Maybe it was their urban Noir soundtracks. Maybe it was the effortless style of their chic, young stars. Maybe it was the sublime work of cinematographers such as Otto Heller. It’s hard to pin down that magic ingredient that made ‘60s spy thrillers so damned cool, though many have tried.
Mission Impossible and Bourne had the balls but not the sophistication. Tinker Tailor was a moody enough period piece, but was too slow to really sizzle. Kingsman – arguably – was 80 percent there, though lacking the finesse and charm of a true ‘60s product.
The fact that Guy Ritchie’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E. seems to have nailed it speaks volumes for the true abilities of a Director whose work is often undersold as all gimmicky fast-cuts and time-fluid storytelling. And oddly, the reasons that he succeeds are also the same reasons that many cinema-goers will find that this reboot leaves them just a little bit cold.
When it was announced that Ritchie would be bringing ‘60s TV classic The Man From U.N.C.L.E. to the big screen, it’s fair to say that no one really expected too much. Just another buddy movie in the Sherlock mould, with plenty of humour and lots of knowing nods to the source material. What Ritchie delivers is all this but much, much more.
Behind the sleek styling and soulful soundtrack, Ritchie’s film is surprising. A TV adaptation that not only doesn’t parody its source material, but positively revels in it. This is clearly a labour of love, and everything – from Solo and Kuryakin’s era-specific accents – to ‘60s East Berlin has been meticulously and elegantly recreated. Oscar-nominated John Mathieson’s cinematography is a joy, with lavish, carefully composed shots vying for attention alongside some seriously clever action sequences. It’s lush, understated and all together more restrained and grown up than Ritchie’s usual audience-pleasing fare.
While the feel is period perfect, the leads themselves have been nicely fleshed out. If you found Robert Vaughn’s Solo a little too slick for comfort and David McCallum’s Kuryakin too cool to be believed then a larcenous Solo and a Kuryakin with anger management issues make perfect sense.
Ritchie also wrangles a fair bit of humour from the two testosterone-charged leads. It’s a fine balancing act. Yes, the jokes are puerile but so too is the manly posturing and if you’re going to be true to the source material then you also need to be aware of how ridiculous all this macho posing may seem to modern audiences.
Not that the guys have it all their own way. Unlike Kingsman in which the only strong female, Roxy, was consigned to outer space for the climax of the film, Alicia Vikander’s Gabby gets just as much airtime in which to develop a kick ass character who, we can only hope, will be back for the sequel.
Because – SPOILER ALERT – the whole film is really just a set up for the next one.
No, Henry Cavil (Solo) and Armie Hammer (Kuryakin) are not Vaughn and McCallum but they do a fine job of filling some very big shoes. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is cool with a big ‘60s Capital C. More please.