Hollywood is still not over its infatuation with taking classic American TV shows and turning them into movies (and they had better hurry up with Gilligan's Island, because Justin Long is not getting any younger). Here, writer-director Ritchie combines that obsession with another – the origin story – for his take on the campy 1960s spy series The Man From U.N.C.L.E. And the results are a bit of a mixed bag.
On the plus side, it's big and glossy, well cast and has a killer score. Cavill is terrific as the handsome master-thief-turned-spy Napolean Solo, recruited by the CIA to work undercover in Europe during the Cold War. He's teamed up with KGB agent Illya Kuryakin (Hammer), all brute strength and coiled fury, on a special mission to hunt down a missing German scientist who has the knowledge to make the world's deadliest nuclear bomb. Or something. Solo recruits said scientist's daughter, the lovely Gaby Teller (the lovely Vikander) to help with the hunt, and she poses undercover as "architect" Kuryakin's lovely fiance. And it seems her dad may or may not be in league with an evil international organisation headed by Italian socialite Victoria Vinciguerra (Debicki).
So far, so good. It's a simple and unremarkable plot, but relatively easy to follow if you pay attention for the various twists and turns along the way. The production design is superb, beautifully capturing the look and fell of the 60s an showing off the exotic locales with flair. And the cast give it their all, despite the often lame dialogue. Cavill and Hammer seem to have plenty of chemistry, but don't appear in scenes together often enough to really get it working. And aside from her accent being all over the place – sometimes she's German, sometimes she's English – the lovely Vikander gives easily the best performance in the film (Grant, as the head of British intelligence, comes in second).
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is a fun and frothy 60s spy romp come thriller, with some decent action scenes, a terrific poppy soundtrack, a few laughs and a lot of pretty people and places on the screen to look at. But Ritchie doesn't really bring anything fresh or different to the table – there isn't anything here we haven't seen countless times before. Still, it will probably do well enough at the box office to see a few sequels come along – Warner Brothers clearly sees this as a potential franchise to rival Bond or Bourne. And with the U.N.C.L.E. of the title (which stands for United Network Command for Law and Enforcement) not popping up until the very end, further instalments could be welcome – as long as the scripts are better than the one here.
EXTRAS ★★★ The featurette The Guys from U.N.C.L.E. (4:57), a behind-the-scenes look at the film shoot; the featurette Spy Vision: Recreating '60s Cool (8:34), more behind-the-scenes footage that delves into the look of the film and recreating the 190s style with the clothing, cars and so forth; the featurette A Higher Class of Hero (7:13), more behind-the-scenes footage that looks at the film's fight scenes, action and car stunts; the featurette Metisse Motorcycles: Proper and very British (4:49), a look at the bikes used in the film; the featurette A Man of Extraorddinary Talents (3:1), which sees the cast giving their opinions on Ritchie as a director and a chess player; and the featurette U.N.C.L.E: On-Set Spy (5:16), which is more behind-the-scenes footage. Not a terrible selection, but we could have done with some deleted scenes and maybe an audio commentary as well.