man-from-uncle-movie-review

The ’60s was cool, but that doesn’t make a movie set in the ’60s cool by association. The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Guy Ritchie’s movie remake of the classic 60’s TV Series opens in wide release today   Its ’60s throwback style paints a compelling onscreen picture, but the convolution of its plot and shallowness of its characters cannot match the intrigue of its setting.

Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) is an ex-con-cum-secret agent working for the CIA in Cold War East Berlin. He’s tasked with tracking down auto mechanic Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander) so that she can help prevent her father from further developing nuclear secrets

Hot on his tail is Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer), a KGB agent with his own directive: stop Solo from achieving his mission goal at all costs. When Solo foils Kuryakin’s relentless attempts to subdue him, he’s greeted with a new surprise: he’s now to team with the mechanical Russian so they can stop Gaby’s father from completing his research that may destroy the world.

The unwilling partners set off with their own form of Bond girl to infiltrate the ring that seeks to corner the nuclear arms raise all for itself. Who this ring is never quite becomes clear nor does the method the spy crew will use to infiltrate them. Instead, a slapdash two hours of spy tropes and style carries the weight of the film into an endgame that never quite becomes clear.

This is where The Man from U.N.C.L.E. finds its biggest problem. The film is so obsessed with becoming an ultra-sleek and retro-cool spy thriller that it can’t get past its costumes and sets and into the real fun of the genre. The normal intriguing plot twists and high-action set pieces are tossed aside in favor of the next batch of costume changes and set recreations. There’s enough there to make a worthwhile spy thriller, but Ritchie never wants to seize all of it.

Character is another sacrificial lamb at the altar of style. For what is supposed to be the first entry in a film franchise, we learn incredibly little about the main characters, particularly, Teller, who I’m still not entirely sure why she had to be in the movie at all. With such thinly drawn leads the already-thin plot becomes untenably frail as there’s never enough pathos established to care what happens to these folks on a globe-trotting mission.

That’s not to say the performances are bad. Cavill is surprisingly entertaining as the perpetually unimpressed Solo and actually manages to inject a bit of cool into a character that had none on the page. Vikander’s near-legendary it factor is in full force and shows why she’s being considered for every meaty female role over the next quarter-century.

The praise cannot extend to Hammer, however, who plays his Russian agent with the humor of a living statue and only slightly more charisma. The character is the least of the three to begin with, but Hammer certainly does help himself play catch up at any point.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is never what it wants to be. The spy elements are never strong enough and the characters never charming enough to set us in the perpetually cool and whimsical world Ritchie has so meticulously created from a visual standpoint. Instead, it’s a very rudimentary spy movie with a bunch of colorful costumes and not much else.

Without substance, style is nothing.