The Man from U.N.C.L.E Review: Style over substance?

Director: Guy Ritchie

Starring: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Hugh Grant

Please note, this review contains minor spoilers.

The Overview

Set against the backdrop of the Cold War, CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Cavill) and KGB operative Illya Kuryakin (Hammer) must work together in order to stop a mysterious criminal organisation from using nuclear weapons to upset the fragile balance of power between the United States and the Soviet Union. The only lead they have is Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), the daughter of a missing Nazi scientist, who they need to find in order to prevent a global crisis.  

The Good

As we would expect from a film directed by Guy Ritchie, The Man from U.N.C.L.E is glorious to look at. The direction is slick, stylish and in keeping with the tone of the film, and the 1960s era in which it is set.

It was funnier than I expected as well, with good chemistry and snappy dialogue between Cavill and Hammer, keeping the film moving at a great pace. A particular highlight is the scene in which Solo takes a breather from the hard life of being a spy to enjoy some cheese and wine, whilst in the background Kuryakin is in the middle of a high-speed boat chase with some of the bad guys. The cuts between these two scenes are expertly done, and whilst it is played for laughs, it is not over-the-top or slapstick. Coupling this scene with a dramatic opera score is absolutely perfect.

There are some interesting plot twists and turns, handled in typical Ritchie style with some cutbacks and explanatory narration, which keeps the level of intrigue going right to the end. I would say that there aren’t really any huge surprises in the plot but there are some very clever bits which will make previous seemingly insignificant events all fit together, and again this is very well done.

The Bad

It looks great, the cast are all impossibly good looking, and there is excellent chemistry. However, it just feels like it is missing something. The plot does flow along nicely, but there isn’t a whole lot of depth behind the characters or the story, which leaves it a little bit flat.

We’re thrown straight into the middle of the storyline with little to no explanation about the characters and their stories, which makes it slightly harder to get behind them and understand their motives. Delving into their personalities a little bit more would have helped this and would add an extra layer to the film.

The dune buggy and motorcycle chase towards the end is good, however the tone is much grittier and noticeably stands out from the tone of the rest of the film. It’s fun to watch, it just doesn’t quite fit.   

The Verdict

I saw this movie and you should too. It is not the best film you are ever going to see, but neither is it the worst. It’s super stylish, cool and very funny, but just lacks that extra special thing to make it really stand out. It’s harmless but ultimately forgettable. Whilst a return to form for Ritchie, it’s not quite up there with his best*, however it’s an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours. You might not remember much about it a week later, however you’ll enjoy the fun whilst it lasts – definitely worth a watch!

Agree with everything I’ve said, or am I a terribly misguided idiot who has got it all wrong? Please let me know in the comments, and don’t forget to share as well.

*this is still the best thing Guy Ritchie has ever done. Fact.

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