Continuing our series of overlooked properties now available via streaming, Netflix, or On Demand we bring you this spoiler free review of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
If you are like me and a lot of other people, you skipped The Man From U.N.C.L.E. when it was in the theaters last year. Normally I love spy movies and I’m a fan director Guy Ritchie, his Sherlock Holmes films are amazing! It was just an odd combo of actors I didn’t care for and a old TV property I had no previous love for that kept me from seeing it.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series originally aired from ’64-’68 the first season in B&W and the remaining three were in color. Starring Robert Vaughn, David McCallum, Leo G. Carroll (who was over a barrel when Tarantula took to the hills!) was a direct response to the success of the James Bond movie franchise. Combining charisma and cool gadgets, Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin waged war against the criminal organization THRUSH. There is some interesting history about the show’s conception, especially with the intended focus of the show, Mr. Solo. Ian Fleming contributed to the concepts to the show after being approached by the show’s co-creator, Norman Felton. Fleming proposed two characters, Napoleon Solo and April Dancer (The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.). The original name was Ian Fleming’s Solo. Solo was to have been the focus, but a scene featuring a Russian agent named Illya Kuryakin drew enthusiasm from the test audiences and the agents were paired
Originally the show was to be titled Ian Fleming’s Solo and later just Solo. However, in February 1964 a law firm representing James Bond movie producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli demanded an end to the use of Fleming’s name in connection with the series and an end to use of the name and character “Solo”, “Napoleon Solo” and “Mr. Solo”. At that time filming was under way for the Bond movie Goldfinger, in which Martin Benson was playing a supporting character named “Mr. Solo”. The claim was the name “Solo” had been sold to them by Fleming, and Fleming could not again use it. Within five days Fleming had signed an affidavit that nothing in the Solo pilot infringed any of his Bond characters, but the threat of legal action resulted in a settlement in which the name Napoleon Solo could be kept but the title of the show had to change. It has been suggested that Han Solo’s name was inspired by the Napoleon Solo character. Lucas being famous for borrowing whatever he felt like from a vast array of genre fiction this seems like a distinct possibility.
So enough with the history lesson and onto the review of the 2015 film! As I mentioned earlier I was under impressed with Henry Cavill in Man of Steel and have never been a fan of the incredibly wooden Armie Hammer (who the hell named this poor kid). As it turns out this unlikely pairing brought out something in each actor that had been missing for me in their other films. Hammer’s wooden acting lent itself to the stoic portrayal of Illya Kuryakin and Cavill was a perfect fit for the egotistical and womanizing Solo. An all too brief appearance by Guy Ritchie alum Jared Harris as Napoleon Solo’s commanding officer was good while it lasted. I loved the look of the film, the slightly over saturated 60s style cinematography really brought the immersing atmosphere home. The swinging 60s was such a great time for fashion and the clothes, always a hallmark of any good spy film, were on point. Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina, Tomb Raider) who played Gaby had a colorful wardrobe in direct contrast with the villainess Victoria’s stark monochrome costumes, played by Elizabeth Debicki (Guardians of the Galaxy 2, God Particle). The movie opened with a great escape scene and rarely let up after that. The two lead protagonists spent most of the film at each other’s throats, but slowly learned respect as the story progressed. By the end of the film you’re still unsure if they hate or love each other, but I think you’ll be happy with the ending. Guy Ritchie had fun with a couple of the scenes where something happens and you’re left wondering why it played out exactly that way, but then he would rewind a few moments and replay the scene with the missing pieces that filled in the gaps. It wasn’t over used and was a neat little device that made for some interesting scenes. Left open for a sequel I’d like to see Guy Ritchie and the cast take another shot at this obvious bid for a franchise. I feel a bit guilty for caving into what I thought at the time were accurate reviews that painted the picture as dull and corny at the same time. You have to understand and have affection for the time period and the spy genre to love this film, but I think there is enough room left there for the average fan to enjoy themselves. Give yourself and the film a chance and screen it through one the several available avenues, I’m betting you won’t be disappointed!
source: IMDB, Wikipedia