The Man From UNCLE proves that not everything is greater than the sum of its parts.
So as part of a beer-fueled Echoba.se field trip, designer extrordinaire Wiizzy Wiig and I hit the multiplex to see The Man From UNCLE, and potentially offer an opposing view to Rob’s kick-ass review of it.
*Some minor spoilers may follow.
I’m not going to lie – I was stoked. I’ve been clinically obsessed with 60s super-spy chic ever since I was a teenager, and The Man From UNCLE was part of my childhood. Throw in the frenetic direction of British director Guy Ritchie and I honestly didn’t think you could lose.
I was wrong.
Wiizzy Wiig disagrees with me, but I felt The Man From UNCLE was seriously underwhelming. I just couldn’t put my finger on why.
If you look at the assembly of The Man from UNCLE, it’s pretty much a masterclass in cool.
You’ve got a great TV show to base it from, you’ve got a killer cast with Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer taking the reins from Robert Vaughn and David McCallum – and Guy Ritchie is an amazing director (his two Sherlock Holmes movies have a special place in my heart.)
And from a technical perspective, the movie’s flawless. It’s filmed beautifully in Italy and Germany, and Guy Ritchie subtly lampoons the camera style from 60s spy movies. Composer Daniel Pemberton paired the movie with the most incredible original score – all kitschy 60s cool, with Bond-esque guitar twangs and Red Curtain balalaika riffs. Guy Ritchie also managed to throw in a couple of his signature set-peices – like the opening car chase through East Berlin, and an amazing high-stakes 4×4 ride towards the end of the movie.
The script’s not even half bad. Cavill and Hammer have some great scenes together, and the finale (where the icy bad guy gets her just desserts) will leave you clapping your hands with glee.
But when you assemble all these flawless parts together, what do you get?
As much as I was dying to love this movie, it just didn’t do it for me. And, after a day of soul-searching, I think I figured out why.
So in California, they’ve just invented a machine that can make burgers. It’s meant to be the solution to fast food workers demanding $15 an hour minimum wage. Why not replace them all with a machine?
Anyway – the machine can make any burger to order. It can slice the onions, fry the meat to perfection, and assemble the burger with it’s cold, metal claws in a fraction of the time it would take a human to do it.
And The Man From UNCLE kind of makes me think it was assembled the same way. Technically perfect, and built from perfect ingredients, but it lacked the heart that made other movies (including other Guy Ritchie movies) so compelling.
For example, in the Sherlock Holmes movies, Guy Ritchie does a pretty awesome job of humanizing Holmes and Watson. Watson is a military thug with a gambling problem, and his friendship with Holmes is based partly on his reluctance to sacrifice his former glory days for marriage and stability. Likewise, Holmes is a socially awkward, lonely man who’s genius leaves him teetering on the brink of madness. He acts out spitefully because he’s terrified of losing the only man whose ever looked past his sociopathic weirdness.
But in The Man from UNCLE, there’s no such humanity. Guy Ritchie attempts it, with complex back stories for both Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin – but they both fail to live up to them.
Henry Cavill is so badass and chill, it’s difficult to relate to him (his only moment of genuine emotion in the film is when he watches a former Nazi go up in flames in his torture chamber, and laments: “I left my jacket in there.”)
Likewise, Armie Hammer tries to balance his character’s psychopathic tendancies with a sweet, romantic side – and fails in both. Physically, he’s perfect – but there’s nothing behind that cold, Russian facade.
And Alicia Vikander? Everything about her character is off-kilter. Guy Ritchie clearly didn’t know what to do with her.
All Mouth, No Trousers
It’s a pity, too – since there’s a lot to love about The Man From UNCLE. I mean, hell – I bought the soundtrack and listened to it on my drive into work. Elizabeth Debicki is absolutely delicious as the baddie, and Sherlock-alum Jared Harris has a fantastic turn as Solo’s CIA handler. Even Hugh Grant gets in on the action, playing OSS operative Waverly as if he was a former British prime minister.
But ultimately, it’s too long, it’s too slow and it lacks heart. It’s everything we love about Guy Ritchie’s movies, without the character that made them so compelling.