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What happened to Guy Ritchie? He is the director behind “Snatch” and “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”. After that, it all started to spiral. While “Sherlock Holmes” was far from terrible, it didn’t capture the intellectual spirit of the character, instead creating an Indiana Jones with deductive abilities. Then that awful sequel followed. “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” should be his redemption, a stylized spy tale complete with splendid banter and quirky action sequences.
It should be, but it’s not much of anything. Sexless, low thrills, minimal heists and an unfortunate Russian accent on Armie Hammer’s part as Illya Kuryakin. Still, that crazy auteur Ritchie wipes his messy seal of approval all over this one. Between a chase scene straight out of the 1964 TV series and humorous sequences that care more about artistic license than suspense, “U.N.C.L.E.” has the aesthetics of something memorable but the charm of a sloth.
All the pieces seem to fit. Top CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) sneaks into East Berlin to extract Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), the daughter of a former Nazi scientist who recently went missing following a brief tenure as the U.S.’s secret handyman. He holds the key to a secret weapon that could elevate its wielders to the top of the arms race. That’s also why KGB operative Illya wants Gaby.
Realizing the high stakes of this task, the U.S. and Russia decide to join forces to subdue an unknown threat. Now, spies with different agendas and clashing personalities must work together for the sake of the world and hopefully our viewing pleasure. Their first task, gain the trust of Uncle Rudi (Sylvester Groth), who likely knows pops’ whereabouts.
But they’ll also need to handle Victoria (Elizabeth Debicki) and Alexander Vinciguerra (Luca Calvani), who seem to have their own hidden agenda. And who knows what to do with a seemingly minor character named Waverly (Hugh Grant). I wonder if he’ll be important at some point.
Cavill was made for this role. He looks like a classy spy with an affinity for a good drink, an unbreakable safe and a small harem of bedfellows. Unfortunately, he never quite puts to work all those action skills he developed as Superman. He spends most of his time looking pretty. At least he does that quite well.
And even though Hammer is an enjoyable actor, it’s still difficult to forget “The Lone Ranger”. Like Ritchie, this should’ve been his return to the top. No so much. His chemistry with Vikander is plain confusing.
The real redemption here is Vikander on her own. She made waves in April with “Ex Machina”, easily one of the best films this year. Considering that, “U.N.C.L.E.” is a step backwards artistically. But if she can rise above the mediocrity surrounding her, that’s something. She might play the damsel, but that’s a ploy to establish her as the only protagonist of worth on screen.
This is entirely meant to be a franchise film, and Ritchie builds on the old series by adding Vikander’s character for some gender diversity to the original spy duo, but quality casting makes not a sequel. If another installment gets the green light – hopefully titled “A.U.N.T.” – that’s because of one man with no better ideas. Still, with the right story and Ritchie helming but staying away from the screenplay, something more enjoyable could occur.
In all fairness, “U.N.C.L.E.” isn’t terrible. It’s even watchable. But considering how good it should be, I can’t suffer through another lazy Ritchie flick. I’ve tasted from the tree of his better films. That was 15 years ago. It might be time to accept that he will never top his pair of Mona Lisas. All that remains are echoes of something once incredible.
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