The 2015 spy-action thriller is a misunderstood classic bogged down by expectations
Last Updated: 03.49 AM, Jun 21, 2022
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Making a film that is intended to rival the stylish elements of James Bond is a task most filmmakers would be reluctant to tackle. If there was anyone willing to take a leap of faith, it was Guy Ritchie. And to his credit, he has delivered a visually stunning and stylish recreation of the 60s at the height of the Cold War. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is a very conventional espionage story about American and Russian spies based on the 60s television series of the same name. However, the film is elevated to a much higher standard largely thanks to Ritchie’s distinctive filmmaking style.
The film features a glamorous yet incredibly talented cast of Henry Cavill, Alicia Vikander, Armie Hammer, Elizabeth Debicki, Jared Harris, and Hugh Grant, who essay very complex characters. Cavil’s Napoleon Solo is a former military man and ex-thief who hopes to avoid incarceration by agreeing to be a spy for the US government in Germany. Hammer’s character is Illya Kuryakin, a highly trained Soviet spy with a very short temper who is gifted with heightened intelligence and physical prowess to overcome any foe. The well-dressed and smooth-talking charmer, Solo, is almost James Bond-esque. One might even argue that the role of Solo was Cavill’s elaborate audition to replace Daniel Craig as 007. In fact, Cavil is one of the frontrunners for the role to replace Craig as Bond.
Hammer’s Kuryakin is an unrelenting ‘super agent’ who has earned quite the reputation over the years. But the heart and soul of the movie is Alicia Vikander’s Gaby, the daughter of a former nuclear expert, who lives behind the iron curtain in East Germany as a car mechanic. And for obvious reasons both the powers that be, in the East and West, are heavily invested in finding the whereabouts of Gaby’s father. However, in a twist of fate both America and Russia decide to work together to foil Victoria Vinciguerra’s (Debicki) attempt to create nuclear warheads for evil plans of her own.
The interaction between the three lead characters and how they adjust to the unique nature of their new mission forms the crux of the film’s narrative. It is hardly an earth-shattering or complex plot, but as mentioned earlier, Ritchie’s filmmaking improves the film ten-fold. From the quick zoomed-in wide-angle shots and quick cuts, to the vibrant visuals and sound design, the film will keep the audience hooked to its narrative. The chemistry between the lead characters and the performances of the cast are also factors that have benefited the overall aesthetic of the film.
Despite having all the right ingredients to make a successful espionage franchise, the film failed to live up to expectations at the box office. It also killed off any plans for a potential sequel. The action scenes and third act alone should have guaranteed the film a sequel. The third act features twists and turns in the narrative, fast-paced action sequences, and some memorable set pieces that truly stand out. The narrative also highlights the perils of the arms race and how the US and Russia conducted operations. And also gives a glimpse of 60s East Germany and the stark differences between the regions of Germany on either side of the infamous Berlin Wall.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. embraces the type of film it is, a stylish spy action thriller. It also has just the right amount of distinguishable qualities that set it apart from the Bond or Bourne franchises. The final scene teased a new mission for team U.N.C.L.E., under the leadership of British SIS agent Waverley (Grant). Warner Bros’ reluctance to green light any future projects based on these characters, and the controversies surrounding Armie Hammer have most certainly put a nail in the coffin for the franchise. It is undoubtedly an underappreciated classic that was shackled by massive expectations to rival James Bond, Jason Bourne, or Ethan Hunt. But there could be no argument that The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is one of the most aesthetically pleasing films ever created.
You can watch The Man from U.N.C.L.E. here.