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Man From U.N.C.L.E., The (Blu-ray Review)

13 Nov, 2015 By: John Latchem

Street 11/17/15
Box Office $45.45 million
$28.98 DVD, $44.95 Blu-ray
Rated ‘PG-13’ for action violence, some suggestive content, and partial nudity.
Stars Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Jared Harris, Hugh Grant.

Given the enduring popularity of the spy genre in film, especially with the James Bond, “Bourne” and “Mission: Impossible” franchises, the fact that it took nearly 50 years to produce a big-screen adaptation of “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” is astonishing. Not as surprising is that it took Guy Ritchie (Sherlock Holmes) to do it.

The popular 1960s series, which Bond creator Ian Fleming helped develop, focused on the exploits of American Napoleon Solo and Russian Illya Kuryakin, who worked for the international espionage agency called U.N.C.L.E.

The film maintains its Cold War setting, which is essential to relaying the story of how Solo (Henry Cavill) and Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) first teamed up.  It involves using a girl (Alicia Vikander) to find her missing father, a German scientist who may be helping a criminal organization develop a nuclear weapon.

The film coasts on the winning chemistry of its three leads. Cavill is especially charming as the cool-headed, womanizing Solo, a character originally created by Fleming as a TV version of James Bond. Cavill nails the cadence of a stereotypical American secret agent, not unlike something out of the “Archer” animated series, which is astonishing considering the actor is British (and offering a much different tone than the American accent he employs to play Superman in Man of Steel).

In fact there’s quite a bit of nationality swapping at play here, with Cavill and fellow Brit Jared Harris playing Americans, American Hammer playing a Russian, the Swedish Vikander playing a German, and so on. 

The film is at its best when it plays up the rivalry between Solo and Kuryakin. Fortunately it does this a lot. The movie never takes itself too seriously and is actually very funny at times.

And with Ritchie at the helm, the film definitely demonstrates it has style to spare, taking full advantage of its 1960s setting to give “Mad Men” a run for its money in the nostalgia department.

But the story that enables all this is paper thin, and the movie knows it well enough not to wear out its welcome. At 116 minutes, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is the rare modern action flick that clocks in at under two hours.

The biggest problem with the film, it turns out, is foundational — the plot doesn’t match its title since none of the men (or women) in it are “From U.N.C.L.E.” In fact, the spy agency at the center of the TV show doesn’t even exist yet as the film’s story plays out. If anything, the movie almost serves as a prequel to the TV show, which seems intentional since the movie is set in 1963 and the show didn’t start until 1964.

However, aside from the characters the film is very restrained in its references to the TV series. There are no cameos from original cast; there is no use of Jerry Goldsmith’s classic theme; there are no clips of the show in the bonus materials to establish any kind of context. One gets the sense from the featurettes that Guy Ritchie was more interested in making a stylized 1960s-set spy film and used the “U.N.C.L.E.” brand as an excuse.

The film’s use of “U.N.C.L.E.” as an organization doesn’t really flow organically from the story, but seems tacked on as an afterthought so the film could justify its use of the title and to throw in connections to the TV show. It’s actually the sequel (if there is one) that should have been called Man From U.N.C.L.E. This movie is more like The Birth of U.N.C.L.E.

The Blu-ray extras consist of 34 minutes of assorted featurettes that a pretty run-of-the-mill behind-the-scenes promotional material.

“Spy Vision: Re-creating ’60s Cool” focuses on the costumes, sets and props to establish the look of the 1960s;  “A Higher Class of Hero” deals with cars and car chases; “Métisse Motorcycles: Proper and Very British” lets Armie Hammer tour the garage where the film’s stunt motorcycles were custom built; “The Guys From U.N.C.L.E.” profiles the two stars; “A Man of Extraordinary Talents” lets the cast sing the praises of director Guy Ritchie; and “U.N.C.L.E. On-Set Spy” is a series of four one- to two-minute highlights of different scenes being shot.


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