It's 2015. James Bond has been rebooted and regressed back to his novel thug days in an attempt to overtake more modern escape hitman Jason Bourne. Melissa McCarthy has dressed up for Field Agent alongside Jude Law and Jason Statham. There are spies by the bucketful. They have polymer handguns, holographic communicators, personal jetpacks, and whole militaries to back them up when necessary.
Guess what it's time for, then.
That's right, Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin are back. Not in a sequel, but a reboot. Normally, this would be cause for horror and wincing trepidation as we waited for Hollywood to ruin another classic property.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was already more than half satire. This gives it armor. The other point in its factor? The 2015 film has been done as a period piece, thus allowing them to keep all the original Cold War and culture jokes intact, and throw in all of the intervening years for extra sauce references if necessary.
I went to see this movie mumbling, prayerlike, pleasedontsuckpleasedontsuck under my breath. Happily, I can report, it does not suck. It is in fact just what my Saturday ordered. I make no claim that this is a great movie. It's not a 'film.' It's not even a really really good one. But what it does, in my opinion, is pretty much take the Man from U.N.C.L.E. recipe, dilute the schmaltz just enough to achieve irony, and then ladle it on with a trowel. It (to me) succeeds in nailing what it set out to do, namely, make a fun and funny 1960s campy spy movie while remaining faithful to its roots.
Henry Cavill is just damn suave as Solo, although he (somewhat disturbingly) seems to have retained many of the mannerisms that got stuffed into him while studying to be Superman - because his delivery in places is just pure Christopher Reeve. That's okay, though, because that in itself is campy suave which is what is needed. He burgles, escapes, seduces, terminates and chases his way through the movie and looks damn good doing it - stopping as required to appreciate a fine woman, a chance bottle of wine and a sandwich, or even a brutal off-roader. His lines are snappy, his suit is snappy, and his patter is smooth.
Armie Hammer is the Jaws to Cavill's Bond. He's a tall, withdrawn, lethal Russian KGB agent with anger issues - which of course leads to fun when he's supposed to be undercover. His Ilya Kuryakin is driven to redeem himself from a secret shame - it's just a pity that spies in this world know everything there is to know about each other.
We even get Mr. Waverly, played with plummy enthusiasm by Hugh Grant.
So while the title agency doesn't even exist during (nearly all of) this movie (it is, after all, an origin story) the spirit of U.N.C.L.E. is in full effect. Well, other than the MacGyver-like tendencies of the original agents - that seems to have been left on the storage closet floor. After all, Macgyver's done it and done it better, and Jason Bourne is our current environmental improvisation gold standard - when going for a light film, why go head to head with the serious players?
Directed in the usual style by Guy Ritchie, the film zips right along. The only criticism I have is that Ritchie has a tendency to get overly stylized during complex action scenes - worshipping at the altar of 1960s and 1970s action and thriller film styles, I think - and I'd have preferred he leave things a big simpler. It's probably obvious when you watch it where this happens - but if not, then it doesn't bother you so you don't care. It wasn't enough to actually throw me out of the vibe, but it was annoying.
I recommend The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and admit that the Cold War leaves me nostalgic. I wasn't sentient in the 1960s, so I"m not nostalgic for the fashion and culture and I can giggle at them just as hard as millennials.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015)
Directed by Guy Ritchie
Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo
Armie Hammer as Ilya Kuryakin
Alicia Vikander as Gaby
Elizabeth Debicki as Victoria
Hugh Grant as Mr. Waverly
Jared Harris as Sanders