It’s been one hell of a year for the spy genre. Kingsman: The Secret Service, Spy, Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation. There’s been thrills aplenty. And if The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is of any indication, there’s no stopping the genre this year. Guy Ritchie has been known for both fantastic (both Sherlock Holmes films, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, even RocknRolla) and some really bad (Snatch, Swept Away, Revolver), but surprisingly, he seems to fare much better when he’s working in the Hollywood system. Maybe it’s because there’s undoubtedly studio heads watching over the production. Or maybe Warner Bros. just puts complete faith in him, but he’s yet to steer wrong when he’s making a studio film. It just makes me finally excited for his King Arthur film coming out next year. Warner Bros., don’t fail me now!
In 1963, CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) arrives in East Germany to pick up Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), to take her under their wing when KGB agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) shows up. A chase ensues and Napoleon escapes with Gaby in tow, only to learn that he’s being forced to team up with Illya in an attempt to stop Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki) from destabilizing the nuclear arms race. Gaby’s father — who just happens to be Hitler’s favorite rocket scientist — is the only one who can help the trio — who go undercover. Now, our intrepid trio must join forces to stop Victoria’s criminal underground and put a stop to a nuclear disaster.
I’ve never seen the Sam Rolfe series, but it probably helps separate the two mediums. One is a dated TV show, whereas Ritchie’s U.N.C.L.E. is a hip Hollywood blockbuster. The most surprising aspect is what a breath of fresh air it is. Ritchie — along with co-writer Lionel Wigram — has crafted the year’s most suave and hip spy movie to date. The action scenes may not be as big as you’d expect from an end-of-summer outing, but it more than makes up for it with brains. The story may start to feel convoluted — which, let’s face it, is par for the course with any of these types of films — but it all really comes together in the end.
Cavill and Hammer make a stupendous duo and together give James Bond a run for his money. Considering Cavill is British, maybe if this somehow fails to connect with audiences and he’s not busy playing the Man of Steel, Barbara Broccoli can consider him for Bond once Daniel Craig gives up the moniker. Hammer himself continues to try and build upon the shadow cast over him after portraying the Winklevoss twins in The Social Network and the critical and box office failure of The Lone Ranger, but he’s right at home against the fast and loose Vikander. Now that she’s been thrust in the spotlight after her turn as humanoid Ava in Ex Machina, Vikander never fails to live up to expectations. Even Debicki seems to be reveling in her villainous role. And Hugh Grant gets a few moments to shine as Alexander Waverly.
There’s no denying the amount of fun everyone is having on screen, and thankfully, the audience is able to have just as much. Not relying on explosions and gunfights — don’t worry, there still are — this is the best spy movie of the year. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. may not be as superficially flashy as a standard popcorn extravaganza, but it never tries to either. This one is better than that, and hopefully audiences will find it as flat-out entertaining as I did, making it the hit it deserves to be.