Spy vs. Spy – A Review of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

man-from-uncle-poster-2015In a world where studios stay afloat by cashing in on the nostalgia drummed up by remakes, it’s very easy to make tons of money with a terrible film. Folks swarm to see it so as to recapture their youth, and even though the reviews are awful, it can do decently over its opening weekend. But every now and then, we get a remake that really feels like it does right by its source material. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is a wildly entertaining Cold War spy flick that keeps the fun energetic atmosphere of the original classic television series while staying accessible enough for audience members who may not be familiar with the story.

It’s like The Spy Who Loved Me (sans the romance between the two lead spies, sadly). Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) is America’s best agent, but when he is paired up with Russia’s best agent, Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer), to stop a wealthy shipping magnate from creating a nuclear bomb that could heat the Cold War to a boiling point, the two lone wolf agents have to keep from beating the other to a pulp long enough to save the world. Caught between the two is the lovely mechanic Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander) whose family ties put her in a unique position to be able to try and stop the bomb from being completed.

If you’ve seen Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, you have a good idea of what kind of movie this is. It’s a heck of an entertaining film: stylish, sleek, and very funny. I’m a bit sad that it’s not doing so well at the box office, having been bowled over by Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. I suspect that many are unfamiliar with the original television series and so they decided it was just a soulless James Bond clone based on the trailer. But hopefully word of mouth can help it out, because it really is fantastic. The acting is top notch, and it features one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard in a while.

Central to the story is the bromance between the slick, confident Solo and the brash but lovable Kuryakin. The banter between the two is just delightful, and you’re not really sure how it’s going to turn out until right at the very end. And there are plenty of twists and turns along the way to keep things fun. The ending leaves things open for a possible sequel, and I hope we get one eventually. The three central characters really have marvelous chemistry and I wish we could have gotten more of them. Unlike so many action film gals, Gaby is a strong, self-assured character who is consistently important to the plot, start to finish. She’s lovely, but she’s not distracting window dressing as is so often the case. I wish we could have gotten more of her, but I understand why the script decided to focus on the Solo/Kuryakin rivalry.

Armie Hammer and Henry Cavill work so well together. One minute they’re offering up pithy insults about each other’s choice of outfit or gadget, the next they’re breaking into a top secret facility together, and then they’re both standing with a gun to each other’s faces, waiting for one to betray the other. I know Cavill is going to be busy with his Justice League gig, but I’d love to see him return for a sequel. Not only does he wear a suit better than 90% of the human population, his character is so charming and likable, you can forgive him for being so dour and angry all throughout Man of Steel.

Armie Hammer plays my favorite character of the film. His take on Illya is wonderful. He’s quiet and brood-y and doesn’t really trust anyone, but he’s also sweet and adorable, especially when he’s trying to figure the self-assured and uninhibited Gaby out. There’s a lot of depth to the character that I hope (please please please!) we’ll get to explore more in a sequel.

I also have to give kudos to the score by Daniel Pemberton. Along with a Quentin-Tarantino-esque collection of period songs that are used to great effect throughout the film, Pemberton’s score is absolutely gorgeous. It’s bold and brassy and unique. There are touches of Ennio Morricone and John Barry here and there, but overall, it finds its own style, never feeling derivative or generic. It’s refreshing to see a composer recapture the feel of 60’s era adventure television in a way that doesn’t feel gimmicky or cheap.

So, definitely give this one a try. It’s a whole lot of fun, and even though it may make you feel sad that you will never wear a suit (or vest, or cufflinks, or trousers, etc.) as well as Henry Cavill, I promise you’ll enjoy it. And even if a sequel doesn’t get made, we still have the original show starring Robert Vaughn and David McCallum (which you should check out because it’s just a whole boatload of fun).

And so I bid you farewell until next week!

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