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18 August 2015 @ 02:55 pm
Film Review: The Man from U.N.C.L.E.  
Short review: if you're a fan of the actors or the director or at the very least find the actors fun to look at, you might like this movie. If you're someone looking for a good plot or a lighthearted spy film or a fond homage to the original show, best keep moving.

I'm a fan of the original TV series this movie is based on but I went in with full expectations that it wouldn't be a very faithful adaptation. I was both right and wrong. But if there's anything this movie did for me, it fired up my nostalgia for the old series and I've broken out my DVDs to start from Season 1.

I feel like this movie took some elements from the TV series while trying to revamp it to some degree. The end result for me was a bit of a shoddy mess that made me realize that so much of the original series' appeal came down to the charm of the actors and everyone being on the same page about what they were making.

The film is essentially a prequel, taking place in the 1960s before U.N.C.L.E. exists. Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) works for the CIA and is charged with securing Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander) from East Berlin whose father has been taken by Nazi sympathizers to make a nuclear bomb. During his recruitment of Gaby to help the CIA locate her father, he runs into Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) who works for the KGB and is essentially tasked with the same mission as Solo by the Russian government. Eventually the CIA and KGB decide to work together in order to make sure the bomb doesn't fall into dangerous hands. This basically breaks down to Kuryakin sticking with Gaby to find her father while Solo goes to romance the villainess (Elizabeth Debicki) to get information.

As plots go, it's paper thin and very much a MFU plot. Guy Richie, who directed, produced, and co-wrote the screenplay had clearly watched or at least browsed the episode guide for the show. However, it remained unclear to me what sort of film Guy Richie was trying to make. It takes itself a bit too seriously to be a straight out MFU episode but the plot never develops into a fleshed out spy story. It tries to go for the 60s sleek look and succeeds in the production design and wardrobe department, but the film labored under poor pacing and having too many scenes that amounted to nothing, plot-wise and character-wise.

The other issue was the acting and the characterizations. Alicia Vikander as the Innocent and Elizabeth Debicki as the Villainess were both fine. In fact, they did better than the script offered them. My main problems were with Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer. As much as I'm a fan of the TV series, I had long accepted before even going in to watch this movie that the characters would be different. Napoleon Solo is still the womanizing, urbane spy but is given a Neal Caffrey-esque backstory which made him much more morally ambiguous than the irreverant, but ultimately ethical Solo portrayed by Robert Vaughn. Illya Kuryakin gets a complete backstory overhaul as a possibly disturbed person with anger management issues who flies into violent rages. The overturn of Kuryakin's character makes some sense given that the show expressly worked to never give any personal information about the Kuryakin played by David McCallum. So fine. I was willing to accept all of that. However, I didn't get the feeling the actors really knew what to do with what was given to them. I know Cavill can do better having watched him in other things. But in this film he comes across as stiff, humorless, and in the end almost awkward. He's too ruthless and seemingly devoid of feelings to the point where Solo feels slightly sociopathic. Armie Hammer is about the same in the stiff, humorless, and awkward department and his random moments of rage wasn't helped out much by the overly bombastic soundtrack that kept telling me THIS WAS SERIOUS whenever he started flipping tables.

I didn't go into this movie wanting a straight remake of the show as I knew that was unlikely. And I wanted to be fair to the actors who shouldn't be bogged down having to imitate the performances of Vaughn and McCallum. However, I at the very least wanted the actors to act well. And that didn't really seem to happen for the leads and the partnership of Solo and Kuryakin which starts out as antagonistic before melting into something more genial never quite gelled for me. And the partnership, in hindsight, was the absolute key for why the TV series was so entertaining.

So to cap off my disorganized review, some Likes and Dislikes.

1) Costume and set design: I give absolute A+ to the wardrobe designers and the set designers. The 60s look was in tip top form and some of Gaby's outfits were incredible.

2) Hugh Grant as Mr. Waverly: this guy gave a masterclass in how you can do your own performance of a classic character while still preserving the spirit of the original. Grant!Waverly was much more sardonic and sassy than Leo McCarroll's Waverly but Grant!Waverly was also unflappable, unsentimental, had nerves of steel, and gave zero fucks which is the very essence of McCarroll!Waverly. I only wished he had more scenes.

3) Elizabeth Debicki as Victoria, the Villainness: the script gave her almost nothing but Debicki infused her character with a lot of cool, cold steely evil. She was the right mix of ruthless, brilliant, and ambitious and you knew from moment one why she was heading up this plan for world domination.

1) Cavill!Solo and Hammer!Kuryakin: I already laid out the reasons why above. I really spent a lot of the movie missing the charm and the twinkle-in-the-eye performances of Robert Vaughn and David McCallum. Guy Richie never quite found what was the true essence of these characters and couldn't even substitute in different but solid characterizations to help out his actors who were not good enough to rise above the material.

2) Comedy, Drama, Dark Comedy, Action Drama Comedy, Acdradamedy?: This film needed to pick a genre and stay with it.

3) Guy Richie: this one isn't really fair of me because this is a biased opinion but Guy Richie really needs to overhaul his look. I hated his excess use of slo mo in the Sherlock Holmes sequel and in this one he goes to town on flashbacks and rewinds to tell the featherlight plot which did nothing other than annoy me. I also got seriously sick of all the queer-baiting lines in the script which might not have been penned by him but was clearly okayed by him. From poor Jared Harris having to tell Solo in the men's bathroom that he had 'something bitter for him to swallow that he just had to take' to Solo telling Kuryakin what he gets up to with three Italian men in a bathroom is his business, the script's attempt to get in some gay innuendo was embarrassing.

ADDENDUM: I had mentioned previously that I have a hard time remembering what Henry Cavill looks like. After two hours of this movie I felt like I had a pretty good idea. And then I saw a video of him being interviewed for this movie and nope. Not a clue.

Also, thanks to this movie I found out Armie Hammer is a staggering 6 foot 5. Damn.
aelfgyfu_meadaelfgyfu_mead on August 18th, 2015 10:53 pm (UTC)
I was not a fan of the original series, but what little I've seen of it seemed like fun,and the ads for the movie have been shockingly unfun.
formerly lifeinsomniacjoonscribble on August 19th, 2015 12:09 am (UTC)
Yeah, you worded it perfectly. The old series had issues and some episodes were just plain dumb. But they knew how to have fun. No one in this movie looked like they were having much fun other than Hugh Grant.
X-parrotxparrot on August 19th, 2015 02:15 am (UTC)
Awww...I haven't seen it yet so just skimmed your review for now, but that's sad. Kind of what I feared, but...it's odd, though, Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes was dumb but definitely fun, I'd have thought he'd do pretty well with the MUNCLE tone, if nothing else. I was prepared for the actors not to measure up (David McCallum's whiny badassery is pretty much impossible to repeat, and the guy didn't look nearly hot enough in the previews :P) but still...sigh.

But maybe it'll inspire interest in the original series, that's the most I was hoping for! (judging by the recent jump in kudos on my MUNCLE fic, it's done that a bit, anyway...)
formerly lifeinsomniacjoonscribble on August 19th, 2015 02:24 am (UTC)
David McCallum's whiny badassery

This is the greatest and most accurate description of McCallum's Kuryakin ever. He gets the job done like a boss but not before bitching about it.

I know others who have seen the movie who were fans of the series who liked it and thought it was fun enough. I just didn't agree.