Review: THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (2015) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Review: THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

Photogenic cast, classy soundtrack and retro-chic '60s period production design can't escape the dullness of this surprisingly bland spy caper.

Based on a beloved '60s TV spy series of the same name starring Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo and David McCallum as Illya Kuryakin, the long-gestating movie reboot finally comes to life after spending decades in the development. Under the guidance of director Guy Ritchie, Warner Bros. seems to be making a right choice here. Besides, he's the one who helped resurrect the classic literary adaptation of the first two SHERLOCK HOLMES movies appealing enough for the modern viewers. Unfortunately, Ritchie's big screen version of THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. is all glossy surfaces but little depth within. 


Set in 1963 Berlin during the Cold War era, former art thief-turned-CIA operative Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) is supposed on a routine assignment to extract Gaby (Alicia Vikander), the mechanic daughter of a missing German nuclear scientist, out of the country. But during the mission, Solo crosses paths with KGB agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) where they compete against each other for the prized asset. With their exceptional espionage skills, it doesn't take long before their respective handlers agree to pair them both as a team. Together with Gaby, their mission eventually leads them to Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki), a wealthy Italian femme fatale who somehow has to do with Gaby's missing father, as well as a tape containing information about building nuclear warhead.


At the beginning of the movie, Ritchie hits the right button with an elaborate car chase scene around the Berlin Wall that introduced both Solo and Kuryakin. Some of Ritchie's narrative trademark, such as one of the many scenes where a character reveals his or her twist in the aftermath for the second time round, does help adding a bit of zest into the movie.

Oliver Scholl's production design is spot-on perfect with all the meticulously-crafted '60s setting. Joanna Johnston's period costume design is just as praiseworthy, especially the way she dresses the female actors (Alicia Vikander and Elizabeth Debicki) in lavish wardrobes that defined the Sixties era. Equally worth mentioning is Daniel Pemberton's toe-tapping jazzy score, as well as the soundtrack ranging from Nina Simone's "Take Care of Business" to Tom Zé's "Jimmy Renda-Se".

As for the cast, Alicia Vikander is wonderfully fun and spunky as Gaby. Australian actress Elizabeth Debicki, in the meantime, nails her female Bond villain-like temptress role as the scheming Victoria. Although appearing only in a small role, Hugh Grant's trademark laidback charm is put into good use as the shadowy figure, Waverly.


There is one amusing part where Solo casually enjoys a bottle of red wine and a sandwich inside the truck, while watching a speedboat chase unfolds from the distance.


As evident in the SHERLOCK HOLMES movies, Ritchie's signature style-over-substance approach is mostly fun and energetic. Although he did excel during some of the individual moments in THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., his overall direction here feels strangely uninteresting. This is especially true when Lionel Wigram and Guy Ritchie's screenplay offers little sense of intrigue or adventure associated with the spy genre.

While the supporting cast is generally acceptable, the same cannot be said for the badly miscast main actors. Henry Cavill, who filled in the shoes of Robert Vaughn's legendary role as Napoleon Solo, may look suave and impeccably dressed in a three-piece suit. But his acting performance comes off as stiff as a mannequin. Worse yet, most of his jokes fall flat in the face whenever he tries to wisecrack. As Illya Kuryakin, Armie Hammer continues to suffer a major career slump following his disappointing performance in THE LONE RANGER (2013). It doesn't help either when both of them lack chemistry as two mismatched partners.

As mentioned earlier, the opening car chase scene is entertaining. But subsequent action sequences generate little tension or imaginative flair. Not to mention most of the action, especially involving hand-to-hand combats, are rapidly edited with lots of tight close-ups and jittery cam. Even the potentially "money shot" moment during the climactic buggy-and-motorcycle chase is hardly compelling.


Towards the end of the movie where Waverly said, "Oh, and you have a new code name. Rather a good one: UNCLE" to Solo, Kuryakin and Gaby (no, this is not a spoiler), it's obvious the movie is meant to make way for future instalment. Frankly, THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. can be a potential franchise-starter if done well. Too bad this isn't the one.

* This review is written courtesy from Warner Bros Malaysia IMAX press screening *

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