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

    “A Cold War espionage film served deliciously cold.”

    “I take top,” Solo demands while he and Kuryakin try to pick the two locks on heavily-barred doors, forcing his partner to bend down and “take the bottom.” This is just one of the many amusing scenes in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. where the characters played by Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer are constantly bickering against each other. Directed by Guy Ritchie, the mind behind the recent Sherlock Holmes movie franchise, the film is the big-screen adaptation of the 1960s hit British spy thriller TV series. 

    The film is set in 1963 during the early Cold War. It opens with two spies competing to haul out an important asset in East Germany. Napoleon Solo (Cavill), a debonair playboy, is a former  black market dealer and master thief in post-war Europe recruited by the CIA into becoming a secret agent. On the other hand, Illya Kuryakin (Hammer), similarly enlisted by his state, is the perfunctory tight and serious KGB operative. The wild card in the game is the auto mechanic vixen Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander) whose bomb-expert dad is the enemy’s ace card.

    Surprisingly, the two agents are forced by their bosses to pair up. Kuryakin poses as Teller’s fiancĂ©e while Solo infiltrates the criminal organization led by neo-Nazi tall Italian dame Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki). Rushing to stop the soon-to-be nuclear warfare, the gorgeous trio of Solo, Kuryakin and Teller must work together to accomplish their mission.

    Apparently, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is an origin movie, introducing an antiquated espionage story to young audiences. Expectedly, it is formulaic and predictable, but unbelievably, it is fun and appealing. It is visually pleasing, sexy and suave. It is literally classy and stylish, obvious with the pretty-boy bravado of the actors and the overflow of elegant and sleek wardrobe. Solo, dashing in his jet-black hair, is also daper in his suits, all in the shade of blue, while Kuryakin, hair always combed and glossy, is handsome in his dark earth-color turtleneck shirts. Similarly, Teller is a Vogue-worthy femme fatale. With all these chic dresses, the film sometimes feels like an action film in a fashion show.

    Moreover, the movie is not exactly thrilling for a spy thriller, but it compensates its lack of urgency with humor and playfulness. Its choreography is decently executed, especially with the car chase at the beginning where actions are smooth and fluid while maintaining a restrained air of excitement. Director Ritchie is also quite fond of placing crucial sequences either in the background, such as when Solo helps himself into a glass of wine inside his car while Kuryakin is busy with speedboat chase outside, or offscreen, like when Kuryakin presumably explodes and beats three bully boys in the restroom. Classy jazz score is also copious, though it is excessive at some points. And as often as the actors change outfits, the film is also quick to change settings and locations.

    On the downside, the film suffers from a simplistic plot and poor characterization. There is not much tale going on and plot twists are lame and unsurprising. The heroes are also stereotypical. Solo is the usual white Bond-like womanizer while Kuryakin is the perfect humourless Communist agent. Though amusing, the duo’s constant squabbling eventually becomes whiny and childish, especially that they call each other names like “Cowboy” and “Red Peril.” Despite her girlish change of clothes, Teller also appears too stiff for too long.

    Yet, the actors make the best of their characters. Their acting is nothing special but their chemistry is tremendous. Cavill is flawless with his playful Solo persona but mostly, he comes across more British than American, which he truly is in real life. Meanwhile, with his weirdly deep voice, Hammer is more pleasing to the eyes than ears. His Kuryakin, who is too volatile that he suffers seizures from controlling his temper, is convincingly played out. Vikander, from his winning performance in Ex Machina and Testament of Youth, seems wasted but her presence as Teller brings a touch of joy and harmony. Her moments with Hammer are killingly sweet and infectious, like freshly-baked butterscotch. Others actors like Debicki, who could be easily mistaken as a Hilton figure, and Hugh Grant, Solo’s boss and possibly the brains of U.N.C.L.E. or United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, also have strong and commanding presence. 

    The Man from U.N.C.L.E., with its good-looking cast, location and actions, is an enjoyable film to watch. It may have poor plot and character development for an origin story but it holds enough charisma and wits to lure viewers. It is an unexpectedly pleasant viewing experience, stirring anticipation for a sequel to come soon.


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