I’ve never seen a single TV episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., but when I saw the movie trailer for its big-screen origin story, I just had to go buy a ticket. Sexy mad men in snazzy suits or bomber jacket and turtleneck pairings. Glamorous femmes fatales in chic outfits, perfectly dolled up with extensive falsies and piled-on bling. Lovely, jazzy music (Roberta Flack’s “Compared to What” during the opening credits sets just the right kind of tone, and a key underwater scene plays out perfectly with the right Italian song,”Che Vuole Questa Musica Stasera”; more on the soundtrack from composer Daniel Pemberton.) It all makes you want to put on some oversized sunglasses and go back to 1963.
It’s strange how our escapism now could also mean returning to an idealized bygone past, with our choice of unlikely heroes here being a rogue-turned-CIA-agent (Napoleon Solo, suavely played by Henry Cavill) and a highly efficient but volatile KGB operative (Ilya Kuryakin, deftly portrayed by Armie Hammer) forced to work together at the height of the Cold War to locate and retrieve an abducted nuclear scientist and prevent his captors from deploying a nuclear warhead. Given the highly fraught context, who knew you could get the fits and giggles, even from what started as a fittingly horrific torture scene? Guy Ritchie, apparently. Good for him.
My sister calls it “the antidote to Mission Impossible” (but don’t get us wrong, we loved loved loved Rogue Nation) with old-fashioned car-and-motorbike chases, a lack of digital special effects (but a profusion of split screens! cut every which way!), and a tongue-in-cheek script peppered with smoothly-worded double entendres (this is a homage to the early 1960s, way before Roger Moore made suggestive language sleazy/hilarious in the 1970s Bond films). Bits and pieces here are also reminiscent of a spaghetti Western (or maybe I’m just riffing off the parts of the soundtrack that sound a bit like Ennio Morricone, whilst our feuding spies have a staredown.) And as for romance, well, let’s just say this spy caper takes a moment or two to strike a few sparks.
Whatever it is, it’s all in good fun. (I don’t even mind that Steven Soderbergh passed on it.) Low on the drama, but generous on the high jinks. It gets by with a wink and a smile. Let’s watch it again!