An overly familiar screenplay holds this European flavored adaptation of the iconic TV series back from greatness.
I wonder if Guy Ritchie is doing alright. Ever since he helmed the kinetic Sherlock Holmes remake from 2009, it seems like he’s content to repeat the same success over and over again. He did it once with the less-than-stellar sequel A Game of Shadows from 2011, and now he’s moved on from Sherlock entirely and applied the formula to yet another iconic series that only people of a certain age care about. Based on the 70s spy caper series of the same name, The Man From UNCLE proves that Ritchie still knows how to make engaging action-comedy flicks, but is content to jog in place when it comes to narrative and structure. It’s not bad, but you’ve been on this mission before.
And it’s a shame too, because this cast is chock full of actors with something to prove. Napoleon Solo (the new Superman Henry Cavill) is a master thief who eventually caught by – and forced to work for – the C.I.A., who conscript him to nab secret nuclear warhead blueprints from Russia. He’s reluctantly paired with Russian agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) and auto mechanic Gaby Teller (Ex Machina‘s Alicia Vikander) in an effort to infiltrate the inner circle of intrigue and get the blueprints against the backdrop of 1960s Cold War Europe.
The trailers had this looking like a fun spy romp (which it most certainly is), but I was shocked at just how much of a serviceable, almost workman-like recreation of the Sherlock Holmes formula, but with a 60s-colored paint job this is: two equally capable men exchanging witty barbs like passive aggressive roommates on a fast-paced quest, accompanied by an equally capable female companion who’s on their side (or maybe not), to foil a villain’s overly complicated master plan in an overly complicated way; complete with the same “what do we need to get a sequel” ending and a supporting role for Jared Harris. It’s the first time Ritchie has ever made it all the way to cinematic self-plagiarism.
That isn’t to say that the formula doesn’t hold up, because the action-comedy on display in ‘U.N.C.L.E.’ is still as punchy as ever. Cavill and Hammer, still desperate for the respective roles that will finally turn them into full blown movie stars, nail the “Odd Couple, but what if they were spies” schtick perfectly, and for the second time this year, Vikander’s magnetic presence reminds us why she’s been getting so much play since Ex Machina. The vintage European flavor mostly masks the overly familiar screenplay, penned by Ritche and Lionel Wigram, but it’s ultimately the faint stink that hovers around ‘U.N.C.L.E.’ and keeps it squarely in the lazy Sunday couch viewing range of action films. A fun but familiar adaptation of a forgotten series that could’ve benefitted from being sent into the field with more identities to choose from.