The King of stupidly over the top and stereotypically English crime comedy action mystery dramas (Guy Ritchie) returns in his adaptation of the old television programme ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E’; a title so tedious to type I’ll refer to it as ‘UNCLE’ from here on out.
I’ve made no secret of my disdain for Guy Ritchie. His entrance to the filmic world was impressive with Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch two refreshingly funny and stylish crime capers – though when you produce the same type of film over and over again; Rock N Rolla, Sherlock Holmes (twice) and Revolver – your filmography becomes almost as tedious as it is to type the title of this entrance. Ritchie is has become such a stereotype that you can almost guarantee his films will open with an interchangeable Jason Statham character with a thick cockney accent introducing someone with a stupid name; ‘This is Turkish, let me show you ow Turkish wurrks.’ UNCLE surprised me in that, largely, it escaped this formulaic drivel.
The film opens as it means to go on, with a spectacular action piece where Ritchie’s signature over the top effects actually compliment the spy genre in a way that we’re given a fresh take on it. Then, UNCLE becomes a natural comparison to one of 2015’s best films ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service.’ The action throughout is exciting and in concert with a fantastic score which is so far reaching it covers spy cliche, modern grit and globe trekking diversity – produces a ‘fuck yeah’ feeling that most Bond films threaten to provoke but never successfully do. That is, because they lack something that UNCLE possesses in abundance.
Humour. The old Bond’s never took themselves seriously but as of late they’ve become depressed in the grey cloud that is the audience’s demand for realistic adaptations. UNCLE stays true to Richie humour but thankfully, largely avoids that ‘oh look at all the British stereotypes’ shite that is usually forced on us. Arnie Hammer and Henry Cavill make for fantastic chemistry that provokes many laughs as they fight for superiority and learn to work together in a relationship you genuinely want to succeed. The rest of the cast, including Alicia Vikander and Elizabeth Debicki all work too; even brief appearances from Hugh Grant add hilarity in his constant belittling of the two lead tanks on screen. The other source of humour, and something all of the cast play up brilliantly, is the spy caper stereotype. Whilst Kingsman sought to subvert the genre, UNCLE plays it up; car chases, boat chases, femme fatales, double crossing agents, the music, the technology, elaborate torture; a moment in Kingsman sees the villainous Valentine profess: ‘ It’s like those old movies we both love. Now I’m going to tell you my whole plan, and then I’m going to come up with some absurd and convoluted way to kill you, and you’ll find an equally convoluted way to escape… this ain’t that kind of movie.’ UNCLE is very much that type of movie and it’s good to see the flip side of what Kingsman was trying to do with a similar desired effect.
It is confidently directed. We have the Sherlock Holmes – esque flashbacks to explain plot twists which accelerate the plot forward at full speed in a fluent, largely exciting and often unpredictable series of events. Style is paramount here.
But it is no Kingsman. Though the film feels remarkably free from the shackles of any national stereotype, Ritchie’s touches are spread here and there and don’t always compliment the genre. The stupid names, Turkish, Dredger… here we have Napoleon Solo who is so far from French like the real Napoleon, though I suppose not too dissimilar to the lovable Rogue Han Solo – in any case the existing television show’s character creation funds Ritchie’s avoidance of simple things is in abundance; I suppose you can hardly blame him on this part.
And perhaps the main Ritchie sin that drags the film down is what seems to be his personal mantra; ‘Style over Substance.’ UNCLE looks good, it sounds good – but the plot is thin. A lot of time it is unclear what’s going on – major plot points, like Debicki’s actual plans for her nuclear bomb, the whys and the hows, are set on the back burner for character focus. It’s a good job these characters are interesting otherwise UNCLE would ‘bomb’, see what I did there? In the Dark Knight Rises the threat of the nuclear bomb constantly loomed over what was on screen; it’s rarely mentioned here and even more rarely seen at all; the fate of the world never seems to rest in hands of our two protagonists so much as the question of whether or not Hammer will get tot fuck Vikander’s character. With little gravita, the story unfolds (once again) stylishly, but it’s never a treasure hunt looking for clues to unravel the big bad plan. They’re told what to do and they do it – one can only imagine how much UNCLE would have benefited from a cat and mouse chase mystery building up to the final shootout.
But you can’t have everything even if UNCLE does try to deliver exactly that. It’s no Kingsman, but it is UNCLE and is certainly a productive and entertaining entry into the spy genre’s endless list of films.
Funny, Stylish but ultimately lacking substance – Guy Ritchie tries something a little different which at the very least is a step forward in his catalogue of films. Under – Neath – Crap – Lies – Entertainment.