Classic reaches the big screen
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (12A)
Being of a not too vintage age, the 1960s Man from U.N.C.L.E television show passed me by and all I knew about the espionage escapades were that they starred Robert Vaughn and David McCallum as secret agents.
As a result, I had little to compare Guy Ritchie’s big screen adaptation to other than similarly-themed spy spectaculars like Mission: Impossible and Bond.
Cold War tensions abound as CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and KGB operative Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) are forced to team up in a joint mission to prevent a mysterious criminal organisation getting their hands on nuclear weapons.
On the face of things, U.N.C.L.E looks like Ritchie following the same template as his successful Sherlock Holmes reboot: period setting, two male leads, comedy mixing with mystery.
But don’t go in expecting a Robert Downey Jr/Jude Law-style bromance between Cavill and Hammer. Instead Superman and The Lone Ranger spend most of the near-two-hour running time bickering and trying to one-up each other.
The dynamic works for the most part due to impressive turns by the muscle-bound pair, but a more breezy tone and increase in witty banter wouldn’t have gone amiss.
Ritchie contributes to a four-man script in his first writing credit since 2008’s RocknRolla and, much like last year’s Kingsman: The Secret Service, it’s clear the quartet are huge fans of Sean Connery-era Bond flicks.
The 1960s era is faithfully recreated – not least with the hairstyles, modes of transport and use of split screens – and the action sequences are as thrilling as they are nonsensical and overthe-top.
Alas, there is no Blofeld or Goldfinger-calibre antagonist to trouble Solo and Kuryakin. Elizabeth Debicki (The Great Gatsby) brings glamour and an icy demeanour but very little else as a villainess who’d do well to last beyond a Bond opening title sequence.
Swede Alicia Vikander (Gaby) deserves better than the underdeveloped, glorified object of affection that she’s saddled with; it’s a far cry from her stunning work in last year’s Ex Machina.
Faring better as an M-like presence is Hugh Grant (Waverly) in his most high profile role for many years. He’s such fun you almost wish he’d got the chance to play one of the lead agents.
The double-crosses come thick and fast in a plot that keeps the audience guessing right to the end and, even when the pace slows for a breather, everyone involved appears to be having such fun that The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is never dull.
Hopefully, like Sherlock, Ritchie’s super spies are granted a return mission as there’s enough promise here to suggest, with the setup out of the way, even more vibrant, vintage ventures to come.
On their bike Cavill (left) and Hammer motor on to a mission