The Man from U.N.C.L.E. - Semi-Serious Stylish Spy Show

Matthew Parkinson | 14 Aug 2015 12:00
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Directed by Guy Ritchie. Produced by John Davis, Steve Clark-Hall, Lionel Wigram, and Guy Ritchie. Written by Guy Ritchie and Lionel Wigram. Release date: August 14, 2015.

The question that arises from The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is whether or not a less-than-serious spy thriller - that has no desire to be classified as a comedy - can succeed in 2015. We've already had spy comedies this year like Kingsman: The Secret Service and Spy, and we're going to get another no-laughing-allowed Bond movie with Spectre in a few months, but The Man from U.N.C.L.E. fits somewhere in the middle. At its core, it plays almost everything straight, but does so with a knowing wink, like it knows much of its plot, characters, and gadgets are silly, even if it doesn't state it outright. It's a throwback to the spy movies and shows of decades earlier.

That's probably fitting given that The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is based on a television series from the 1960s that ran for about 100 episodes and is likely fondly remembered by your dad - or perhaps grandad. The new movie, co-written and directed by Guy Ritchie, serves not as a modern remake but a reboot. When the film begins, U.N.C.L.E. isn't even yet established - the film essentially acts like an origin story for the organization. If it is successful financially, you can bet there will be more stories to tell. Hopefully any future sequels will try to stay away from using the plot of pretty much every spy movie ever.

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The only interesting thing about the plot of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is the backdrop it uses to frame its generic story. It's set in the 1960s, right up against the Cold War. Tensions are high between America and Russia, although the two countries have to put aside their differences and team up to stop another body from creating a nuclear bomb that could end the world. To do so, they send their top spies on a joint mission. The Americans send Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill), while the Russians send Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer). Teaming up with a German mechanic, Gaby (Alicia Vikander), their goal is to infiltrate their target, locate a computer tape, and stop any current progress being made on a bomb.

It's a silly plot with little more to it than that, save for the obligatory character turns and "shocking" revelations that will only come as a surprise to those not paying attention. Ritchie often attempts to hide information from the audience, ensuring that we can't figure out what's going on until he spoon feeds us, but chances are you're going to figure out the twists anyway, assuming you've seen one spy movie in your life, or have a working brain. The predictability of the plot is part of the reason The Man from U.N.C.L.E. feels as slight as it does. If the reveals were genuinely surprising, we'd probably be able to ignore how the plot is as generic as spy movies come.

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