Remakes are strange animals…when the source material is well liked, the new rendition is viewed through an entirely different lens and subjected to harsher treatment than a stand alone project. Because I was a massive teenage fan of the 60s TV series, I anticipated Guy Ritchie’s Man from U.N.C.L.E. film for years with a fairly closed mind.
The original TV series was one of the first spy shows. It came out at a time when James Bond was fairly fresh and original, and even had Bond author Ian Fleming attached to the early stages of production. But perhaps the greatest asset that the show possessed was something one didn’t find in the 60s…a non-villainous, positively portrayed Russian character.
Fittingly, the greatest stand out in the “new” film is Armie Hammer’s Illya. While always a somewhat tragic character, some structure is given to his mystery here. It is still but a light sketch, but the pain is more apparent, and lends itself more deeply to moments of the story and situations that are encountered.
Henry Cavill isn’t a particularly popular actor in the wake of Batman vs Superman and Man of Steel. However, his work here as Napoleon Solo, the deliciously smarmy Sixties spy, is perfection personified. He possesses much flair and style, and is an excellent foil to the brooding Illya.
In four seasons of television, these characters were never as fleshed out or given the nuanced backstory that you will find in the film. Despite the slightly serious backstories, the film still has the lighthearted, fizzy-like-champagne quality that defined the early 60s. The dialogue retains the sparkling, witty style of exchange that one would expect in a delightfully unbelievable caper film.
Undoubtedly, one of my favorite aspects of Man from UNCLE is how firmly it is rooted in its era.
The question of why the film is called The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is unfortunately never defined for the modern audience, which I felt was a weakness. However, this minute flaw does absolutely nothing to diminish the sheer joy of watching this movie.