While I don’t rule out the possibility that I might have stumbled upon a couple of episode of the 60s TV show as a child, I don’t really remember any of it. Thus, I don’t really have any notable prior history with it – which, with remakes like that, can be a blessing as well as a curse. Blessing because I didn’t have any reference to compare it with, and thus wouldn’t have noticed any major changes to the source material. Curse because “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” couldn’t profit from some kind of nostalgic feelings that I feel towards the original TV series. Ultimately, it proved to be quite charming and entertaining – but in a year that’s already full of great action flicks and also already offered a couple of spy movies, it unfortunately only rates a poor second.
What I liked most about the movie – and what also set it apart from this years competition of similar films – is that they didn’t bring Solo and Illya into the present, but stayed in the 60s, and made it a period piece. I didn’t live through the swinging sixties myself (and I have to admit that at times it was a little difficult for me to get Austin Powers out of my head), but there definitely is a certain charm and flair to this era that this movie benefits from considerably. It also didn’t hurt that I visited Berlin for the first time in my life a couple of weeks back, and that afterwards, they head to Rome, a city that totally mesmerized me when I travelled it a couple of years back (and would visit again in a heartbeat). It’s always great to see cities and/or places in films that you’ve been to yourself – something that U.S. moviegoers probably experience on a daily basis, but for us here in Europe, it’s a little less common. I also quite liked Guy Ritchie’s direction. The action could have been a little clearer here and there, but overall, he shot the movie with a lot of style, and also again features some of his trademarks (like the speeding up/slowing down of certain scenes). Apart from the 60s setting, though, the movies biggest strength is its cast. Cavill and Hammer have some great chemistry together, and they each play their respective roles very well. Alicia Vikander continues her 2015 winning streak, even though I wasn’t quite as impressed with her here as I was in “Ex Machina” (but that’s most likely due to the fact that her role there was just far more interesting). Jared Harris, Elizabeth Debicki and Sylvester Groth also were very good in their bad guy-roles, and I’m always happy to see Hugh Grant.
On the downside, I found Solo and Illya a little stereotypical. Also, the typical buddy-movie-routine of starting out as enemies/rivals and ending up as friends starts to get a little old, and “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” does little to have some fun with or enhance the formula in any way. I also felt that it took a little while to really get going. Its biggest weakness, though, is the showdown. While I didn’t mind the rather unspectacular way they got rid of the bad guys at the end (which actually was one of the more clever ideas of the movie), I really wish the showdown on the island that preceded it would have been a little more spectacular, impressive and/or gripping. It also could have lasted a little longer. And the fact that they intercut the planning of the assault with the assault itself kinda prevented me from really immersing myself in the action. Despite these flaws, however, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” is a decent action/spy-flick which definitely didn’t deserve to bomb at the box office as hard as it did. Its biggest problem probably was the overabundance of similar movies this year, and its biggest offence is that it offers nothing special – which, however, nowhere near makes it bad.