo's only lead is the daughter of a vanished German scientist, who is the key to infiltrating the criminal organization, and they must race against time to find him and prevent a worldwide catastrophe.

Here’s what you need to know about The Man from U.N.C.L.E: The trailer is better than the film.

The quick cuts from the trailer give it something the film doesn’t have – a sustained line of tension. An action/spy thriller definitely needs a bit of anxiety to keep the audience interested. Rather than being on the edge of your seat, you’ll probably find yourself settled back into it.

The film has little in common with the hit television series (1964-1968) except the title and the main characters’ names. On the TV series, Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin were mysterious, but very capable, agents fighting evil on a daily basis. For some reason known only to him, director/writer Guy Ritchie chose to give them less-then-savory back stories which really don’t enhance the plot.

Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill from MAN OF STEEL and BATMAN v SUPERMAN) is a disgraced former war hero morphed into a thief who, when caught, has been sentenced to five years working for the CIA. Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) is a KGB agent given to psychotic episodes of anger. They don’t like each other one bit, but are willing to work together to save the world from a nefarious group of former Nazis who are making an atomic bomb. Their “alliance” only becomes U.N.C.L.E at the end of the film with the welcome addition of Hugh Grant playing their new boss, Waverly.

The most interesting characters in the film are women. Swedish actress Alicia Vikander plays her character Gaby with wit and gusto. She plays the daughter of the scientist reputed to be making the bomb even though she hasn’t seen him in 18 years. She’s stuck in East Berlin – the film takes place in the mid-60’s – where she works as a mechanic in a chop shop. I know, I know – the Cold War made for some strange occupations on the Eastern side of the wall. But after her “liberation” to the West, she gets to wear some great vintage clothes!

The chief baddie is Victoria, played by the stunning Elizabeth Debicki. Already fabulously wealthy, she’s the brains behind the company that’s the front for the whole atomic bomb making thing. The motivation, I suppose, is to become even more fabulously wealthy which doesn’t seem really credible.

The antagonism between Solo and Kuryakin becomes tedious as the two actors have little on-screen chemistry. Instead of being allies from the outset, albeit with a bit of rivalry, as they were in the original series, their animosity takes up too much time and energy from the actual story. This, I think, hurts the over-all tension that should be present for this film genre. Add to that the two fake accents, over-bearing Russian and strangely, synthetic American English, and the audience gets distracted from the story line. In fact, Cavill’s lines often sounded like they’d been dubbed.

In spite of all these shortcomings, the viewer does get treated to some spectacular scenery and some remarkable wardrobe choices. As you would expect, some terrific stunts keep the film interesting. It’s the time between stunts that weighs the film down. - JoAnne Hyde


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