After the bombastic Sherlock Holmes action movies Guy Ritchie shows a ton of self restraint with The Man from U.N.C.L.E. This awkwardly titled, subtle-action filled, 60’s spy action comedy has all the makings of another popular film series for Ritchie but sadly stops just short of being great.
The main story of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. revolves around good guys needing to stop bad guys from blowing up other good guys with a big bomb — stop me if you’ve heard this one before. The good guys need to infiltrate the bad guys and what seems like an easy thing isn’t so easy after all… what’s that? You HAVE heard this one before? We’ll that’s not surprising. As far as main stories go, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is not terribly original. The story is fine. It makes sense and is pleasant to watch. But don’t expect any mind-blowing twists to this well worn genre.
But where the story lacks, the characters boom. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. stars three great actors playing three very unique and intriguing roles to perfection. Henry Cavill portrays the American spy Napolean. Armie Hammer plays Russian spy Illya. And Alicia Vikander plays Gaby, a German citizen tasked with helping the duo. All three of the mains have a very distinct role and all three work together in concert brilliantly.
My one and only issue with the characters was that it took a few lines of dialogue to get acquainted with the accents. There’s a Britt playing an American, an American playing a Russian, and a Swede playing a German. Nobody does a bad accent, but I did noticed the imperfections as the movie began. Luckily the issue was short lived and I quickly fell into the world.
A super common complaint with movies is that the characters never get developed. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. has the opposite issue.
We spend so much time building relationships with the characters that there isn’t a lot of time for the spy action part of the movie. There is one specific action scene where the majority of the action takes place off screen. I actually found that to be incredibly smart and stylish. But then the movie did something similar again. And then there was another abbreviated action sequence. I kept waiting for some sort of major set piece but it never really arrived in the way I was expecting it to arrive.
In hindsight I didn’t really mind the subtle action. I actually enjoyed the style of the movie and the people in the movie enough to actually prefer it without heavy action. It seemed to me that Ritchie was using this first Man from U.N.C.L.E. to set up a series of films. I would posit that he had the expectation that he would get another movie to go heavy on the action with an already beloved cast. It made me think of the first season of Breaking Bad: slow as hell and a hard slog to the finish line. But in that slow burn we learned to love the characters. So much so that the action that occurred later resonated with extra ferocity.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. deserves a sequel. This first movie wasn’t perfect, but I really want to see what happens next for these characters. I just don’t think U.N.C.L.E. will have the mass appeal to become the box office hit needed to greenlight a sequel. Pity.