MOVIES – Little known fact is that James Bond’s creator, Ian Fleming was behind the The Man from U.N.C.L.E. TV show which was aired back in the early sixties. Guy Ritchie’s choice to make a movie adaptation from the show was obvious from the beginning: it’s rather a pastiche about the whole spy flick genre, than a true remake of the original. That’s all fine and good, but does he succeeds to make an enjoyable movie by today’s standards?
Being a big fan of James Bond movies and other spy movies and TV shows of the sixties, I was eagerly awaiting Guy Ritchie’s adaptation of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., the classic show with Robert Vaughn and David McCallum in the main roles. While it wasn’t the most memorable show from the era (Mission Impossible is still the best) Ritchie’s idea to revive this classic with today’s actors but still keeping the original era and style was excellent. Shame, all this great project went on sideways somehow…
Stylish but lacking excitement
Of course Ritchie gest the style right. There’s a painstaking detail and extra care to the clothes, cars, hair fashion and even the colors of the era. That goes for the movie effects too: every transitions, camera angles, and pictures-in-picture effects feels like coming from a genuine ‘60s movie. That goes for the pace of the movie as well. There are fewer cuts, longer scenes and even the action sequences are similar to what we could expect from a 60s TV show.
And perhaps the latter is the first mistake Ritchie made. What’s the main difference between movies like From Russia with Love or Goldfinger and a vanilla episode from The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is how the action scenes are handled. In the James Bond movies fights between 007 and villains are majestic and to-the-death, yet extremely stylistic sequences. In Ritchie’s version almost every action scenes lacks depth and excitement. He is so focused on his own style and the two main protagonists that he forgot to make the action scenes thrilling.
Even the scene where Solo and Kuryakin has a hand-to-hand fight lacks excitement, because their bosses are standing nearby and we know it’s just for “show” anyway. Perhaps the smartest and most thrilling action scene in the whole movie is the one where Kuryakin is chasing Solo (Henry Cavill) and Gaby Keller in a classic Trabant (a car well-known in eastern European countries) but even that scene is lessened by the fact that we already know what will happen to each character.
Superspies? Make it “supermodels” instead…
The movie’s other main problem, is Ritchie was so much focused in making the main characters handsome, that he forgot to add depth to them. This is actually quite surprising since in most of his movies he takes extra care about his main protagonists. Compared to Robert Downey Jr.’s outstanding Sherlock Holmes, Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer are surprisingly bland and boring. They are like pretty-boy mannequins lacking a bit of charisma, with Cavill’s trying-too-hard debonair Roger Moore-like pastiche, and Hammer’s somewhat failed the intense-looking Russian agent posturing as well. During the movie not once I had the feeling to watch an actual ‘60s KGB agent trying to capture or kill his enemies.
Perhaps the worst thing about all three characters of the U.N.C.L.E. team (Gaby Keller included) is that there no chemistry between them. That’s especially true for the failed loved scenes between Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) and Gaby Keller (Alicia Vikander).
On the plus side Hugh Grant pretty much nailed his role as the Waverly, member of the British MI6, and the leader of the U.N.C.L.E. later.
Great sense of style, missed direction
I understand what Guy Ritchie wanted to achieve here, but going back to the sixties without the ironic approach of other similar adaptations, and without making his main characters more interesting this movie was doomed to flop. Ritchie “knows his sixties” as far as cinematography and goes – that’s clear enough – but lacks the sense the direction and editing.
It doesn’t help, that I doubt anybody cares about the overused and tired main story about nuclear bombs, Nazi scientists and the evil secret Neo-Nazi organization. That’s a mission failed. And it’s a shame.