Guy Ritchie’s “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” is “based” on the 1964-68 TV series. Based is a very loose word, especially when writing as a huge fan of the original TV series. Having said that, the movie deserves a review from the perspective of a non-UNCLE fan too, and in that context it’s very entertaining. The look and feel of the movie is very 1960s spy movie, more The Ipcress File than James Bond, and the soundtrack by Daniel Pemberton plays homage to the soundtracks of the period.
The cast carry the movie well, with Alicia Vikander in particular shining in a role that could easily have become the McGuffin object to be ferried around, rescued etc. It moves at a fair pace, the plot is pretty thin (who the baddies who want the atomic bomb are, and why is never really explained, although they seem pretty well resourced given they own a submarine). There are some quite funny moments, including a scene with an electric chair in the background, or Cavill sitting in a truck during a gun battle. Cavill and Hammer struggle to get past the slightly clunky tension of their respective CIA/KGB backgrounds but when they do, and they do, you do start to root for them as a team. Hugh Grant plays Hugh Grant, which is fine, because I happen to like Hugh Grant. Elizabeth Debicki has a nice screen presence, and could really have been given more to do other than waft in and out of scenes.
One criticism I’d have is that the set piece James Bond attack on the enemy base is almost wasted in a curious montage. It looks great, but you feel like you’d like to have seen more of it. On top of that, the movie ends curiously abruptly. The end credits, showing UNCLE files, contain a few interesting nuggets, and the movie sets up nicely for a sequel.
The usual Ritchie stuff, split screens, flashbacks to what REALLY happened, etc, are all there, and add to the entertainment. It’s not a classic. It’s no Snatch. But very enjoyable.
The UNCLE fan review. Warning: includes spoilers.
I’m not one of those fans who believes the original material is untouchable. There are people who have never forgiven JJ Abrahms for the Spock/Uhura thing, or refuse to watch Elementary because it’s set in the US and Dr. Watson is a woman. I’m happy to let each interpretation stand on its own feet. Having said that, I’m not sure if I were a huge fan of the Mission Impossible TV series I’d see much connection with the Cruise movies, as they miss the crucial self-sabotaging aspect of the original show. But that’s another story.
This movie was an interpretation of The Man from UNCLE, or rather, a view of UNCLE from such a distance that you can just about recognise a few familiar shapes. It’s an enjoyable movie, but could just as easily have been called “The Rome Caper”. Certainly, if it hadn’t been called The Man from UNCLE I’m not sure UNCLE fans would have recognised it.
Of course, you could argue that it is a prequel, and so obviously misses a lot of the original features of the TV show, and that would be a fair point. In addition, the UNCLE of the movie, a small team with east/west tensions is actually far more realistic than the TV show’s huge vaguely utopian organisation.
The one glaring difference between the show and the movie is Cavill and Hammer. Both physically impressive, (Hammer especially looks huge onscreen) are far removed from the Talk First, Then Fight approach of the original characters of Solo and Kuryakin. Also, making Kuryakin out to be borderline psychotic just isn’t the same character played by David McCallum.
It’s a different UNCLE, and I’d like to see a sequel to see where they take it. But I have serious doubts that there’ll be one.