Family Movie Review: The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (PG-13)

TheManFromUncle ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReview

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MPAA Rating: PG-13        Length: 116 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 14+. The action film is based on the same-named TV show from the 1960s, so its spy and Cold War elements are still intact; also some language, some sexual innuendo, some implied sexual activity (a topless woman in revealing underwear is seen from the back), a few almost-kisses, and a variety of action scenes and violence, including characters dying, although not in a bloody way, and a torture scene with electrocution, as well as mentions of and blurry black and white photographs of the terrible torture and violence inflicted on Jews in concentration camps during the Holocaust. 

‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ oozes style, glamour, and goofy fun. It’s a perfectly frothy way to finish out the summer blockbuster movie season.

By Roxana Hadadi

“The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” may seem like a strange choice for a remake in 2015 – a 1960s TV show about an American and a Soviet spy, teaming up on missions around the world – but this big-screen remake takes all the best elements of that formula and ratchets them to their highest, most grandiose limits. Beautiful people wearing beautiful clothes, driving beautiful cars in beautiful cities, all while outsmarting and outgadgeting the bad guys – “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” is like sensory overload, but in a fantastic way. It’s one of the most fun movies of this summer.

The film follows the unlikely partnership between American spy Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill, of “Man of Steel”), a somewhat reformed criminal paying off debts by working for the CIA, and KGB agent Ilya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer, of “The Lone Ranger”), living in the shadow of his corrupt father and prone to violent, practically psychotic rages. The two first cross paths in East Berlin in 1963, where Solo is sent to retrieve Gaby (Alicia Vikander, of “Testament of Youth”), whose father was Hitler’s favorite rocket scientist before he defected to the United States; he’s since disappeared, and the U.S. government hopes to track him down.

Their escape of East Berlin seems easy at first, until Ilya shows up, more than six feet tall, able to keep up with Solo and Gaby’s crazy driving through twisty, narrow streets, and almost successful in stopping their getaway car with his bare hands. A competition develops immediately, and when they find out the next day that all three will be working together at the behest of the American and Soviet governments, Solo and Ilya don’t take it well. As in, they destroy a bathroom with a vicious fight, and nearly kill each other in the process.

But their mission is more important than either of their egos: Gaby’s father has been kidnapped and forced to work for wealthy Italian Nazi sympathizers, building a nuclear bomb that could kill millions of people. It’s up to Solo, Ilya, and Gaby to connect with Gaby’s uncle, also working with the fascists, and save her father and retrieve his research. If they can’t con their way into the circle of Italian magnate Alexander (Luca Calvani, of “When in Rome”) and his wife Victoria (Elizabeth Debicki, of “The Great Gatsby”), the actual brains behind the operation, the world is in intense danger.

Admittedly, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” goes through story beats that are, to the action/spy genre, overwhelmingly familiar: Two men who don’t like each other eventually earn the other’s begrudging respect, unexpected romantic tension develops between two people who at first hate each other, there are loyalty shifts and backstabbing galore.

But it’s done with such panache by director Guy Ritchie that you can’t help but marvel: The costuming is fantastic and immaculate, and an argument between Solo and Ilya about what specific designer clothes Gaby, pretending to be Ilya’s fiance, should wear during their trip to Italy is bizarre and delightful. The well-developed female characters – the calculating, reckless, and prickly Gaby, and the prideful and haughty Victoria – counteract effectively with the overwhelming masculinity of Solo and Ilya. And both Hammer and Cavill, so underserved in their other superhero turns as the Lone Ranger and Superman, both have charisma and personality in spades here. A scene where one of them tries to evade a group of bad guys while another tucks in an abandoned picnic lunch and a bottle of wine sounds ridiculous, and it is, and it works fantastically regardless.

So many of our action movies this summer took themselves extremely seriously, but like the recent “Mission: Impossible 5 – Rogue Nation,” “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” feels like a breath of fresh air. Stylish, glossy, refreshing air.

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.