The superhero movie fatigue is a myth, but the spy movie fatigue? It might just be a myth as well and it’s something we never thought we would experience…until now.
In all seriousness, why are there so many spy TV series and movies coming out this year? From Marvel‘s “Agent Carter” to Matthew Vaughn‘s “Kingsman: The Secret Service” to Paul Feig‘s “Spy“, secret agents are everywhere in pop culture right now. Not that we’re complaining, but it made us wonder, “Did we miss the memo or something?”
But I digress.
Directed by Guy Ritchie (of “Sherlock Holmes” fame), “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” is an action comedy spy film based on the 1964 MGM TV series of the same name, which was created by Sam Rolfe. Set in the early 60s, this swoon-worthy Cold War spy movie is about how agents from opposing sides, CIA agent Napoleon Solo (played by Henry Cavill) and the KGB’s Illya Kuryakin (played by Armie Hammer), are forced to team up to locate a missing scientist. This former Nazi scientist is kidnapped by Victoria Vinciguerra, an evil yet incredibly fashionable socialite (played by Elizabeth Debicki) who’s trying to make a nuclear bomb.
The agents do not see eye-to-eye on a lot of things, especially since both agents used to work alone and even tried to kill each other during a mission to extract Gaby Teller (played by Alicia Vikander), the daughter of the missing scientist. But of course, in true Ritchie style, they manage to generate a great combative chemistry while bickering back and forth with playful nicknames and throwing insults at one another.
In many ways, Ritchie has reverted to his earlier form by injecting some of his signature cinematic touches into “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” His filming style is apparent throughout the film – rich with dark humour and slick action set pieces. Though it is based on the cult TV show, Richie does not attempt to put it into the same mould as the spy series. His primary desire seems to be making an extremely elegant film as there is a series of long shots lingering over the characters’ clothes and cars.
As an action comedy film, “The Man From U.N.C.L.E” lacks the best of both action and comedy. At one point, an entire action sequence was cut together as a split-screen montage, making it seem more comical than it should. There are a lot of action sequences being taken off from the film too, as Ritchie has instead focused on what’s going on in the background. This has, inevitably, made the film less exciting and totally anti-climatic.
But perhaps that’s what Ritchie is trying to achieve, bringing out the humour from these vital scenes into the bigger picture. In one particular scene in a hotel, Gaby can be seen dancing in the background (though out of focus) while Illya is stressing out about this mission. In another chase scene, Ritchie focused on having Solo taking his time to relax and enjoy some Italian music before he goes on to save Illya from a troop of Victoria’s underlings.
There’s one particular scene that is slightly ill-natured as well, as Ritchie allows the agents to discuss about torturing a German torturer while the latter’s fate has already been decided. Are all these necessary? Not really. But Ritchie’s intention is obvious as he tries to distract us from the necessary action scenes with his signature dark humour.
Speaking of which, Ritchie certainly did not forget to put its female characters front and centre in the movie as well. This is perhaps a way to dispel the homoerotic subtext between Solo and Illya, similar to how Ritchie put a luscious thief named Irene Adler in his “Sherlock Holmes” film. In “Man From The U.N.C.L.E.”, Vikander offers a little something for the ladies with her role as Gaby. She performs gamely with a feisty personality and unsurprisingly, sparks start flying between her and Illya when she goes undercover as Illya’s fiancee.
Even without 21st century technology, things just seem way cooler back in the 20th century. Solo and Illya’s contrasting styles make for a few stellar action beats and they are possibly the most visually sly scenes we’ve ever seen. Debick does a brilliant job in playing an ace villainess as well, bringing her flair for fashion and some feisty personality to her character.
By the end of the film, it became clear to us that this film is unlike every other spy film. Ritchie seems more thrilled to channel the cool aesthetics and rhythms of 60s movies, which is not really a bad thing. While Daniel Pemberton’s score is done with a grace, there’s a sense of incompleteness in this film.
“The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” is slated for release on 14th August 2015 in Malaysia.