The year is 1963 and American ex-con turned secret agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) is forced to team up with his most despised Russian counterpart (Armie Hammer) and an East German mechanic (Alicia Vikander) to stop a pair of former Nazis (Elizabeth Debicki, Sylvester Groth) from creating a nuclear device.
A loose adaptation of the television show of the same name, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. comes from writer and director Guy Ritchie (Sherlock Holmes, Snatch) and it’s one of the most relentlessly mediocre and disposable films to hit the screens; an arrogantly predictable mess that feels about a decade too late to have bombed alongside the retro clones of Austin Powers films and reboots of other lacklustre television shows that were best left forgotten.
Ritchie crafts a story that, as you can see above, can be summarized in a single sentence. That would be fine if it seemed like anyone was having more fun than Ritchie is. There are no characters, little plot, and almost no dramatic stakes. Everyone is well cast, but other than Hammer (who’s quite fun to watch even when the film around him isn’t) no one can find a way to work with what they’re given. Ritchie is obsessed with style and precisely nothing else.
It’s an immaculate looking film, and to some extent Ritchie can find some solace in gloating over the fact that his film looks “pretty cool.” There are old school racing cars, glitzy jewellery, island villas, speed boats, and any manner of ’60s mod fashion you can shake a stick at. But when listening to Ritchie’s tone deaf dialogue that seems to have been put through an English to English translator that somehow has a bug in it, and while never once caring about the plight of anyone involved (including, ostensibly, the fate of the world), one gets the sense that Ritchie probably spent months doting over one of Cavill’s many three piece suits and seconds on character development and story.
It gets so dire that at one point during one of the film’s scant few action beats, Ritchie has Solo take time out of an action sequence so we can watch “the hero” drink a fine bottle of wine and eat a ham sandwich. It’s supposed to be funny, but when so little is given for the audience to enjoy it’s aggravating, disingenuous, and supercilious. Maybe if there was a single iota of surprise along the way in the story, but no. Everything will happen exactly when it’s supposed to and exactly how you thought it was going to turn out.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is so square, bland, unoriginal, predictable, and yet lavishly mounted that it’s like being handed a reheated Wendy’s hamburger with no condiments on a piece of fine china with a bunch of superfluous garnishes; a potentially campy summer blockbuster trifle made by someone with a list of fetishes and no sense of camp whatsoever