The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

 

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.

Man of Steel

Man of Steel is full of sound and fury. It takes Superman and his families (on Krypton and on Earth) to places that original creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster never could have imagined.

Man of Steel is a prequel, the backstory of Kal-El/Clark Kent. Superman’s dad Jor-El (Russell Crowe, in a non-singing role) launches the infant Kal-El toward Earth as Krypton implodes. Amid the terror on Krypton, Jor-El gets impaled to death by Krypton nemesis General Zod (Michael Shannon). But, amazingly, he’s not out of the movie! Jor-El shows up in future events in the film, but don’t ask me to explain how. (No, he’s not a hologram.)

Meanwhile we see young Clark being raised in Smallville by the Kents, Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha (Diane Lane). They make him control his super powers while growing up, even when peril hits close to home. Young Clark does save a busload of schoolmates from drowning after an accident, but his strength remains undercover, for the most part.

Just as the adult Superman (Henry Cavill) begins to do his super thing, here come General Zod and more bad guys from Krypton. They’ve decided to colonize Earth! Smallville is going to need millions in urban renewal funds from the feds after Zod and Superman (+ personnel and machines from the US military) tear up the town in an epic, lengthy faceoff.

Speaking of epic, lengthy faceoffs, there’s another one—this time in Metropolis—between Zod and Superman. It does not take up the entire second half of the movie, it just seems that way.

Amy Adams is Lois Lane and unlike we’ve been led to believe in every comic book, TV show and movie of the past, in Man of Steel she’s hip to the fact that Clark Kent is Superman early on. She wants to tell the whole fantastic story via the Daily Planet but editor Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) nixes it because it’s too outrageous.

If you enjoyed the Christopher Reeve Superman movies or even the 2006 Superman Returns with Brandon Routh in the title role, take note that this new movie has a different feel. Zack Snyder, who directed 300, Watchmen and Sucker Punch, has made a movie for those who like things that go boom. Sure, there’s a bit of humanity to go along with the sound and fury, but that’s not the reason most will buy tickets.

(And to answer the question, whatever happened to Brandon Routh? He recently played a vegan male nurse—true—on a CBS sitcom called Partners that was cancelled after six episodes last fall.)

Man of Steel is a bit longer than it needs to be. (It runs 2:20 or so.) My guess is that so much was spent on battles and effects that it made it hard to leave a multi-million dollar sequence on the cutting room floor.

Cavill is a solid Superman. He plays it straight with none of the campiness witnessed in the Iron Man movies or the last Trek flick.

As does the film have excessive length, so does this review. Therefore I’ll wrap it by saying that I like Man of Steel but I didn’t love it. My guess, however, is that audiences will. Love it, that is.