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Review: The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Nothing is exactly as it seems in The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: spies abound, anonymous voices are at the other end of the telephone, and the most decorated KGB Agent knows his Italian fashion. Never mind that an English actor plays an American, and the Yankee plays a Russian.

It’s nominally a spy thriller, a sleek and satisfying romp that cares more about looking smart than being smart. This visually gorgeous and deftly crafted lark from Guy Ritchie, fueled by confidence and homoeroticism, is all style and little substance; but what style!

Adapted from the goofy if not charming television series of the same name, one that ran for five years from 1964, this big screen version borrows names, settings, and tensions, but little else.

The 1960’s are colourful, shimmering, and sexy, even as the possibility of a nuclear warhead ending up in the hands of clandestine Nazis looms large. This threat allows for the forced partnership of the two best agents with the most square jaws and broad shoulders from the two most powerful countries.

From America, coming in at six feet and possessive of a melodic voice, is Napoleon Solo, played by an exceptionally dapper Henry Cavill. Reigning from the Soviet Union is Ilya Kuryakin, an equally handsome if not taller, blonder, and blander counterpart portrayed by Armie Hammer. After an opening chase scene, in which both men are after a sexy mechanic (Alicia Vikander) with troublesome family ties stuck in East Berlin, the two are forced to unite for the greater good.

This leads to plenty of amusing displays of bravado, from showing off their collection of gadgets, charming women, and comparing fashion tips. Somewhere between them hangs the fate of the world, but Ritchie and company care little for the specifics: Gaby’s disappeared father is a nuclear physicist, her uncle an evildoer, and a wealthy heiress named Victoria (Elizabeth Debicki) is using them all.

She’s is identified early as the villain, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have style. The first half of the film seems to take place in perpetually partly cloudiness, with post precipitation rainbows reflecting off Napoleon’s long, icy stares. As we move from Berlin and London to Rome and coastal escape, the sun shines, and Victoria, among others, rides with the top down, her windswept hair blowing immaculately.

Still, there are gunfights and chases, on the water and across rugged landscapes, but even there Ritchie is more interested in them looking good: split screens and invigorating music are more important. Gaby and Victoria deliver witty lines and suggestive phrases, as do the men, though only they dabble in the action. The women aren’t too much more than window dressing, but then again, neither are the men. For that matter, the entirely of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., with verve and brio, is a glossy adventure that makes saving the world look wickedly cool.

[star v=35]

Anthony Marcusa

A pop-culture consumer, Anthony seeks out what is important in entertainment and mocks what is not. Inspired by history, Anthony writes with the hope that someone, somewhere, might be affected.