Release Date: August 14, 2015
Screenplay: Guy Ritchie, David C. Wilson, Scott Z. Burns
based on the story by Sam Rolfe
Directed By: Guy Ritchie
Starring: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debiki and Hugh Grant
I’m dumbfounded by the lack of positivity surrounding this film amongst critics and thus it’s a great reminder of the notion that at this day and age, it appears people see a movie merely to judge it. And thereby, the magic of films is not only overlooked, but we’re essentially taught that nothing matters more than thrilling plots or perhaps heavy action sequences. As an enormous fan of Marvel, I hope I’m forgiven when I say The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was actually the greatest film I’ve seen all summer. Seeing as how this’ll probably project backlash due to the fact that Mad Max: Fury Road is rated much higher, while I thought the film was riveting in every way it could’ve been, it’s not something I find myself wanting to watch over and over again. The Man from U.N.C.L.E however is a phenomenal spy drama with the right amount of heart and humor, fascinating characters, organic performances, engaging action sequences, an exceptional score, gorgeous cinematography, and style.
It is with great pride that I admit I’m already a massive fan of anything that involves spies — if I could watch one genre my entire life, it’d be all series and films featuring noted tropes and generally predictable storylines. The facts are these (accidental homage to Pushing Daisies), if you watch enough spy films/tv series, you’ll find yourself predicting an ending quicker than most; however, that doesn’t in any way equate to the actual storyline being “bad” or “overdone”. And frankly, it’s not always about shocking the audience, but rather telling a story involving intriguing characters. I’m not here to defend myself against outrageously negative critics, I’m here to tell you why The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a film you should undoubtedly see in theaters.
While critics argue the film lacks substance, they seem to be focusing on what’s on the surface rather than taking a deeper look into the characters that have been established. Anyone entering into the film without prior knowledge to these characters from the 60’s TV series of the same title will not be lost — viewers will still leave theaters having witnessed excellent development. Well written characters are one thing, but ultimately what layers them enough to leave lasting marks on viewers is the commendable work actors put into their roles. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. doesn’t have a huge ensemble cast which thankfully allows most of the film to focus on its core characters Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill), Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer), Gabriela Teller (Alicia Vikander), Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debecki) and Hugh Grant’s Alexander Waverly. The film takes each of these characters, primarily focusing on the trio of “heroes” and taps into their morals and sentiments all while allowing their differences to entertain viewers with charming hilarity.
Character Analysis: Agents of U.N.C.L.E.
It was only after I’d left the theatre that I remembered Cavill’s not actually an American native thus, it’s safe to state that not only did his American accent come off completely natural, but he played with Solo’s stylistic tone effortlessly well. And establishing that couldn’t have been easy so hats off to his strengths as an actor because while he’s often playing more serious characters, Solo’s temperaments come off incredibly authentic. Cavill’s character is interestingly more than just a suave swaggering agent, while his pride doesn’t allow him to step back without having the final say, you can see through his expressiveness, especially towards the end of the film where it’s clearly revealed he’s grown to care for his teammates. And for the most part, he doesn’t change, nor should he have to in order to showcase trivial growth in his character more effectively. Furthermore, brief moments of lighting which focus heavily on Solo’s character throughout the beginning of the film reveals to viewers that there’s more to this character than meets the eye, thereby giving those who are paying attention the cue to really look deeper into the debonair figure. And if there’s one thing I can always appreciate, it is excellent cinematography of this kind.
Sometimes it’s up to viewers to pay attention to expressiveness, other times, a film desperately wants to make sure it’s heavily focused on. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. gives Armie Hammer bountiful opportunities to translate his character’s emotions stunningly through his eyes. Often times when mental disorders are portrayed in the media, they’re either glossed over, or the characters are primarily villains thereby perpetuating a notion that those who suffer from mental illnesses are unstable untrustworthy beings. Illya’s in a perpetual state of rage — due to his childhood experiences, he was eventually diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder resulting in the unstable behavior we see throughout the film. However, for once viewers aren’t exposed to a villain with the disorder but a damaged man who beyond the rage, is actually compassionate and gentle.Where there needs to be fire, Hammer makes sure his character appears entirely hollow, but where there needs to be light, tenderness is reflected gracefully. And much like Cavill, Hammer did an exquisite job mastering the Russian accent — so often with foreign accents actors have a tendency to overdo it thus making it relatively unbearable to listen to them speak, but thankfully, Hammer’s comes across incredibly organic.
