Guy Ritchie may be a fair distance away from his memorable “mockney” days of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, but he’s managed to find himself a little formula for the mainstream. The Robert Downey Jr.-starring Sherlock Holmes and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows saw the director amp up the hyper visuals and push the charm to an easily digestible level – for better or worse, a direction he follows with this spy adventure based on a 1960’s television series.
60s-set The Man from U.N.C.L.E. tells of Solo (Henry Cavill), a former criminal working as an agent for the CIA, and Illya (Armie Hammer), an intimidating KGB operative, who are forced to work together by their respective agencies when a mysterious organisation is found to be on the verge of creating nuclear weapons. Their lead: Gaby (Alicia Vikander), the daughter of a missing German scientist.
The action is slick and the visuals are attractive. There’s no questioning that Ritchie’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is aiming for a fetching look, and Oliver Scholl’s production design and John Mathieson’s cinematography work well together to create a handsome picture.
Speaking of handsome, Cavill and Hammer are more than adequate as our leads. Cavill seems to have time-travelled from pop-culture’s depiction of the 60s, doing his best Bond impression, amplifying his suaveness and flexing that chiseled jaw to amusingly self-acknowledging effect. Hammer, while occasionally awkward with that Russian accent, matches Cavill’s tangible sense of fun. It’s the two lead characters, their bickering and their growing sense of comradery, that ultimately holds the narrative together, and Cavill and Hammer deliver the necessary turns. Vikander, who recently impressed as a female A.I. in Alex Garland’s Ex Machina, is also good, holding her own alongside our two male leads and bringing an added dose of energy.
The packaging is indeed a plus, but it’s the inner content that, while entirely suitable for a pleasant time at the movies, leaves you wanting more. A pastiche of 60’s pop and yesteryear’s era of spy conventions, done right, will certainly be entertaining, and entertaining The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is. And yet, it’s the focus on style that leaves substance sitting by the wayside.
A tighter screenplay may have helped the film really nail that witty and enjoyable tone it so aims for. A few sections are simply dragged out far too long for this sort of thing, leading to an unfortunately slow pace during a number of crucial moments. With a running time of 116 minutes, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. teeters on the edge of outstaying its welcome – no matter the amount of charm it brings.
There’s no shortage of quips, our heroes are on the comfortable, entertaining side of their stereotypes, and the picturesque, slickly edited action scenes are pleasing, just don’t expect those eyebrows to go up once, those laughs to top a mild chuckle, and that heart rate to be raised in the slightest. There is simply too little actually going on at any one moment to let your brain spark up a thought, let alone a care. This is popcorn fluff through and through, but, to its credit, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. knows it well.
Ritchie’s latest does its job: it entertains. Undemanding cinemagoers should have a pleasant time here, even if it is all too easily forgotten once you pass that exit sign.