60’s Television Classic “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” Adaptation Is A Surprise Thrill Ride

By Scott Kurland
Film: The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
Starring: Armie Hammer, Henry Cavill, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Luca Calvani, Jared Harris, and Hugh Grant
Rated: PG-13
Director: Guy Ritchie

     Since the late 80’s, Hollywood has been giving us films based on popular television shows. Some of the films were good and original like the “Addams Family ” films, “21 Jump Street”, and the “Mission Impossible” series. Other films have been awful like “Car 54 Where Are You?”, “The Honeymooners”, and sadly “The Avengers” (note: this isn’t the Marvel film, it’s based on the 1960s series starring Dame Diana Rigg and Patrick Macnee). I will say that the TV adaptation genre has had a few guilty pleasure films like “The Saint”, “The Mod Squad”, "The Brady Bunch", and “Dragnet” starring Tom Hanks. This week’s film is “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” based on the 1960s series starring David McCallum and Robert Vaughn. Let’s find out what category this film falls into, the good, the bad, or the “don’t judge me”; shall we?

   “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” takes place in the early 1960s, and stars Armie Hammer and Henry Cavill as Illya Kuryakin and Napoleon Solo. Kuryakin works for the KGB and Solo is a C.I.A. agent.  Naturally, this makes them sworn enemies. Kruyakin and Solo are forced to work together when a German scientist mysteriously goes missing. What they learn is, that a mad woman named Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki) and her husband Alexander (Luca Calvani), kidnapped the scientist to build a nuclear warhead. With the help of the scientist’s daughter Gabby (Alicia Vikander), its up to these two men to track down and stop these evil masterminds. Can they put their difference aside? Or will the Cold War get the best of them?

   I’ve always been a fan of “The Man From U.N.C.L.E” television series. I use to watch marathon reruns on TNT. I also loved when they blocked it together with “Mission Impossible” on TVLand. When I heard they were making a film based on the show,  I was excited. Originally Steven Soderbergh was going to direct with George Clooney starring as Solo. Then Soderbergh left, and Matthew Vaughn replaced him. Finally comedy director David Dobkin took over, which spelled bad news for the film. Luckily, Guy Ritchie stepped in, and the film he crafted exceeded my expectations. This could have been a clunker of a film in the wrong hands. Whoever directed the film could have made it present day, and the Russian/American feud element wouldn’t have worked. Or this could have become a broad comedy like “Starsky & Hutch”. It worked for that film, but “U.N.C.L.E.” needs to be set in the 60’s and Ritchie knows that. 

   This is a cool film all the way to its core. The story is cool, the production design is cool, and most importantly the actors are cool. I really like Armie Hammer, and it makes me sad that “The Lone Ranger” wasn’t that great of a film. Hammer gets a shot at redemption here. As Illya, Hammer is brash and strong, quiet and calculating. Watching him beat up bad guys and when I learned he did most of his own stunts that made me like him even more. Right behind Hammer for the film’s MVP is Henry Cavill. He’s a good Superman, but he’s even better as Napoleon Solo. Cavill, a Brit, really captures that overly confident American persona. Cavill is suave, sophisticated, and quite the conman. 

   It frightens me that this film might not get a sequel, because Cavill and Hammer work really well together and have great chemistry. Opening the same weekend as “Straight Outta Compton” and a few weeks after “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation” is not helping its box office numbers. Yet, this film needs a sequel, because I want to see these two bicker at each other again. This is a great little caper film and it has captured the essences of the 1960s series with a combination of flaws and perfection. The action sequences are great to watch, the car chase that opens the movie is reminiscent of a Bond film. The plot is just absurd enough to be believable, and Ritchie has fond a way to get through the unnecessary exposition that leads to a great climax. Sure there’s some ridiculousness in this film, but it helps bring that 60’s camp to the screen. Ritchie is slowly becoming a director that can make time periods pop in an action filled way.

   We’ve had a lot of spy films this year, but “The Man From U.N.C.L.E” is one of the better takes on the genre. It’s filled with a great cast, clever plot, and eye popping action. If you want a nice relaxing film, this might not be for you. If you want a campy action comedy that correctly adapts a beloved television series, then you need to see this film. I hope you all check out “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”, it’s no “Guardians of The Galaxy”, but it will put a huge smile on your face.

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