I don’t trust people who don’t enjoy watching badass leading ladies in films/TV series. It’s just a fact. That said, Alicia Vikander’s Gaby Teller is a remarkably special character in this film. Apart from the fact that she’s able to have fun in the midst of such missions creating an even more pleasant environment, there’s not a single moment where the undeniably tougher men outshine her. In fact, it’s a breath of fresh air that she essentially pulls the strings without any professional authority over them. By standard, she isn’t their superior but comments such as “so why am I playing mom” reveal to the audience that she’s not only far more mature than they are, but she’s a woman who knows where she stands. And that’s something I can always appreciate in the world of female characters in spy films. But what’s astounding to me is the fact that she’s a German car mechanic. A German car mechanic. At the top of my head I can’t remember the last time we’ve ever seen a female in such a role and that alone is enough to make her completely badass and inspirational.
And lastly, Elizabeth Debecki’s Victoria Vinciguerra is a fantastic villain especially for the time period we’re in. So often in the media when women are portrayed as villains or heads of a company it’s due to the fact that their husband has passed; however, it was interesting to see that though she has a man by her side she adores, she’s still the one calling all the business shots. Additionally, she doesn’t get her hands dirty, literally you go, girl.
My favorite bromances are the ones that start off wanting to rip each other’s throats out [Steve Rogers, Thor, and Tony Stark (Avengers), Captain Hook and Prince Charming (Once Upon A Time), Chuck Bartowski and John Casey (Chuck), Dwight Shrute and Jim Halpert (The Office)] You get the point. There’s something riveting about such dynamics and it’s the element of surprise, the realization that sometimes your worst enemy could end up being the right partner. I don’t expect Napoleon and Illya to get matching tattoos at any point, but their “friendship” develops wonderfully. There’s absolutely no denying the riveting chemistry between Cavill and Hammer — it’s made this film and the dynamic ridiculously special. This is primarily why I’m desperately hoping for a sequel because when it’s simple to tell that actors had fun with their role, it makes the film that much more entertaining. There’s no doubt that they work better alone, but ultimately, they need each other and the fact that neither of them ever left the other behind was certainly fine development. Both actors did a fine job of delivering the right amount of frustration and concern towards their partner — when they’re irritated with one another, it was hilarious, but when you could catch glimpses of worry in their eyes, it was pleasant. It’s clear that at some point the two would learn to make their partnership work, but what showcased exemplary character growth is the fact that when Solo sees Illya’s father’s watch on the fallen enemy, he takes it and returns it. It’s moments like this that we can truly never have enough of — sure it’s predictable, but since when are acts of kindness anything but wonderful? It’s essentially what allows me to believe that negative critics who’ve left the film bitter just don’t care for the little things that fundamentally amount to bigger things. If Napoleon hadn’t returned the watch, the two men would probably be swimming in blood and while that may have been a shocking ending, it wouldn’t have been inspiring. The real world is already a scary and disgusting place; we don’t need our films to be just as negative. Call me whatever you want, but there’ll never be anything better than a story where the good guys win with honor. And that’s what’s so fantastic about their bromance, they’re never going to stop trying to irritate one another — there will always be an ongoing banter, but at the end of the day, they’ll each other’s backs.
