Preview: The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was a popular spy-drama TV series which ran from 1964 to 1968. The series followed a pair of international super-spies, the CIA’s Napoleon Solo, (Robert Vaughn,) and the KGB’s Ilya Kuryakin, (David McCallum,) as they worked side by side, undertaking important, global missions for the ‘United Network Command for Law and Enforcement’, or U.N.C.L.E. -hence the title. Most episodes saw them come up against their very own equivalent of James Bond’s ‘SPECTRE’, the unfortunately named, THRUSH, a large international criminal organisation hell-bent on global domination and general skulduggery. Now though, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is set for a face-lift and a big comeback, with directorial genius Guy Ritchie at the helm.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’s comedy is largely directed at the wildly over the top nature of traditional spy films like James Bond or the original series on which it is based. 

Set for an August 2015 release, Ritchie’s take on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. provides plenty of reason to be optimistic. His unique, snappy, directorial style is very much on show and in the glimpses we’ve had of the film so far, seems as impressive as always. Much of the optimism surrounding the film of course comes from Guy Ritchie’s previous work- his impressive filmography includes titles such as Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, RocknRolla, Sherlock Holmes and its sequel, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. All these films were successful in their own right and Ritchie’s stylistic direction shines through clearly, even in the big-budget Sherlock Holmes films, (in which it would have been reasonable to expect him to have less free-reign). A prominent element of Ritchie’s work is his fantastic sound-tracking, (arguably the most noticeable instance of this is in Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels– the sound track is well worth a full listen,) and what we’ve seen so far suggests that his talent for a sound-track is being applied yet again. While Ritchie’s films tend to feature a degree of comedy, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. looks to be pushing that up a notch and perhaps putting less emphasis on the dramatic elements of the film as a result. However the gags and over-the-top action we’ve seen seemed genuinely, consistently funny and after all spy films are, in many ways, one the best genres suited to a comedic makeover.

How he handles a slight move towards comedy and away from drama, could dictate whether this film goes down as a classic

Noticeably, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. will be poking fun at the spy genre not long before the release of the highly anticipated, Spectre, James Bond’s next outing- bridging the gap between the slap-stick humour of Spy and  the high drama of James Bond’s 24th feature film.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. -stylish sixties spying on steroids.

Henry Cavill, (Man of Steel, Immortals,) stars as Napoleon Solo alongside Armie Hammer (The Lone Ranger, J.Edgar,) portraying Ilya Kuryakin. The pair seem to have a degree of on-screen chemistry and were no doubt chosen, at least in part, for their traditionally handsome, chiselled resemblance to the original duo- McCallum and Vaughn. This is part of a wider trend within the film though, as essentially The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’s comedy is largely directed at the wildly over the top nature of traditional spy films like James Bond or the original series on which it is based. Queue fast cars, big stunts, lewd jokes, ridiculous feats of athleticism, beautiful women, atomic bombs, vicious villains and, of course, an un-stoppable barrage of puns.

The original Man from U.N.C.L.E. series came out in 1964, a time when American-Russian relations were shaky at best and now, the franchise depicting the US and Russia working together, once again rears its head.

So, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. in a nutshell- stylish sixties spying on steroids with a great sound-track, lots of action, and an inspired director. The film definitely has the potential to be a fantastic addition to Ritchie’s cinematic work but how he handles a slight move towards comedy and away from drama, could dictate whether this film goes down as a classic or not. Either way though- it’s bound to entertain.

A final thought- the original Man from U.N.C.L.E. series came out in 1964, a time when American-Russian relations were shaky at best and now, the franchise depicting the US and Russia working together, once again rears its head. Of course, as a comedy, the film is a long way from trying to convey any political rhetoric, but given how absent the series has become from modern popular culture, its recurrence is an interesting coincidence, despite not really being anything more.

By George Storr

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