The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is an uneven film with an obvious secondary goal. First agenda item is to sell a few tickets. It will. Second is to establish a franchise that will live on through sequel after sequel. It will not.
The best thing The Man From U.N.C.L.E. has going for it is the finest cool music soundtrack since Ocean’s Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen (from David Holmes). Much of the music (credit to Daniel Pemberton) has a mid-20th-century feel; some of it is used mainly to punctuate the action, a la Tarantino.
The second best thing The Man From U.N.C.L.E. has going for it are the women’s dresses. The colorful costumes on the ladies are gorgeous and the outfits do a nice job of evoking the 60s.
The story, inspired by the TV show that aired from 1964 to 1968, has the two lead characters American Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and Russian Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) teaming up to foil the fiendish plot of some folks who have a nuclear warhead. The setting is Cold War era Europe.
Almost every time Cavill speaks in the film, I am reminded of Bill Hader’s SNL impersonation of Dateline’s Keith Morrison. Apparently Cavill was trying to channel the speaking style of the late Robert Vaughn, the original Solo from TV. Hammer is good, but not quite the compelling screen presence needed to keep the dream alive for more U.N.C.L.E. movies.
Gaby (Alicia Vikander) is on the good guys’ side. Her father has been forced to work on the bomb. She and Elizabeth Dibecki (as the villainess Victoria) get to wear the neat throwback threads. Vikander is beautiful and has genuine charm in this role that’s quite different from her breakthrough performance earlier this year in Ex Machina. Also in the film is Hugh Grant as Waverly.
Director Guy Ritchie (who co-wrote the script) maintains a good pace and delivers several memorable shots. Chuckles are spread throughout the film. My favorite silly moment has an unconcerned Solo sitting in a truck cab, enjoying a sandwich and a glass of wine, while Kuryakin is right in front of him in a burning motorboat trying to elude a pursuer.
While The Man From U.N.C.L.E. has the legacy of its TV antecedent to help generate ticket sales, the story is almost boilerplate and the lead actors lack the heft to carry The Man From U.N.C.L.E. onward to franchise glory.