2015 seems to be the year for spy movies. We’ve already received Kingsman: The Secret Service, Spy and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, with Spectre and Bridge of Spies to come out later this year, all with varying degrees of acting talent and direction. Some play heavily on the comedy genre while others gear up for a more serious and action-heavy tone and others seem to fill a spot in between. Given so many spy movies this year, it makes you wonder if Guy Richie can create something unique to stand out among them with The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is, without a doubt, the best spy movie in many years. The reason is, to its core, it’s a spy movie. It’s not playing on the usual spy movie tropes just for laughs, and it’s not throwing in a lot of gun-toting and explosions for the sake of thrilling the audience with action. To start off, the movie isn’t even really about U.N.C.L.E., the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, and the organization from a TV show from the ’60s. It’s more of an origin for how the two lead agents of the show came together. The two lead agents are the American Napoleon Solo and the Russian Illya Kuryakin.
The movie starts off near the end of World War II. People globally may be celebrating, but Germany is still split by the infamous Berlin Wall. There is a mission from start to finish to eliminate the threat of a nuclear bomb in the wrong hands. It’s on a mission towards this goal where Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) first butt heads. Soon after, they go from trying to kill each other to being forced to work with each other to stop the imminent threat. The threat? An atom bomb. Specifically, tracking down Dr. Udo Teller, a scientist with important knowledge of the bomb and is believed to be in the hands of the wrong people who want to use that knowledge.
The first step of the mission is to locate the doctor, which is done by utilizing his daughter, Gaby Teller, to find him, as she is believed the best chance by both the Russians and the Americans to find the doctor. With her help, the three form a team and head out on their undercover mission. Kuryakin and Solo always try to one-up each other. Kuryakin, with his high-tech Russian equipment and impressive strength, and Solo, with his abundance of knowledge and unique skill set, make a rather unusual pair. Gaby reluctantly tries to keep the two from going at each other’s throats while also trying to contribute to the mission.
Solo seems like the perfect spy to choose for such a mission. He gives off more than enough calm collectiveness and ingenuity to pull of such a dangerous mission. He goes from an international thief to CIA spy as a means to avoid jail time. Kuryakin, on the other hand, seems a bit too unhinged for such a sensitive assignment, although he does show enough skills of his own to handle situations with the worst possible outcomes. He too has a struggling past, but one that explains his aggressive tendencies and rule-following nature. The two come off as complete opposites, which makes seeing whose ideas work best in each situation a little interesting.
As stated before, this is, as close as many movies in recent years have attempted to do, a spy movie. There are some gun-toting action sequences, but they are typically handled with stylistic takes on it with impressive camera work and nothing but the usual spy music playing. Otherwise, Solo and Kuryakin are playing by the spy handbook. Working to make their undercover identities appear authentic, handling tails appropriately, using spy gadgets like cameras that can detect objects that have been near uranium, warming up to the intended targets… Being the time that it is, this all required limited technology. So no fancy computer tricks, no high-tech equipment like super-realistic masks, and no deep conspiracy to force the lead spies to go rogue to stop the threat. It is just some spies following orders to get the job done. The villains are quite resourceful, and have a good head start on the good guys, making them quite a formidable group to handle as they take very careful precautions and make the team race against the clock to thwart their plans.
Nothing says spy movie like the hero in a torture machine
While most things worked very well for the movie, not everything seemed to. Armie Hammer’s character Kuryakin develops a close relationship with Gaby. The relationship doesn’t feel too forced or rushed by any means. They even parted at the end on barely amicable terms. It just felt a little unnecessary to the overall story. Armie Hammer and Henry Cavill don’t exactly work as well as the other duo Guy Richie worked with, Robert Downey Jr, and Jude Law, but that would be a pretty tall order to try to match. With Hammer playing the stiff Russian, it seemed the duo relied more heavily on Cavill carrying most of the movie, which works for the most part. Hammer’s character offered little more to the team than what little edge his gadgets and uncontrollable rage could benefit, if they could benefit.
Ultimately, Guy Richie delivered on creating not only a unique, stylish spy movie for a year cluttered with them, he also made one that is, most respectively, a spy movie. At least for now (there are still at least two spy movies still to come out). That accomplishment seems more than fitting enough to offer this film some praise and worth a watch for the spy genre itself. Guy Richie’s stylish directing and a complimenting musical score really bring the movie above just an average movie.
(3.8 out of 5)
Per usual, I will share whether there is an after credit scene to stick around for, and there is none.