Second Breakfast: ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’

SecondBreakfast-01Reboots! Their numbers seem to grow every month, gritty or otherwise, but they’re rarely worth watching. Whether of a beloved franchise that hasn’t been touched in decades or a series that hasn’t even ended yet, the prevalence of reboots denote to many a complete and utter lack of originality plaguing the Hollywood machine. Yes, it would seem, despite financial records and studio enthusiasm, that reboots aren’t a great idea. Adaptations, though; can’t go wrong there.

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

Warner Bros.

Warner Bros.

The Plot: When Hitler’s favorite bomb scientist guy disappears years after the conclusion of the Second World War, both CIA and KGB forces fear a rogue neo-Nazi organization may be trying to build its own thermonuclear warhead. Rather than competing, the Cold Warring nations decide to team up, sending their best agents, respectively: Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer). Together with the scientist’s estranged daughter Gaby (Alicia Vikander), the agents take off in a tense relationship on an intense hunt to stop the bad guys before it’s too late.

I know mixed reviews and a mixed track record from director Guy Ritchie have you all waiting on the edge of your seats, dying, doubtlessly, to know what I thought of this movie. I’ll not delay any further: The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was great. It’s not a transcendental piece of art, and has its flaws, as pretty much all movies do, but damn was it ever a great time at the movies. The action is fun, nicely choreographed, and surprisingly well shot for a Guy Ritchie movie, the characters charm us as much as they do each other, and the espionage/spy/thriller/mystery stuff more than keeps a short attention span engaged, but what really spells the film’s success is its perfect sense of humor. It’s a rare, genuine, character-driven type of comedy, without slipping into the pitfalls that so often sink other movies of this ilk; there’s nothing mocking, mean-spirited, or parodic about the humor of the film. It’s just there because the whole thing would be wrong without it.

Warner Bros.

Warner Bros.

So many reboots, adaptations, and sequels these day suffer from Dark Knight Syndrome, or DKS. Simply put, DKS is the delusion that what worked for Christopher Nolan will work for you. That’s why so many blockbusters are painfully self-serious. Fortunately, it would seem that The Man from U.N.C.L.E. emerged from a place of love for the original television series, for the audience, and for the medium in general. Everyone on board strove rather admirably to make the most enjoyable and entertaining incarnation of this classic series that they could, almost as if someone thought, “I love this show, but nobody watches it anymore, and that’s lame, because today’s kids can’t watch old stuff. I know! I’ll make a new version that will appeal to modern audiences!” Without seeking to replace, upstage, or make fun of the original, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. achieves its goals, providing a lighthearted spy thriller that anyone could enjoy.

Of course, the quality of the screenplay only comes across thanks to the efforts of a committed cast, clearly enjoying itself at every turn. Henry Cavill, who previously I had only seen in Man of Steel and person, in the former of which he maintained a dour and grim demeanor, and in the latter of which he maintained a safe distance, here delivers an almost hammy performance, perfectly fulfilling the role of suave, chiseled spy, but instead of sporting the smooth James Bond accent to match it, speaks in an ostentatiously American equivalent. He almost reminds me of Oxnard Montalvo…

Nickelodeon Some slight resemblance...

Nickelodeon
Some slight resemblance…

His costar Armie Hammer, who I had previously only seen as grumpy twins in The Social Network and as a cowboy in the few minutes of The Lone Ranger I was actually able to tolerate, here demonstrates that he was worth all those chances studios and casting directors kept giving him. He plays angry, threatening Russian spy so well, and makes the perfect antithesis to Cavill’s dapper and charismatic American. Both men are privileged to work with the lovely Alicia Vikander, whom I have previously lauded for her turn in Ex Machina. While perhaps a less complicated character and less layered performance than that which she embodied in Ex Machina, her presence in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is equally rewarding to the viewer.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is just about the last blockbuster of the summer, right? Well, we had some highs and lows in the middle, but if Mad Max: Fury Road (or perhaps Furious 7) was the first blockbuster of the summer, and this was the last, I’d say we had a pretty good one overall. Guy Ritchie finally made a Guy Ritchie movie that didn’t tire me out just by playing. In general, I do like his films, but they are exhaustingly edited and the dialogue is often too rapid-fire, if that’s possible. While The Man from U.N.C.L.E. has made me look a little more favorably upon him that some of his other movies did, it still can’t make me look forward to his King Arthur movie. That’s still gonna suck. Probably. Of course, this one was probably gonna suck, too, and it turned out to be really good, so…

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