Based on the classic NBC TV series of the same name, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. stars Henry Cavil (Man of Steel) and Armie Hammer (The Lone Ranger) as respectively Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin. The former is a CIA agent and the latter of the KGB, and both of them are the best of the best in the high-stakes world of Cold War intelligence. They first encounter each other in East Berlin where they are each tasked with pursuing a woman named Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina). Solo manages to get her over the Wall, but the next day each man is introduced to each other by their superiors and told they’re going to have to work together. Gaby’s father is an ex-Nazi scientist who recently developed a method to quickly and cheaply produce nuclear scientist and then vanished without a trace. Both the American and Soviets are afraid the secret will be sold to the highest bidder, and so Kuryakin and Solo must put aside their differences and, well, save the world.
I will preface this by saying that I’ve only seen a few episodes of the original The Man from U.N.C.L.E., but even so the movie does a remarkably good job at preserving what made the show so neat. Henry Cavil nails the distinct diction and vocal style which Robert Vaughn used to give Napoleon Solo his unique characterization, and both Cavil and Hammer nail the dangerous but also playful chemistry that makes the relationship between Solo and Kuryakin so interesting to watch. This film also nails the distinct 60s vibe that you never see anymore. Vikander is frequently dressed in bright orange and lime green retro dresses while Cavil and Hammer have the stylish suits and standard spy turtlenecks (although they didn’t invent the turtleneck). The movie has a number of spy gadgets like (enormous) satellite trackers and grappling guns, although it averts the really ridiculous stuff like cars with ejector seats. And who are the villains? Well Nazis of course! I mean, who makes a better villain than Nazis?
But most importantly this film has its tongue stuck firmly in its cheek. It’s not an out-and-out comedy or parody, but it never takes itself too seriously. Some highlights include a scene where Kuryakin is frantically trying to evade his attackers in a speedboat while Solo calmly watches from the shore while eating an antipasto dish, a scene involving Vikander trying to get Hammer to dance around a hotel room with her in their pajamas, and a surprisingly funny scene involving a Nazi torturer (it makes sense in context).
All of this is stuff you just don’t see anymore, and for that reason this movie feels like a breath of fresh air in an atmosphere of frequently grimdark movies. It’s certainly a throwback, and I can’t see this breaking the trend of modern dark and violent films; this ship sailed long ago. But you, I’m fine with that. It may just be a quirky little spy movie, but it brought back some fond memories and made me laugh, and honestly I’m perfectly content with that.