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The Cold War’s Back On for U.N.C.L.E.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was a popular TV show in the 1960s starring Robert Vaughn and David McCallum as a pair of spies at the height of the Cold War. One was American and one was Russian which seems like a risky move especially for the time. Humanizing a character from a communist country was not exactly popular back then. Five decades later and Guy Ritchie has turned that series into a movie. But are Cold War spies still relevant?
                Not exactly, but that’s why The Man from U.N.C.L.E. works more as a throwback to the spy movies of old but with a modern style and sensibility. The film follows CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and KGB agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) the best of their respective agencies and enemies. However they are forced to be partners when they learn a rich couple with ties to former Nazis are creating a nuclear warhead. They are also allied with Gabby (Alicia Vikander) the daughter of the man who’s constructing the weapon. So they have to overcome their animosity and save the day.
                Guy Ritchie pulls out all his usual punches with this film applying a fast pace, greatly choreographed action sequences, some fun humour and wit, and a tendency to be non-linear with some twists. But he also infuses the film with a decent dosing of 60s spy allure which gives it a more distinct character and charisma. Speaking of which, Henry Cavill is fantastic giving the sometimes cartoony confidence of his character a certain charm. Cavill was very nearly James Bond once and here he gets to show off how he would have done. He’d probably be pretty decent, maybe more so than Daniel Craig as he’s got the suaveness perfect. Armie Hammer however while much better than his bare effort in The Lone Ranger is not as interesting. His accent is awful, but it doesn’t really distract from the film surprisingly. It still might have been better to cast an actual Russian, especially considering how most of the supporting cast were Eastern European. But I like that both characters get an equal amount of screen-time. It would have been easy to focus on one over the other but both are characterized as sympathetic and both get chances to let their skillsets outdo one another. Alicia Vikander fresh off her captivating performance in Ex Machina does some great work here and Elizabeth Debicki also shows her strength as an antagonist. And here’s something I never thought I’d say: I wanted more Hugh Grant! When you see the film you’ll understand he’s not in it nearly as much as he should be!
                And again the action sequences are really tight. The way these scenes particularly the car chases are cut and edited allows you to really feel the impact too. There are also some really good looking set-pieces, a fun score, and little homages to the original series. It does have some weaknesses in regards to Hammer’s performance and I’d be lying if I said the chemistry between him and Cavill was anything more than passable. There are also times when some of Ritchie’s tricks get weary, and the plot is fairly formulaic without a whole lot of creativity in the set-up and execution.
                But The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is still a thoroughly entertaining stylistic action-comedy that doesn’t take itself seriously. It works as a great homage to Cold War spy movies with a mostly charismatic cast and some great action and wit. Like the original series, it’s not a classic, but I think it’s still a film you can’t afford to miss this summer.

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