The Man from UNCLE is the 2015 adaptation of the classic 1960s spy drama of the same name. Set in the original time, this retelling is high on 60s style and seems a perfect homage to spy dramas of the period. Armie Hammer and Henry Cavill star as Illya Kuryakin and Napoleon Solo respectively.
A scientist is kidnapped and forced to develop a nuclear bomb for an unspecified evil organisation with unspecific evil intentions. While this sounds like a rejected plot from an early Bond film (it even has a subtle Bond reference!), this is a fun film that should be viewed for the ride and without any hope that this will revolutionise, or even change, cinema.
The original series was regarded as groundbreaking for its positive portrayal of Kuryakin despite him being a Russian agent holding communistic beliefs—remarkable for a series produced amid the Cold War. The film continues in this vein and portrays him positively for the most part but does put a greater emphasis on his mental health issues than is necessary.
When a reboot of an old franchise is announced, it often strikes dread into its fans’ hearts. There are many stories of terrible failure. There are also plenty of stories of great successes. The failures often obscure the successes as the temptation is to hold the reboot to far more exacting standards than the original ever encountered as it seeks to hit a high mark already set. The new version must not just stand up to the style of the original but also the nostalgia and romance that surrounds it. The Man from UNCLE reboot succeeds in its aims to capture that nostalgia than the original itself. This is not 2015 mimicking the 1960s; this is 2015 fondly remembering the 1960s.
The Man from UNCLE is a wonderfully stylistic production but remains quite light on substance. The plot is thrust into the backseat until later and even then is not enough to support a whole film but this is hardly a problem since so much time is devoted to setting up characters. It is a basic plot but it is the style and sense of fun that makes this film truly shine. An unfortunate habit of withholding information to be revealed at a later point becomes a little irritating, particularly considering the fact that the revelations are stunningly obvious but it does not detract much from the greater fun. The final action sequences are stamped thoroughly with the 60s style, employing a comic book style split screen and looking very much like the climax of an old Bond film. This is 60s nostalgia writ large.
If you are looking for a film perfect for sitting back and enjoying a good-natured ride, this is the film. Not every film must change cinema, nor speak deep truths of the human experience, nor even exist in the higher echelons of intellectualism. The Man from UNCLE is a very solid action film heavy on style, possessing a good sense of humour and exhibiting thrilling action set pieces. The filmmakers clearly harbour hopes of launching a film series and good luck to them. A second installment would surely be a welcomed event.
Words by Liam McNally