His Sherlock Holmes movies were stylish box office gold. So what a pity Guy Ritchie has turned into The Man From U.N.C.O.O.L.
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The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Cert: 12A Time: 1hr 57mins ★★★★★
These days, Guy Ritchie doesn’t make many films but I suppose when your last two have been Sherlock Holmes and its sequel, A Game Of Shadows – which collectively took more than $1 billion at the global box office – you don’t really have to.
So there was a real sense of anticipation – occasion even – as I sat down to enjoy The Man From U.N.C.L.E., only his third film in the past six years.
Oh, the pent-up excitement.
The film starts well but things quickly go wrong when our American and Russian spies join forces against a shadowy organisation - sadly no longer called T.H.R.U.S.H. - that might just have got itself an atom bomb
I vividly remember almost purring with pleasure during the first Sherlock Holmes film, as the former Lock, Stock… and Snatch director came of Hollywood A-list age, coupling a stunning depiction of Victorian London with superb performances from his two leading men, Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law. Surely he’d be striking movie-making gold again?
The short answer, it quickly emerges as yet another much-loved television series from the Sixties is given a belated big-screen makeover, is no, he won’t.
With Sherlock Holmes, virtually every creative decision Ritchie made turned out to be the right one.
Here, by wretched contrast – apart from deciding to stick with the show’s original Cold War setting and to festoon the whole thing with lashings of fashionable Sixties cool à la Austin Powers – he barely gets anything right at all.
The acting, the humour, the script… this is a film that falls miserably short right across the board. There is no chemistry between Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer, the latter handicapped by a dreadful Russian accent
The acting, the humour, the script… this is a film that falls miserably short right across the board.
As a cult television series (Ian Fleming briefly played a small part in its original inception before his Bond producers pointed out the obvious clash of interest), The Man From U.N.C.L.E. turned its stars – Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo and David McCallum as Illya Kuryakin – into instantly recognised household names.
Five decades on and their big-screen counterparts, Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer – the former playing American and the latter Russian, while their Swedish-born leading lady, Alicia Vikander, plays German – discover the hard way that they don’t quite have what it takes to be considered as authentic leading men.
Despite the distractingly kinetic camerawork, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. spends far too much time being… well, boring.
Every creative decision Ritchie makes – apart from sticking with the show’s original Cold War setting and to festoon the whole thing with lashings of fashionable Sixties cool à la Austin Powers – is wrong
This is a film crying out for a charismatic someone – anyone! – to seize it by the scruff of the neck and shout ‘Watch me, I’m really good’, as Downey Jr did so memorably with Sherlock Holmes. But nobody does.
The chemistry between Cavill and Hammer, the latter handicapped by a dreadful Russian accent, would struggle to light up a shoe box.
To be fair, it does take a little while for this to become clear, with the film’s opening in the East Berlin of 1963 providing one of a modest handful of highlights.
Cavill oozes an ersatz sophistication as Napoleon Solo, the handsome, suave, black-marketeer-turned-CIA agent who’s been sent through the Berlin Wall to get the daughter of ‘Hitler’s favourite rocket scientist’ back to the West.
He eventually succeeds, with the help of a decent car chase and despite determined opposition from a short-tempered KGB heavy who is about to become very familiar.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is crying out for a charismatic someone – anyone! – to seize it by the neck and shout ‘Watch me, I’m really good’, as Downey Jr did with Sherlock Holmes. But nobody does
Yes, for once Gaby (Vikander) is safely back in West Berlin, American and Russian intelligence join forces to counter the considerable threat of a shadowy organisation based in Italy that might just have got itself an atom bomb.
Fans of the original series may be disappointed, irritated even, to know that this shadowy organisation is no longer called T.H.R.U.S.H. But the important thing is that the larky libertine Solo and the seriously Soviet Kuryakin are now working on the same side.
It’s here that things quickly begin to go wrong. Each twist of the plot seems far too complicated, the explanations seem endless (as co-writer, Ritchie must share in the blame) and you keep finding yourself thinking things like: ‘Hang on a minute, isn’t that the plot from the latest Mission: Impossible film, or Kingsman, or Spy?’ Or quite possibly the next James Bond come to that.
Most of its problems are of its own making and serious enough that even a rare cameo from Hugh Grant as a senior British intelligence officer can’t help.
Only Elizabeth Debicki (above), so good as Jordan Baker in The Great Gatsby , stands out, playing the sort of sexually charged female villain Bond producers would surely have loved to get their hands on
Only Elizabeth Debicki, so good as the golf-playing Jordan Baker in The Great Gatsby, stands out, playing the sort of sexually charged female villain the current crop of Bond producers would surely have loved to get their hands on.
It’s the lack of spark, the lack of originality and, most of all, the lack of genuine humour that are the real problems here. Ritchie stamped his own mark on Sherlock Holmes; here he just reminds us how many times we’ve been down this now tired-looking path before.
Yes, there are still one or two stylish moments to admire – I enjoyed Solo’s rescue of Kuryakin from a particularly watery fate – but with punchline after punchline falling flat and the few chuckles there are coming from sexual innuendo that’s straight from James Bond, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is one of the big disappointments of the summer and will surely struggle to secure the sequel it half-heartedly sets itself up for.
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