‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’ – high on style, low on substance

Sometimes, a movie has good intentions of showing off their action, and those films can be enjoyable to watch if they’re directed by someone who actually knows how to move the camera, and the spatial relationship between character and kinetics. If that movie gets to be too hung up on showing off – rather than simply showing – then what you end up with a narcissistic picture full of vainglory.

Director and co-writer Guy Ritchie’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E., inspired by the 1964-1968 TV series that was inspired by the James Bond pop-culture wave, tells a tale of provocative locales, lustful women, and desirable men in suits. Ritchie seems to be at peace (judging by the finished product) with allowing the acting to go astray, so what we end up with is a movie full of facile bravado and shallow performances.

The stars of the film are Henry Cavill (the current Superman) as Napoleon Solo, a CIA spy entirely too devoted to his outfits, and Armie Hammer as Illya Kuryakin, a KGB operative enlisted to team up with Solo at the height of The Cold War, 1963. Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina) takes the female lead; she is an East German auto mechanic who has an important secret that she won’t reveal.  The mission is to unravel and destroy a Nazi-based crime ring that is in possession of a nuclear warhead.


The script relies a little too much on breezy humor you see in spurts in some of Ritchie’s other movies. The difference in other Ritchie films (Sherlock Holmes, for example) is that the humor is effectively woven into the tapestry of the plot. Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch had grit on their side. In The Man From U.N.C.L.E. we are expected to stay for the bad jokes and just gaze at the dreamy actors. Richie and Lionel Wigram, who co-wrote Sherlock Holmes as well, fail to create any connection to the glossy espionage; it is less Craig’s Bond, and too much Moore’s. Anytime Napoleon Solo was on screen I found myself more focused on the fact that he had yet changed into another suit, and less on what was even happening.  When you have a picture that makes only a superficial attempt at trying to develop any sort momentum in the plot, the end result is a spiritless narrative that leaves the audience with a blasé feeling.

You are probably reading this right now and thinking “oh Dewey, you are so negative about everything.” To be honest, at first I was really into this movie. Daniel Pemberton, the composer for The Man From U.N.C.L.E., did a commendable job evoking that feeling of sixties danger music that would have been prevalent in a “swingin’” Michael Caine potboiler. Music can sometimes make or break a movie, and at least they had that right. I was also impressed with the opening car chase/shoot-out sequence. That was fast, fun, and the dialogue was nimble. 106 minutes later, I realized the opening sequence was the only illuminating part. The opening sequence was the highlight of this movie by far, and was the most memorable moment in Guy Ritchie’s 2-hour vanity project.


The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Dewey Singleton - Film Critic
Dewey Singleton - Film Critic
I'm a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and have been doing reviews for many years. My views on film are often heard in markets such as Atlanta, Houston, and satellite radio. My wife often tolerates my obsession for all things film related and two sons are at an age now where 'Trolls' is way cooler than dad. Follow me on twitter @mrsingleton.