Jan. 10th, 2016

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What this is: a pretty good, very stylish and often quite funny Cold War spy romp.

What this is not: a film with Illya Kuryakin in it.

Oh, it has a character called Illya Kuryakin, but he's not the Kuryakin of the TV series as played in a career-making role by David McCallum. Armie Hammer plays the film version as a suaver version of Arnold Schwarzenegger's character from Red Heat, or perhaps a slightly less psychotic incarnation of Red Grant of From Russia with Love, highly competent but perpetually on the edge of beating someone to a pulp. I'm not quite sure where this character interpretation came from; perhaps, having landed Hammer in the role, Guy Ritchie realised that he was never credibly depict Kuryakin in the McCallum mould, and so went for Hulking Action Hero instead. 

Henry Cavill, by contrast, makes for a surprisingly good Napoleon Solo. [livejournal.com profile] purplecthulhu commented to me before I saw the movie that Cavill manages a feat rather like Karl Urban does in respect of DeForest Kelley in the reboot Star Trek, of capturing the essence of another actor's performance of a classic role without anything so crass as a simple impersonation. Cavill isn't Robert Vaughan, but his Napoleon Solo is recognisably Vaughan's Solo. 

There are two poles for Cold War dramas: stylish early 60s, as in early Bond or, more recently, X-Men: First Class (Kevin Bacon's Sebastian Shaw being the best 60s Bond villain we never had) or grim and squalid early 70s, as in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy or the BBC's recent spot-the-Birmingham-location-fest The Game. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. plonks itself very firmly in the first camp and the production and design team clearly had a fantastic time. (I would suggest someone run an appropriate classic-cars-and-cosplay event but it already exists.) I was sure the aircraft carrier had to be CGI and I was right, but it's amazing how well-done this was; if only there was an audience to justify remaking The Battle of the River Plate or Sink the Bismarck! with modern effects.

[livejournal.com profile] attimes_bracing was surprised at how much she enjoyed The Man from U.N.C.L.E. despite never having seen the original series. In many ways that might help, as if you're not familiar with the source material you won't be thinking "but that's not Kuryakin" all the way through. 

Verdict: fun and visually wonderful, but TMfU purists might enjoy it less than everyone else.

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Simon Bradshaw

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