*. Another movie looking to cash in on a television series and launch a new franchise. Only this time it’s a bit odd because unlike say Baywatch or CHIPS, there can’t have been a big audience out there for fans of this show, which ran for a few years in the mid-1960s. It’s not like the studio was looking to to piggy-back on a popular brand.
*. Anthony Lane’s guess is as good as any: that the success of Mission: Impossible gave hope that “there is no straw, however flimsy or antique, that cannot be spun into gold.”
*. One big difference being that the Mission: Impossible movies updated their plotlines to the present day and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. proudly wears its vintage stripes. A good call? I approve. I’ve seen a twenty-first century Bond, and Jason Bourne, and Ethan Hunt. Plus, the whole set-up here is grounded in the Cold War. I don’t know how the relationship between Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin would play in a film actually set in 2015.
*. What really makes this blown-up-from-the-small-screen entry in the franchise sweepstakes different is its cool tone. They could have played it as slapstick, with lots of gags. They could certainly have gone to town with more Starsky and Hutch-style nudging and winking about the relationship between the two male-model leads. But while there are some jokes, and some winks at the homoerotic overtones, nothing is overplayed.
*. The movie’s final shot sums this tone up nicely. The three main characters are presented to us standing formally on a balcony, with Gaby (Alicia Vikander) wearing a pair of comic sunglasses. But the scene doesn’t play it broad. If it’s all a gag, and it is, it’s played perfectly straight, which I think makes it even funnier. This isn’t Austin Powers.
*. I liked this restraint. And in Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer I thought they cast the perfect pair of stiffs for the parts, turning defects into virtues. But in Hollywood’s way of accounting these things The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was a bomb. Though a sequel was obviously part of the plan (they leave it until the end to even mention U.N.C.L.E., and never explain what it actually stands for), we may have to wait a while.
*. By the way, in case you were wondering, U.N.C.L.E. stands for United Network Command for Law and Enforcement. Talk about a labored acronym.
*. Perhaps audiences wanted more humour. But I think more than that what they wanted was a better plot, more spectacular action scenes, and better villains.
*. The bad guys really let us down here. There’s an evil blonde who I couldn’t understand at all, and Gaby’s sadistic uncle, who is given a pointless and disturbing photo-album back story. In movies like this we have to love, or love to hate, the villains. A lot of the time they’re more interesting than the heroes. In this movie that would have been both easy and necessary given the blankness of Solo and Kuraykin, but it doesn’t happen.
*. Still, there was a lot more here that I liked than I didn’t like. I’d rate it head and shoulders above most of the other TV series adaptations that were coming out around this time. If that’s faint praise, it’s still something to give it credit for.