Guy Ritchie’sThe Man from U.N.C.L.E. is the kind of movie programmed to evaporate from your memory hours after you walk out of the theater. It is a trifle, an almost leisurely stroll masquerading as a mid-level action blockbuster. Its pleasures are surface-level, but they are plentiful. The film coasts on both charm and genuine filmmaking craftsmanship. The film doesn’t want to impress you or bludgeon you or remotely challenge you. It just wants to spin a good yarn with good company and hope you come along for the ride. And in that sense, it is an almost unqualified success. It’s not a great movie, but it is good fun.
The plot is really simple. It’s the 1960′s and a roguish American secret agent (Henry Cavill) mustteamup with a brutish KGB agent (Armie Hammer) to save the world from a disconnected third party. That’s the story. The film’s terrific curtain raiser sequence, the one heavily advertised in the trailer, does a bang-up job of establishing our main characters and showing off their respective skills in what is an excellent example of old-school action choreography and character development through action instead of verbal exposition. That’s why it’s a little unfortunate that the next twenty minutes or so grind to a halt to basically hash out the same character exposition via monologues. But once the stakes are established, and the characters meet and team up, the film kicks back into gear and even during this downtime the comedy never stalls.
Whether intentional or not, our two super spies come off as variations on famous onscreen 007 actors, which makes their eventual team-up and friendship genuinely amusing. Henry Cavill is all charm as Agent Napoleon Solo, and he comes off as a dashing variation on Roger Moore’s merry espionage adventurer. Meanwhile, Armie Hammer plays the Russian counterpart,Illya Kuryakin. His brutish, almost supernaturally skilled (he comes off as the T-1000 in the film’s prologue), and socially awkward agent brings to mind the most recent Daniel Craig incarnation. So yeah, if you ever wanted to see the James Bond of The Spy Who Loved Me teaming up with the James Bond of Skyfall, your wish has come true.