"For a special agent, you're not having a very special day, are you?"
- Alexander Waverly
I’m just home from watching The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and despite having had some doubts about the film before going to see it, I’m still finding myself bewildered at how it could have turned out not only so downright poor, but also how could ANYONE possibly make the concept as dull as the film I’ve just sat through.
I was a fan of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. since its first run here in the UK in the sixties, directly after Top of the Pops on Thursday nights. I have all the episodes on DVD in a limited edition box set that I took a huge risk in buying because they were coded for Region 1. And that was in the days before I had a multi region DVD player. (Thankfully, Warners are pretty sloppy when it comes to region coding DVD sets of TV series and it worked fine.) I still have my run of tie-in paperbacks from the sixties.
I was geared for this – I’d written an in depth retrospective of the series for Starburst magazine which was published in the August issue. I’ve been waiting for a revamped U.N.C.L.E. since Brian de Palma announced his intentions to bring it to the screen several years ago, then changed his mind due to some dispute with the rights, and opted to introduce Mission: Impossible to the big screen instead. Then we were stuck with Guy Ritchie – the man who turned Sherlock Holmes into a Victorian Indiana Jones. (Big mistake. I like Robert Downey Jr, but couldn’t buy into him as Holmes – and Holmes isn’t an action hero.)
So, back to the point, and long story short for anybody who didn’t see the series the first time around.
In the TV series, U.N.C.L.E. (United Network for the Command of Law and Enforcement) is a secret international spy organisation encompassing all nations and races to keep stability in the world. Their main adversary is the evil terrorist THRUSH organisation (Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity). THRUSH’s aim is world domination. By any means.
Every week, U.N.C.L.E chief Alexander Waverly would send his top agents Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin (an unlikely pairing for the time of an American agent and a Russian one) to thwart yet another THRUSH plot with an amazing array of gadgetry, communicator pens, special guns and so on. It was James Bond for TV, in a nutshell - with a cool Jerry Goldsmith musical score.
Set in 1963, the film gives is the first meeting of Solo and Kuryakin, played by Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer. At first they’re a reluctant team and engage in a bit of one upmanship as they have to the daughter of a scientist defect from East Berlin. The scientist is helping an enemy organisation become a nuclear threat. The organisation may or may not be THRUSH. It's not explained nor explored.
Solo is an ex thief and burglar, now working for the CIA, Kuryakin is a troubled super agent working for the KGB.
So where’s the secret organisation? The gadgets? The secret entrance through Del Floria’s tailor shop? Well, none of that exists in the film. In fact, there’s absolutely nothing for fans of the original series to latch on to. It’s a generic spy film, set in the sixties, with two opposing spies who happen to be called Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin – any further resemblance between this and the original TV series is non-existent.
Its sixties setting is also questionable at best. Each agent is tasked with retrieving the computer disc that controls the nuclear warhead. I’m not sure we HAD computer discs back then did we? Wasn’t all the information on reel to reel tape back ten? Even the one action highlight, a car chase, features a model of Land Rover not seen until the seventies.
Hugh Grant turns in his usual upper class British twit performance as Alexander Waverly who in this version is head of British Intelligence and code names his new team “UNCLE”. How can it be Man from U.N.C.L.E. if there’s no U.N.C.L.E. for him to come from?
On the plus side, new audiences don’t need to have seen the original series to enjoy this, but on the minus those of us who did see the series will be wondering why we’re sitting in the movie theatre watching this film.
Cavill’s performance as Solo evokes some of Robert Vaughn’s mannerisms and inflections and actually made me think he would have made an excellent Bond. Lord knows what Armie Hammer’s doing as a “troubled” Kuryakin.
Maybe it’s time Hollywood stopped trying to poach classic TV series for film ideas and “reimagining” them with new, younger, contemporary stars. It didn’t work with The Wild, Wild West, Starsky and Hutch, Miami Vice, The Equalizer (which was a great Denzel Washington movie but not a patch on the TV show I loved), Lost in Space or any number of others. Even the first Mission: Impossible’s plot device of making IMF leader Jim Phelps a double agent after all these years was in my mind a mistake. But okay, they made up for it later.
In all honesty, this film is a bigger disappointment than I was expecting, not only is it a bad take on a relatively simple concept, but it’s dull and that’s unforgiveable. The only thing saving this from being the bomb of the summer is the fact that Fantastic Four is marginally worse.
If you want to see the REAL Man From U.N.C.L.E. follow this link to buy the first (and best) season on DVD, because you sure as hell won't see the real deal here.
Copyright © 2010 - 2015 Robin Pierce. All Rights reserved.