Buddies from U.N.C.L.E.*

Superman and The Lone Ranger form an unlikely
but appealing team in a Guy Ritchie movie based on the old TV series

Only old-timers will remember the short-lived (1964-68) yet iconic television series The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which paired American Napoleon Solo and Russian Illya Kuryakin as Cold War secret agents tasked with keeping the world safe from nuclear and other disasters.

Thanks to Warner Brothers and Guy Ritchie, who directed and co-wrote the new movie that takes its name from the TV series, a whole new generation will now get to enjoy the exploits of these unlikely partners.

Cavill and Hammer exchange plenty of bon nots in the movie.
Cavill and Hammer exchange plenty of bon nots in the movie.

In the film, which is set in 1963, former enemies Solo and Kuryakin are reluctantly teamed up by their superiors for a mission to stop a mysterious international criminal organization with apparent ties to the Nazis. Led by the beautiful and sinister Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debickiand), the evil-doers are bent on destabilizing the fragile balance of power through the proliferation of nuclear weapons and technology. Our heroes’ only lead is Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander—Ex Machina), the daughter of a vanished German scientist, who is the key to infiltrating the criminal organization. They find her, then travel to Rome (where Kuryakin poses as Gaby’s fiancé), and proceed to infiltrate the heinous organization and, ultimately, successfully complete their mission.

Intrigue and plot twists aside, it’s the interaction between the two leads that gives the film its appeal.

As Solo, Henry Cavill (Man of Steel) is all charm, wit and panache. With his jet black hair and classic profile, he is almost too handsome. The 6’ 5” Armie Hammer (The Lone Ranger) plays Kuryakin as a dedicated agent with prodigious strength and a surprising knowledge of women’s fashions. They start as enemies but grudgingly and gradually build a bond that is at first based on necessity and evolves into friendship. In the process, they slay countless villains, trade withering ripostes with themselves and others, and, on separate occasions, save each other from certain death.

Hugh Grant drops by in an uncharacteristic role: head of British naval intelligence, which he pulls off with his usual waggish insouciance and just the right amount of earnestness.

An acknowledged master of the action movie, Ritchie (Snatch, RocknRolla) demonstrates that talent here. I’ve never been a fan of car chases, which generally come off as an endless series of squealing tires and crashing metal, but those in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. are spectacular and just long enough. The final one, with Cavill in an ATV and Hammer on a motorcycle, is particularly creative. Hammer ends it by picking up his wrecked bike and crushing the baddie who is about to snuff out Cavill. And I swear that it’s the actors—not stunt doubles—who are at the controls of their respective rides through much of the chase.

In the final scene, the new partners are informed that they are about to embark on another mission. It’s only then that their operation is given a name: U.N.C.L.E.

Sequel, anyone?

*Originally, the initials stood for nothing, but the creators/writers of the TV series were pressed to come up with something. By the time the first episode aired, they decided on the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement.