Friday, August 14, 2015

Review: The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo and Armie Hammer as Illya Kuryakin in Guy Ritchie's The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Summary: Guy Ritchie's latest entertains with its stylized presentation of espionage and covert agent hijinks but detracts as once-novel tricks become stale and overdone. Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer bring what they can to characters that lack depth in a stereotypical script. The romantic subplot between Hammer and Alicia Vikander feels better left out of the story.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. continues the Hollywood trend of dipping old properties into the Lazarus Pit for a new audience. CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) is tasked with extracting a woman from 1960's East Berlin. Illya "Red Peril" Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) of the KGB, sent to stop Solo, fails despite inhuman persistence. However, foes become ambivalent teammates in a joint CIA-KGB operation to stop a rogue organization from building an atomic weapon.

The film relies heavily on the clashes between Solo and Kuryakin to carry the narrative. Solo is a handsome, refined gentlemen with expensive tastes and light fingers. Kuryakin is a behemoth of physical power whose pent-up rage is ready to boil over at the slightest provocation. The two trade barbs in a predictable contest of one-upmanship as each proclaims that tired cliché of working better alone. While the characters' personalities charm, they aren't developed beyond superficiality. Cavill proves he can be engaging beyond playing a comic book hero.

For sure, style is front and center in U.N.C.L.E. From the title sequence to the bombastic 60's couture, the picture has a visual language as put-together and detailed as Solo's suits. An attentive audience can catch foreshadowing elements that only become clear once the payoff is reached.

Several sequences amuse by keeping the focal point away from the principal action. In one scene, Solo enjoys an exquisite meal while, popping up intermittently in the background, Kuryakin engages in a frantic life-or-death speedboat chase. This creative decision is noteworthy in how effective it is ti mix the execution up.

Still, the pacing makes it difficult to take it all in, but don't worry too much, as the film has a habit of repeating sequences to fill information that better explain the progression of events. This stuttering continues into tedium. Worse, a good portion of the dialog is exposition to explain what is going on, what is going to happen, or what just happened. This takes away from the agent's feuding and the cool gadgetry.

Gabby Teller (Alicia Vikander), the woman Solo rescues from East Berlin who later becomes integral to the mission, changes throughout the film depending on what the plot asks from her. At first she's a strong mechanic who is uncomfortable in finery. Then, she's a drunk party girl attempting to loosen up a stiff Kuryakin. In a ridiculous development, Teller adopts the damsel in distress role for Solo and Kuryakin to rescue in a chase sequence. Teller fails the Bechdel test with flying colors.

The other major female character, Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki), acts as one of the antagonists by looking pretty, commanding henchmen, and not much else. Villainous nobles like Victoria rely on status and heritage as sources of power and leadership. Yet, it is hard to take this sexual, fashionable creature seriously after the character archetype was lampooned so effectively in last June's Spy. The male partner-in-villainy is even more forgettable than Victoria is, but her personal torturer leaves an impression.

The weak story is dragged down further by a forced romance between Teller and Kuryakin. Solo seduces women within seconds. Kuryakin and Teller hem and haw for the entire run time that ultimately leads nowhere. The final scene between them is a dud, but hey, at least there's something for the sequel.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is good fit as an end of summer release. It has moments of genuine enjoyment despite a much-to-be-desired plot that falls completely apart in the third act. The luxuriousness of the elite class the agents infiltrate intrigues as much as their arrogance and indulgence repels. Beyond the opening sequence, the black ops of Solo and Kuryakin aren't that thrilling. U.N.C.L.E.'s resuscitation is serviceable, but has little but style to distinguish it.

Runtime: 116 minutes
Rotten Tomatoes | MetaCritic

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