“The Man From Uncle” is a picture of great confidence. The design is sleek, the actors are bringing their all; with terrific performances from our two leads. The style is pulsating throughout, and the movie gives off an aura that believes it is being clever. The problem is, “The Man of Uncle” isn’t as good as it thinks it is. Henry Cavil and Armie Harmer make for some great leads and a very appealing group of characters but director Guy Richie’s rough and sometimes gritty style too often clashes with the clean and throwback tone to 60s spy movies. Even worse is the movie is supplemented with a script duller then the led it was written with.
“The Man From Uncle” follows “Mission Impossible” as the latest adaptation of a 60s spy show. Unlike “Mission Impossible” though, which seemed to jettisoned the look and tone of the original series in favor of a Tom Cruise-led action series (which is fine because I really enjoy the series), “The Man From Uncle” stays put in the 1960s Cold War era. Its attempt at tone is very classical (in the sense of this movie resembling spy movies from the 1960s). Whether or not this captures the tone of the original show I cannot comment since that’s a series I’ve never actually viewed myself. From my understanding, this film is supposed to explain the origins of the series and where the organization known as “U.N.C.L.E.” came from.
Here we have special agent Solo, an ex-solider turned professional criminal turned super spy, as he extracts an East Berlin mechanic, Gaby Teller. On his trail is a stone cold Russian KGB agent named Illya. Soon though Solo and Illya are forced to work together to find Gaby’s father, a nuclear scientist that has disappeared. Both Russia and the United States join forces to track down the person behind this affair before the world crumbles to its knees.
Right from the start, the characters of Solo and Illya play like the greatest pair of “Odd Couple”. One is a Sauvé sophisticated secret agent and the other is a stone cold brute. I’ll let you guess which one is the American agent and which one is the Russian one. “The Man From Uncle” expertly plays off the stereotypes of the times while still making both characters equal to one another. Henry Cavil plagues the screen with huge amounts of charisma and is almost auditioning for the role of James bond (a role he almost got at one point). While his co-star Armie Hammer is emotionless as the Russian KGB agent. The two work perfectly together on screen. The chemistry is undeniable. As is with their other co-star Alicia Vikander.
While the actors make some scenes perfectly watchable and entertaining, the rest of the film around them is sad to say a bit dull. The story is bland and uninteresting. We’ve seen the plot before, and while this is supposed to be a fun throwback to those film’s set in the 60s there is nothing new added to it. In effect making everything feel like a pointless retread of the past. There is no sense of tension nor is there any foreboding villain. With this being an affectionate throwback to the 60s you’d almost expect a over the top classical villain. Instead the one we are dealt under acts and isn’t very memorable at all.
The rest of the issues come from Guy Richie himself. Unlike some people, I actually really enjoy his update on “Sherlock Holmes” starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. I found that he stayed faithful to the original source material with the characters and setting but updated it in terms of action and style. Here though with “The Man From Uncle” he frequently clashes with the film’s tone. His grit and over modernize action sequences don’t seem to jell with the 60s spy tone.
Unlike “Sherlock Holmes” which established it’s style with the film’s opening sequence, “The Man From Uncle” frequently changes itself. Sometimes it wants to poke fun at itself; sometimes it wants to be a movie in the 60s, and other times it’s a Guy Richie action film. There isn’t much middle ground or compromise. Which in turn makes for a very uneven viewing experience. He also overuses a narrative trick where he’ll present something one way but then flashback and reveal that something different actually happened. It’s used sparingly in “Sherlock Holmes” with only a handful of moments. Here though “Uncle” is littered with them. At a certain point you have to wonder what’s the point of getting invested with what’s on screen if what I am watching isn’t the real story? The trick can be effective and fun but at a certain point you’ve over played your hand. Your cards begin to show and the audience can call your bluff.
Unlike “Mission Impossible” I don’t foresee this becoming the next big spy franchise (the box office might have more to do with it then it’s actually quality). This a pretty dull affair that is overlong and increasingly boring. The movie isn’t as fun or clever as it wants to be and that’s a shame considering it’s very appealing leads.