It’s terrific. Really. I’ve heard it labeled “fizzy”, and that’s pretty damn accurate. It seems impossible that I haven’t seen “Spectre” yet (rectified soon, I hope), but I feel like I’ve witnessed a James Bond vehicle anyway. Think 1971’s “Diamonds Are Forever”, but a whole lot more fun. Plus, I now believe Henry Cavill is the perfect choice for our new movie Superman (2013’s “Man of Steel” and 2016’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”), because he’s so perfectly disarming and light on his feet here. I believe a man can fly. And does Armie Hammer have the worst luck, or what? So soon after the ridiculously underrated, and mostly critically dismissed “The Lone Ranger” from 2013, Mr. Hammer stars in this ridiculously underrated, mostly critically dismissed reboot too. I’m a little bit too young to recall the original 1960’s television series starring Robert Vaughn and David MacCallum, but I vaguely remember seeing a few reruns as a boy. But director Guy Ritchie’s motion picture take on “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” is effervescent and charismatic and tingles like a morning flute of Dom Perignon. What a nice surprise.
It’s 1963, and Napoleon Solo (an extremely handsome and impossibly charming, Henry Cavill), a reformed thief turned government agent, is teamed with KGB operative, Illya Kuryakin (a perfectly cast Armie Hammer) to bring down some leftover WWII Nazis, who’ve gotten hold of a nuclear weapon. Kuryakin is paired with Gabriella Teller (the smashing, sexy Alicia Vikander from Sweden, having a breakout 2015 with this, “Ex Machina”, “Testament of Youth” and the upcoming “The Danish Girl”), so they can pose undercover as an engaged couple. The three travel to Rome, with Solo pretending to be an antiquities dealer. The attempt to work together is a struggle throughout though, as the trio are in a constant state of mistrusting one another. Can they overcome their loyalty obstacles long enough to stop the bad guys–one of whom has a close relationship with young “Gaby” Teller. In fact, the Nazi scientist turned U.S. collaborator is Udo Teller (Christian Berkel)–her dad. And veteran English performers Hugh Grant and Jared Harris make ample contributions to the plot line too.
Of course, the James Bond connection is hardly a stretch, with Ian Fleming being one of the creators of the 1964-68 television series of the same name. And damned if Guy Ritchie’s sharp direction and nimble screenplay (with Lionel Wigram) doesn’t hit exactly the right tone for this nifty spy thriller period piece. The action sequences are superb, and the set-up of them sports a sly sense of humour. I was reminded of Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes” from 2009 (along with his 2011 sequel, his biggest hits), as he cemented the comeback of Robert Downey, Jr., that began with 2008’s “Iron Man”. “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”, dumped in the wasteland of mid-August, failed to accomplish big box, but a few notable critics were able to spot its quality (it’s made at least one 2015 Top Ten list). If anything, Mr. Cavill proved to me that he’s more than just a handsome face, Mr. Hammer exhibited once again that he’s a quite versatile talent, and Ms. Vikander has shown me that I undersold her gifts, when first noticing her in the 2012 one-two punch of “Anna Karenina” and “A Royal Affair”. My highest praise for this film? I’m so looking forward to watching it again. I never would’ve guessed.