Initially, one of the most prominent tropes featured in most spy films is the good old “undercover lovers”. Perhaps this is where my personal bias comes in because it doesn’t matter how or why they’re posing as a fake duo, the mere fact that they are speaks to my fan girl soul on a deep level. It’s fun, captivating, and almost always it’s the beginning of a great love story. Things get adorable in the film when Illya (Hammer) and Gaby (Vikander) are supposed to pose as an engaged couple. Whether they’re disagreeing on clothes or wrestling, there’re clearly some underlying feelings developing that makes their dynamic amusing to watch. Sometimes it’s fun to dance like a complete dork in your bedroom, but other times, it’s even more fun to have a partner. And that’s the first moment between the two where we’re able to see how effortlessly Illya’s expressiveness softens. It’s a gorgeously defining instant, for it’s from that moment on where we’re able to see that he’s not only grown fond of Gaby, but without even trying, she’s able to distract him from the conundrums in his mind. There aren’t many things quite as charming as the undercover lovers tropes for when we’re able to see the feelings progress, it has the remarkable power to tug on the heartstrings. If their three tragically interrupted kisses hadn’t been a part of the film, we would’ve still been able to understand just how much they care for one another from their reactions when they were each injured before the final takedown. Additionally, if I could tattoo this film on my forehead for any reason other than the depiction of this fabulous trope, it’d be for the very fact that the film never used the world’s most irritating and tiresome storyline: the always dreaded love triangle. If I don’t see another love triangle for the rest of my life, as a film/TV enthusiast, I’d be the happiest. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. had ample opportunity to use the trope but instead it chose to focus on the trio as partners all while subtly establishing real feelings between Illya and Gaby. That alone deserves endless praise.
Ultimately, if I could spend pages and pages discussing everything I adored about this film, we’d be here forever. An English major’s analysis often ends up being far too long for a basic film review therefore, here we are four pages later and I’m just now getting into why these characters are boldly different than most spies. More often than not, spies want to be spies — they enjoy it, for there’s a desire in them to save the world. Heck, it’s why I’ve always wanted to be one, but sadly I’d be way too excited about joining the CIA so I’d tell everyone. And well … that’s not good. But our agents of U.N.C.L.E. don’t actually want to save the world. They want to escape. Napoleon’s working off his prison sentence, Illya’s trying to protect his reputation, and Gaby’s a part of it because of her father’s involvement and personal desires to leave East Berlin. They aren’t playing a game, but their hearts aren’t in it for the sake of doing good — sure they’re honorable people to the core, but they’re also deeply flawed and that alone is enough reasons to make this film genius.
Hugh Grant’s style in films is always intriguing thereby his role in the film gives us the ridiculous lightheartedness we would’ve otherwise not have gotten. Comments such as “for a special agent you aren’t having a special day are you?, bring in a whole new vibe to the film making it exciting to see what it’d be like in a sequel if he was the one calling the shots.
The film has it all and while my primary focus was on the heart, fans of action films still have a lot to role with — car chases, physical quarrels, motorcycle stunts, boats blowing up, etc. Point being, the film’s phenomenal — Guy Ritchie is notably admirable for keeping everything perfectly balanced.
While every film has its flaws, the captivating cinematography and breathtaking performances play a vast role in creating an exquisite two hours of escape from reality. If you don’t pay close attention you’ll miss a great deal of beauty in the details and in retrospect, you’ll miss the entire drive of U.N.C.L.E. — the pristine humor mixed strategically with the emotions that encompass three people on a journey of finding themselves beyond the troubles they’ve individually experienced.
Napoleon Solo: (about Illya) “What that was waiting for me was barely human. You should’ve seen it run. […] I don’t think you understand, it tore the back off my car.”
Illya Kuryakin: “The Dior goes with the Rabanne.”
Napoleon Solo: “It won’t match.”
Illya Kurkakin: “It doesn’t have to match!”
Napoleon Solo: “Absolutely hated working with you, Peril.”
Illya Kuryakin: “You’re a terrible spy, Cowboy”
Illya Kuryakin: It’s good for the mission that we get to know each other a little more intimately.
Gaby Teller: What does that mean?
Illya Kuryakin: It means I like my women strong.
Illya Kuryakin: “Don’t make me put you over my knee.”
Gaby Teller: “So you don’t want to dance, but you do want to wrestle” (tackles him).