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Monday, 22 February 2016

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015)


The Man From
U.N.C.L.E.
(2015)



This film has never been all that high on my radar. I never watched a single episode of the television series it, and knew only vague things about its premise (spies, the Cold War, a Russian and American), so I was not among the people jumping with excitement over the idea of a film adaptation. I am, however, always up for some good spy fun, so when I found out that the film had been released (due predominantly to people I know extolling the virtues of Ilya/Gaby/Napoleon as an OT3), I set aside a bit of time in my schedule to watch it.

Set in 1963, the film follows Napoleon Solo, an American art thief recruited by the CIA to serve his prison sentence working as a spy; Ilya Kuryakin, a KGB agent and the son of a disgraced Soviet bureaucrat; and Gaby Teller, an automechanic and the daughter of Nazi nuclear scientist Udo Teller. When Udo Teller, who defected to America in the years following WW2, goes missing, both Solo and Kuryakin track down Teller, and end up being recruited for a joint mission to locate Udo and retrieve the nuclear bomb he's building for the Vinciguerras, a couple of wealthy Nazi sympathisers.

I guess this film was okay?

I actually don't remember this scene.

No, no, strike that, it was definitely okay. You could never describe it as bad: The scenery is beautiful, the Cold War aesthetic is out in full force, there's plenty of fun action scenes, and the performances - which is really what the film sold itself on - are all very good. 

Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, and Alicia Vikander all perform excellently, and their characters all contrast with and play off each other well - Cavill's Solo is totally unflappable and charming; Vikander is cynical and fed-up as Gaby; and Hammer pitches Ilya perfectly as taciturn, angry, and somehow still fairly warm despite that. When Hugh Grant eventually joins the cast as Waverly, an MI5 agent, he manages to play off everybody in the cast perfectly, bringing cheerfully sarcastic humour to the mix.

(Grant also gets some of the best lines in the film, including my personal favourite "Kuryakin, for a special agent you're not having a very special day, are you?")

Stylish.

Where the film really falls down is its plot, in that it barely seems to have one. What plot it does have - 'Nazi sympathisers have kidnapped a scientist to build a bomb' - is unoriginal and, frankly, bland, with very little to sustain the interest of a viewer. The villains are supremely forgettable and failed to command any of my attention in any scene they were in, which didn't help, and it often seemed like the film could barely be bothered with them. The plot's poorly paced, as well, with the third act starting something like halfway through the film and then just stretching on and on.

It's not as if the film didn't have material that could have made for entertaining watching, either, if they'd made the most of it. One terribly underused part of the film, despite the fact that many writers have managed to spin interesting stories out of the idea even without the addition of Good Spy Fun, is Ilya and Gaby pretending to be engaged. That could have been a goldmine of entertaining sequences, both comedic and dramatic, and instead the writers seem to barely remember it for most of the film, before basically writing it out altogether in the third act.

Alternately, the conflict between Solo and Ilya could have been made more out of, with them slowly learning a grudging respect for each other. Instead, the film has them work together a couple of times without liking each other, before the third act rolls in and they're suddenly begrudging best friends. It's a crying shame, because Cavill and Hammer certainly have the acting chops to play the two slowly becoming friends, but the filmmakers apparently decided it wasn't necessary to show that.

Also stylish.

Which is especially odd, since much of the final part of the film depends on the two of them having become friends, with Ilya being torn between his duty to Russia (and the threat of shame and a gulag) and his friendship with Solo, despite the fact that we've seen nothing that would make us invested in their friendship.

All in all, this is an okay film, but it's mostly carried by its charismatic cast of actors, rather than good writing or directing or anything like that. It really has no substance, and is more the kind of thing that you put on in the background while you're doing something else than something you'd actually sit down and commit to watching. To my knowledge, no sequel has been announced, and it doesn't really need or deserve one.

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