The UnPopular Opinion: The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!
****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****
Guy Ritchie was going to be the next big thing. After the release of LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS, Ritchie gave us SNATCH which blew audiences away. Expecting him to turn into the next Hollywood auteur thanks to his unique visual style and hyperactive Tarantino-esque narratives, I waited patiently for his big studio efforts to become some of my favorite movies. After SWEPT AWAY nearly sunk his career, Ritchie delivered a pair of films, REVOLVER and ROCKNROLLA, that just felt like he was ripping himself off. Then came SHERLOCK HOLMES. Seeing Ritchie's ramped up slow motion and Ritalin-induced editing in an anachronistic take on the classic detective character, I was done with hoping for anything worthwhile from Guy Ritchie. Maybe it was just too much of the same thing for me, but I did not like SHERLOCK HOLMES or its sequel very much. So, when THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. came out, I initially passed on the flick. Expecting it to be a 1960s set version of every previous Guy Ritchie movie, I ignored the very talented cast including Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Hugh Grant, Elizabeth Debicki, and Jared Harris. Boy was I wrong.
THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. is one of the most underappreciated films of the last decade and one of the best films that nobody saw last summer. Released at the start of August, THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. should have been a massive success and paved the way for a new franchise. Appealing to fans of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE and the Jason Bourne franchise, this movie ranks as one of the absolute best TV series adaptations and could be Guy Ritchie's best studio work. I do not hold high hopes for KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD, but everything that fits into Ritchie's bag of director tricks works in spades in this film. The ramped up slow motion is still his trademark, but his use of color, music, and kitschy subtitles through this spy adventure had me glued to my screen for the entire running time. But, what works so well in this movie may be the exact reason that it failed to click with audiences. And that is what makes it the perfect discovery for those who passed it up last year.
Inspired by the classic series starring Robert Vaughn, THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. is set during an era that doesn't exactly scream out to modern audiences. While the AUSTIN POWERS franchise was able to joke and spoof the 1960s, THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. embraces the period with retro panache. The gadgets are old fashioned, the romance is old fashioned, and even the action is old fashioned. But, this is where Guy Ritchie's modern sensibility works beautifully as his manic visual approach gives the film a breezy, light feel that prevents it from feeling like a bogged down retread. Everything Ritchie does keeps the film fun and recalls the Roger Moore and Sean Connery eras of the James Bond series. In essence, Guy Ritchie has made the best Bond movie that was never released 40 years ago. Much like how J.J. Abrams' reboot of STAR TREK managed to inject a stagnant franchise with some vigor, THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. serves as the best proof that an old school James Bond movie would work perfectly today.
Both Armie Hammer and Henry Cavill have experience working on big budget projects with very divisive fan responses. Hammer was ripped to shreds in the wake of THE LONE RANGER and Cavill is everybody's punching bag thanks to MAN OF STEEL and BATMAN V SUPERMAN. Both men are square-jawed actors who look like matinee idols from a bygone era. When I first heard this film was coming and that Tom Cruise had dropped out of the role as Napoleon Solo, a part also linked to George Clooney and countless other actors, I almost thought that Hammer would work in that part. When Cavill joined the cast, I had expected he would take over for Hammer as Illya Kuryakin. I scoffed at Cavill as Solo and Hammer as Kuryakin, but both turned out to be in the parts they were destined for. Cavill looks to be having so much fun as Solo that it makes you wonder what he could do as Superman if it were free from Zack Snyder's control. Hammer also brings something that has been missing from his recent performances and gives clear reasoning why he should get more leading man roles.
But what works best in THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. is what always highlights a Guy Ritchie film: the ensemble. Every actor in this movie delivers some of their best work even in limited screen time. Hugh Grant continues to prove that he doesn't need to be a bumbling Brit in every film and shines as the head of U.N.C.L.E. while Jared Harris proves he is his father's son and takes on characters that defy typecasting. Alicia Vikander, who had one hell of a 2015, added to her breakout year by playing the sexy love interest who easily holds her own with both male leads. Elizabeth Debicki is bound to be a great villain in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 if her role in this movie is any indicator. It is virtually impossible to find anyone in this movie who doesn't give their best work.
Ultimately, what sinks THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. is the high concept for a remake of a series most people have never heard of. Fans of James Bond and the era may have been looking forward to this movie, but it was released at the wrong time of the year. What is awful is that THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. is an even better summer movie than most of the films released in 2015 (and probably 2016 as well). The entire first thirty minutes of the movie runs at a breakneck pace and does not let you go. By the time you are able to stop and catch your breath, the film is taking you to the next exotic locale and propelling the story forward. This movie is perfect for people who like their movies like they take their coffee: strong, fast, and intense. This is definitely not a film for sitting back and relaxing by the fireplace. This is definitive Guy Ritchie.
The fact that THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.'s plot is largely forgettable is not a detriment to the movie itself but actually an asset. What you leave this movie with is a sense of fun and adventure, like a roller coaster. You may not remember every twist and turn, but you know that you had fun along the way. It also is a movie you will have no problem returning to because it doesn't demand much from you as viewer aside from your attention. There is no allegorical subtext on display here, just a good, old fashioned movie romp. It also delivers a self-contained story that does not necessitate a sequel. A rarity these days, it also lets you leave your viewing experience feeling as if you completed something rather than having watched just the first chapter. I guarantee this is a movie you can enjoy no matter what genre you are into and you will do so with a big ass smile on your face.
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