Movie Review: The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

By Ben Gruchow

August 17, 2015

Mmm. Grapes.

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In the world of August 2015 as it looked from August 2014, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is released and becomes a de facto highlight of the late-summer movie season. It’s quick, sharp, the cast has chemistry, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it manages to come in at just under two hours. It’s muted praise, but it’s not nothing, and we’re coming in at the end of a summer that frequently hasn’t been able to rise to even those levels.

Unfortunately, Paramount went and screwed everything up by moving Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation to July 31st, giving U.N.C.L.E. barely two weeks to rebuild market anticipation for another action-adventure movie based on an old TV show. and Henry Cavill (indisputably the better known of the two headliners, if only because of Man of Steel) is no Tom Cruise. To make matters worse, Rogue Nation is quicker, sharper, has better chemistry, generates tension along with its playfulness, and it feels shorter than The Man From U.N.C.L.E. even if it’s not. This sets the newer movie at a disadvantage that is frankly not very fair to it, and there are a few areas I can think of where the absence of Rogue Nation would have been to U.N.C.L.E.’s benefit.

These areas are fairly minor, all told; a great heaping portion of U.N.C.L.E.’s liabilities are baked into it naturally, and I’d rather not go into a comparison of the minor ways in which one movie handicapped the other. I’ll give one example: Alicia Vikander’s Gaby Teller has an alluring screen presence, and she proves herself equal to the movie’s co-leads. When watching her as a getaway driver in an early action sequence notable for its slickness, however, it’s impossible not to think of Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust and the downright terrific motorcycle/car chase she took part in two weeks ago.


Those co-leads, by the way, are Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin, played broadly by Cavill and Armie Hammer, in a story that’s mostly about the two spies learning how to work together. The nominal main storyline, involving the usual nukes and/or megalomaniacal plans for world domination/destruction, is given precisely the nominal amount of attention required. This is never more apparent than in the narrative’s resolution, which is as tossed-off and glib as you can really get; it passes muster, barely - and only by comparison, and only then really because Fantastic Four came out just last week and redefined the concept of an abrupt ending.

There’s more time and effort invested in the character byplay, and the results are, in general, satisfactory: Cavill is generally effective at suppressing his British accent to play an immovably droll CIA spy. Hammer plays it straight, and is arguably more successful at selling his side of things: his Kuryakin is comprised almost entirely of reactions, exhalations, flicks of the eyes. Cavill and Hammer pull off the not-insignificant task of selling us on the camaraderie and effort of a duo who really never come around to liking each other or being more than slightly unwilling to kill each other if it suits the mission - and any given scene between these two has more chemistry and sets off more sparks than any scene between any other character in the movie.

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