The Man From U.N.C.L.E. opens with a breathtaking chase sequence as Napoleon Solo engineers an escape from East Germany (over the Berlin Wall) for a pretty auto mechanic named Gaby – who is the daughter of a missing nuclear scientist who has just revolutionized the creation of enriched uranium.
Solo has to work for the escape because a shadowy yet hulking KGB agent is less than a step behind. After succeeding, he is appalled to discover that agent is Ilya Kuryakin – and they will have to work together to find said scientist.
It doesn’t take long for director/co-writer Guy Ritchie give us the poop on Solo (Henry Cavill) and Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) – each has researched the other and we learn that Solo was a decorated soldier in WWII who stayed on afterward as part of the occupation to make fortune in the art black market; while Kuryakin’s father was found to be a traitor and exiled to a gulag, prompting him to excel to the point that he had become the KGB’s best agent in three years.
As for Gaby (Alicia Vikander), she takes a back seat to no one – even when her cover is as fiancée of a Russian architect, a role in which she is uncomfortable but not as uncomfortable as Kuryakin (who has some serious anger management issues – you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry…).
Elizabeth Debicki is sufficiently icy and imperious as villainess Victoria – an Italian aristocrat who is part of a global organization that may or may not have an avian connection. Luca Calvani is a charming mustache twirler as her husband, Alexander – though he doesn’t have nearly as much screen time.
Then there’s the movie’s version of Joseph Mengele, Gaby’s Uncle Rudi (Sylvester Groth), who revels in causing pain with his vintage equipment – and is good at fixing glitches.
Also superb is smaller roles are Jared Harris as Solo’s hardass of a handler, Sanders, and Hugh Grant as British Intelligence master, Mr. Waverly – both, along with Groth, steal virtually scene they’re in.
There will be comparisons made with the Mission: Impossible films, but The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is a completely different kind of animal. Just as UNCLE was a wittier TV series and Mission: Impossible was more spy thriller, so UNCLE: The Movie is more of a romp while M: I is more of a spy thriller.
Ritchie and co-writer Lionel Wigram have created a very authentic feeling ’60s spy romp – though, at times, Cavill seems more Simon Templar than Napoleon Solo, wreaking Saint-ly havoc on the forces of the ungodly. They get a lot of mileage out of the contrast between Solo’s erudition and Kuryakin’s more rough-hewn expertise – something that plays well off their physical differences.
Interestingly, the movie UNCLE isn’t nearly serious as the TV series but it works – and it gets a lot done in a bit under two hours. It will be interesting to see what CinemaScore the film gets – there was a smattering of applause at the screening I attended. I hope it gets a sequel – and that’s something I don’t say often.
Final Grade: B+
Photos by Daniel Smith/Courtesy of Warner Bros.