Film review: The Man From U.N.C.L.E

15:36 15 August 2015

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Picture: Warner Bro. Pictures

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Picture: Warner Bro. Pictures


The film adaptation of this ‘60s TV classic doesn’t seem to know if it’s supposed to be silly or serious, says Michael Joyce

As a former Mr Madonna, Guy Ritchie must be accustomed to being overshadowed. Still, it’s got to be galling when the producer of your early films, Matthew Vaughan, then goes off and has the stellar directing career you seemed destined for. Two of Vaughan’s biggest successes, X-Men: First Class and Kingsmen, were both grounded in a pastiche of ‘60s spy romp glamour, and here Ritchie is trying to go down the same route with a film version of the popular Bond rip-off TV show of the period.

The programme is a decent subject for a big screen version because the title still has positive connotations but the only things most people remember about it is that it was about an American and a Soviet spy, Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, working together during the Cold War.

Man Of Steel Cavill does a fair approximation of Robert Vaughn’s suave, unflustered, slightly oily charm, though it all seems like a lot more effort for him than it was for Vaughn. Meanwhile Lone Ranger Hammer’s Illya Kuryakin is just a hulking Soviet superspy. The pick of the cast is Alicia Vikander as the girl who runs rings round the boys.

The film is bright and light and fast and fun, but is so busy trying to impress us with how bright and light and fast and fun and so very, very ‘60s it is that it largely overlooks the point of itself.

Despite what his many detractors think, Ritchie clearly does have skill and imagination but he applies it all so randomly and thoughtlessly.

For example, a major action sequence is staged as something that Solo watches through the mirror of a truck as he casually enjoys a snack. It’s a really bold and risky choice – it gives the audience something fresh and unexpected but it also undercuts the value of the action, and the action is a major selling point for this kind of film.

This is supposed to be light, playful stuff, but at one point we are introduced to a villain who gets to give us a lengthy speech about his childhood and how he became a master of torture and that human beings are motivated by two things – pain and fear. He then says that history gave him a great opportunity to perfect his skills, a point which is then emphasised with a montage from the Second World War, including shots from a concentration camp. It all adds to this sense of never knowing quite where you are with the film, or if indeed you are anywhere at all.

If The Man From U.N.C.L.E. were a dog walk, it would feature brief periods of being let off the leash to run wild interpersed with moments of being yanked violently back into line.

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