Saturday, 22 August 2015

The Man from UNCLE; the origin story we didn't ask for

The Man from UNCLE is a perfectly OK movie. But.

On the one hand, enough with the origin stories. If Mission Impossible didn’t need an origin story (except in the general sense that apparently Tom Cruise didn’t want to be “Jim Phelps” and so he had to have a personal origin story as “Ethan Hunt”), then neither does any big screen attempt to reboot any other TV show. It’s a TV show. Anyone overcome with curiosity about its background can look it up on the internet. You can probably torrent the whole of the original show in less time than it takes to watch the new movie. Not that I’m saying you should, or anything.

On the other, much more important, hand, what on earth has Guy Ritchie done to Ilya Kuryakin? It’s as though they’d cast Arnie as Mr Spock and told him to dial up the brute factor as far as it could go. It’s nice to see Armie Hammer getting any work after the crater that Lone Ranger made, and my hat’s off to him for making his character sympathetic despite the writing, but if you’re going to revive a TV show character defined by his dry intellect … 

I can only conclude that Ritchie decided that Napoleon Solo was going to be the urbane witty one, so contrast required that Kuryakin be a beast from the planet Mongo. Because audiences are that stupid. Maybe it’s just me, but I think that we might perhaps have managed to tell the difference between glib and deep. 

In simpler terms; if you’re nostalgic about the TV show, don’t go to this movie, which will just annoy you. If you just want to pass a couple of hours having fun at the movies, it’s surprisingly OK. The opening escape from East Berlin is very well done. It’s not just that all the technology is properly retro, but that it’s used intelligently by the characters. It’s always fun to see smart people getting things right, and with good direction and pacing, a clever plan can be every bit as exciting as the farrago of things going wrong which usually passes for action these days. There are other nice touches, like having Kuryakin’s doomed speedboat escape attempt in the middle of the movie happen mostly off-screen while Solo helps himself to someone else’s packed lunch. A pity they didn’t apply the same kind of thinking to the climactic car chase, which is a lot less thrilling than the speedboat chase probably would have been and would have benefited greatly from happening off-screen while we did something else.

For the rest, it’s a fun. How much fun will depend on your tolerance for Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer trying to one-up each other with outdated spy tech, which is funnier than it ought to be, but not as funny as Ritchie thought it would be. The whole thing ends with their show reel for the sequel we’re probably never going to get, which is bad news for Hugh Grant’s hopes for a happy retirement and good news for Alicia Vikander fans who will now see her lots of different good movies instead of once very two years in blockbusters.

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