On a seventy-five million dollar budget director Guy Ritchie has done a splendid job of recreating the 1964-1968 TV series that spawned 105 episodes. IMDB describes the Robert Vaughn/David McCallum ‘60s show efficiently with this description: “The two top agents of the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement fight the enemies of peace, particularly the forces of THRUSH.” THRUSH, of course, being the mirror image of James Bond’s enemy, S.P.E.C.T.R.E, or the Avengers / Captain America’s long-time foe HYDRA.
Essentially, this “reboot” of the television series on the silver screen presents two James Bonds for the price of one with the perfect casting of Superman Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo and Armie Hammer as Illya Kuryakin. IMDB describes the new outing in this fashion: “In the early 1960s, CIA agent Napoleon Solo and KGB operative Illya Kuryakin participate in a joint mission against a mysterious criminal organization, which is working to proliferate nuclear weapons.”
Director/co-screenwriter Ritchie smartly places the time period as 1963 bringing the last remnants of the Nazi regime to a more “modern world” seeking a nuclear weapon. Is it a metaphor for smaller countries in the new millennium seeking weapons of mass destruction? Possibly. Or maybe it’s just a film taking some Captain America and lots and lots of James Bond and certainly looking for the Mission Impossible market and, somehow, though entertaining this critic, not bringing in the box office a month after its release.
A pity because Cavill fits into the Napoleon Solo perhaps better than the shoes of Clark Kent. Hammer is a “new look” Kuryakin and the chemistry between the two works, not only in the film, but in the interview sessions proliferating on YouTube. Hugh Grant is not Leo G. Carrol, but he’s fine as Waverly. The “Bond girls” here work just as well as Grant, Cavill, Hammer and the elegant décor. Elizabeth Debicki as the villainess and Alicia Vikander as Gaby – fluctuating between the double-spy in Mission Impossible Rogue Nation and a third partner a la The Mod Squad.
As with the ‘6os when James Bond imitations proliferated, this Man From U.N.C.L.E. is looking for part of the Mission Impossible pie. Hopefully they’ll get to do a sequel as this critic found it to be more fun and less formatted than the genre – many times – cares to offer.
Joe Viglione is the Chief Film Critic at TMRZoo.com. He has written thousands of reviews and biographies for AllMovie.com, Allmusic.com, Gatehouse Media, Al Aronowitz’s The Blacklisted Journal, and a variety of other media outlets. Joe also produces and hosts Visual Radio, a seventeen year old variety show on cable TV which has interviewed Jodie Foster, director/screenwriter David Koepp, Michael Moore, John Cena, comics/actors Margaret Cho, Gilbert Gottfried, Gallagher, musicians Mark Farner and Don Brewer of Grand Funk Railroad, Ian Hunter of Mott The Hoople, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, Felix Cavaliere of The Rascals, political commentator Bill Press and hundreds of other personalities.