The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)
Directed by Guy Ritchie
Cold War-era spy movies always follow the same formula. At the end of a bad spy movie, this might irritate you. At the end of a good one, you simply don’t care. “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” is a good one. It’s the most consistently entertaining action movie of the summer blockbuster season (since, technically, “Mad Max: Fury Road” released in the spring). It’s not wholly original, but “UNCLE” strives only to be a fun escape, heavy on plot twists and cheeky monologues and other things that would make Maxwell Smart proud.
In 1963, in the midst of a historically hostile US/USSR relationship, the CIA and the KGB decide it’d be wise to team up their best men—suave American Napoleon Solo (played by British actor Henry Cavill) and short-tempered Russian giant Illya Kuryakin (American actor Armie Hammer)—to help the German daughter (Swedish model Alicia Vikander…) of a nuclear physicist. This highly-intelligent physicist is helping some common enemies bring about the third world war—whether under the threat of force or under his own free will, they’re not sure. Of course, this doesn’t go smoothly. But as the trio combines their unique spy tactics—stealth, strength, or secrecy—they find they can get a lot more accomplished together than apart. That doesn’t mean, of course, that they won’t still act stubborn about it.
From the kickass opening chase scene to the satisfying sequel set-up (yessssss), “UNCLE” never ceases to be full of fun. I can’t give it many points for its plot, which is a conglomeration of dozens of similar spy stories involving nuclear bombs and unlikely partners. But “UNCLE” never gets muddled down in momentousness. The whole time, its script keeps the tone light, making you laugh so often you’ll forget you’re watching a Cold War movie. It has an air of nonchalance with a cast that’s clearly on board. Cavill is a brilliant Bond in the making. He’s a serious action superstar with a charm that never lets you take him too seriously. He’s the source of many of the film’s most delicious dramatic monologues, which always ended with the theater in uproarious laughter. Through a steady but thin Russian accent, Armie Hammer also gives his share of sarcastic one-liners, mostly spoken under his breath. Like the whole cast, it’s impossible to hate Hammer. He’s just too likable. In a surprisingly goofy and thoroughly enjoyable performance, Vikander sheds the motion capture suit she wore as Ava in this year’s “Ex Machina” to play Gaby Teller, the fake fiancé of one of our leading men. She seems to have a ball, and her vibrant enthusiasm is contagious.
“UNCLE” is always faithful to its roots—not only the mid-‘60s TV show the film is based on, but “Get Smart,” “I Spy,” and a whole host of other silly spy serials. “UNCLE” is every bit the cheeky spy film I hoped it would be. I hope you’ll agree.