The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

 

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Guy Ritchie recaptures the knowing cool of the naff 1964-68 TV series.

   
Man from U.N.C.L.E. 

Henry Cavill under Elizabeth Debicki

 

We’ve been waiting a long time for this. It’s unfortunate, then, that as The Man from U.N.C.L.E. finally makes it to the big screen, there is a glut of spy films and Cold War thrillers in the marketplace. The good news, though, is that it is Guy Ritchie who is steering the franchise to multiplex domination – and has decided to keep his story in the era of the 1960s. Back then (the TV series ran from 1964 to 1968) it was contemporary, but now it’s retro and there’s enormous fun to be had – and a lot of pointing – at the boxy cars, ungainly gadgets and sartorial silliness. In spite of this, the secret agents Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin – particularly Napoleon Solo – manage to retain considerable cool, even when racing around East Berlin in grandiose Dinky cars. In the comfort of afterthought, Henry Cavill seems a natural choice to succeed Robert Vaughn, with his cleft chin and air of debonair detachment. Armie Hammer is a bolder casting choice as Illya Kuryakin – he is not David McCallum, he is Armie Hammer with a Russian accent and anger issues. Still, Cavill and Hammer keep the spies’ rivalry prickly and deadpan, while Guy Ritchie does most of the showing off with his usual no holds barred panache (with fast zooms, split screens, whacky subtitles, et al). The first act is ludicrously convoluted, stuffed to the gills with exposition, and only gradually is the plot allowed to breathe. The film is constantly entertaining, if never genuinely funny or thrilling, with the violence kept strictly to a cartoon level. There are a couple of classic set-pieces – in which the main action occurs in the background, out-of-focus – and a sassy turn from Alicia Vikander as a romantic possibility, acting like a cross between Jean Shrimpton and Doris Day. As Alexander Waverly (stepping into the shoes of Leo G. Carroll), Hugh Grant is bit of an anti-climax. But the real star of the film is the soundtrack, a giddy, allusive mix-tape of Daniel Pemberton’s colourful, knowing Sixties’ score and splendid stuff from Roberta Flack, Nina Simone, Solomon Burke and Ennio Morricone.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Jared Harris, Hugh Grant, Luca Calvani, Christian Berkel, Misha Kuznetsov, David Beckham.

 

Dir Guy Ritchie, Pro John Davis, Steve Clark-Hall, Lionel Wigram and Guy Ritchie, Screenplay Guy Ritchie and Lionel Wigram, from a story by Jeff Kleeman, David C. Wilson, Guy Ritchie and Lionel Wigram, Ph John Mathieson, Pro Des Oliver Scholl, Ed James Herbert, Music Daniel Pemberton, Costumes Joanna Johnston.

 

Ritchie/Wigram Productions/RatPac-Dune Entertainment/Davis Entertainment-Warner Bros.

116 mins. UK/USA. 2015. Rel: 14 August 2015. Cert. 12A.