One of my favourite moments in The Gentlemen was during the scene in which Hugh Grant’s scummy PI tries to sell his film script. He attends a meeting at Miramax and a huge poster for The Man from U.N.C.L.E can be seen in the background. It just went to show that this may be Guy Ritchie’s attempt to show that he’s still the East-End gangster director but he doesn’t want you to forget that he’s a Hollywood name now too. Although, really what have his blockbuster franchises ever gotten him? Sherlock Holmes has, at least seen a couple of sequels. 2019’s Aladdin remake wasn’t exactly a critical success and the less said about King Arthur: Legend of the Sword the better. I’m not trying to criticise Ritchie for his varied career but it was a really odd flex. The Man from U.N.C.L.E didn’t do that badly but it’s hardly fondly remembered all these years later.
So, I decided to watch it for this week’s TBT post. I’d not actually seen it when it came out because the trailer looked too silly. It had the air of Johnny English with an added layer of 1960s spy parody thrown in. I also wasn’t sure how much I’d actually care about it having never seen the original show. Not really my fault considering I was born over 20 years after it was on TV. It just didn’t seem like my cup of tea. It also didn’t seem like Ritchie’s cup of tea either but, I have to admit, I bloody love what he did with Sherlock Holmes. I had to give it a chance.
The film reboot also acts as a sort of prequel to the classic television show. It presents the story of how top CIA agent, Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) came to work with KGB agent Ilya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer). Solo is tasked with getting a nuclear scientist’s daughter, Gaby (Alicia Vikander) out of East Berlin. Kuryakin has been given the same task from his Russian superiors. The American manages to evade the Russian agent only to find himself paired up with him. The pair have to work together to free Gaby’s father before a couple of Nazi-sympathisers get him to build a nuclear weapon for them. Of course, it will involve them putting aside their differences first.
Based on the opening sequence, I had high hopes for how this film would turn out. It was great watching Hammer and Cavill’s characters try and outsmart each other. It was a true battle of brains and brawn and I enjoyed every second. Unfortunately, the rest of the film gets bogged down by a tired narrative. The action gets turned way down and instead focuses on the odd couple vibes between Solo and Kuryakin. It feels like the whole film just runs out of steam after the opening sequence and doesn’t really know what to do with itself. The only reason that it doesn’t completely fall apart is that both Hammer and Cavill have a great chemistry together. Even if they are only playing one-note characters.
It’s not that this isn’t an enjoyable film. It never takes itself too seriously and everything is done in a playful manner. The two lead men are fun to watch and Alicia Vikander offers a much needed fire to the equation. There are some great exchanges between the pair, many of them involving women’s fashion. The problem is the rest of the film. The plot is thin and fairly dull. The bad guys are severely underdeveloped, especially Elizabeth Debicki’s Victoria Vinciguerra. You can’t help but wonder why anyone is intimidated by her. It’s not that I would be averse to a sequel but, if that happens, I think Ritchie and co. need to add a touch of danger to proceedings.