I don’t know how I slept on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. as long as I did. Which is doubly a tragedy as I bet there are more people like me, and if only we’d turned out in the giddy droves this movie deserved, it wouldn’t have flopped terribly at the box office, and maybe we’d be in the midst of a beloved franchise to rival the Oceans movies right now.
But instead, we just have this single outing. Perhaps, if we’re wrestling ourselves into a sort of wild good-naturedness, we can convince each other it may be more special for being singular. One perfect gem. One stylish, retro-fresh, all-out charming 1960s Cold War spy romp that dances skillfully around all the tropes you don’t want and embraces the ones you do in a close, passionate waltz. Two guys fighting over a girl? Out. Fake relationship plots? So in.
I watched this drinking knock-off French 75s (French 74s?) and at many moments could not tell if my happy swoopiness was the drink kicking in, or if I was just having that much fun.
Let’s go over your new favorite trio real quick before I usher you off to go watch this one right now:
Napoleon Solo, dapper art thief turned CIA spy. The role Henry Cavill’s hilariously clean lines were made for, and he is having a blast with it. He looks like a drawing in a comic book and sounds like he walked right out of a radio play from the middle of the last century. His is the character who spends one third of the opening car chase dramatically marksmanning in chiaroscuro Berlin alleyways that highlight his features, and the other two thirds calmly reading a map in the backseat and providing blithe directions while they whip around corners. He’s simultaneously the hero and his own comic relief. He’s James Bond, were James Bond written by an American P.G. Wodehouse. He’s a treat.
Illya Kuryakin, deadly strong KGB agent who FEELS THINGS JUST AS STRONGLY. Approximately 65 feet tall — more room for feelings. Armie Hammer (the same height) evidently looked at this “troubled Russian spy” role and decided to play him as a bisexual disaster, and bless him for it. His is the character who adopts what are supposed to be dismissive, distancing nicknames for the others, but which are immediately seen as the terms of endearment they actually are. Constantly precious, constantly aggrieved. There are easily six shots of him in this movie that are just that meme from Arthur where he has his hand clenched at his side while he tries to master his emotions. Again, #bless.
Gaby Teller, darling German car mechanic and inveterate troll. The wonderful Alicia Vikander, whom I was surprised to learn is actually a little bit taller than I am, was clearly delighted to be cast alongside two giants, and so takes every opportunity available to her to walk up on top of things like a cat who has decided this is hers now. Fitting room pedestals, fountain ledges, coffee tables, Illya’s heart…. Hers is the character who can casually do math on the fly, and will use that to defeat you conversationally. But part of what she can so easily calculate is other people — she’s a wonderful read, actually. She’s a magician in the guise of the magician’s girl, keeping people looking just where she wants them to.
And, in Guy Ritchie’s 2015 masterflick The Man From U.N.C.L.E., you can watch all of these spy loves gallivant around the imaginary 1960s wearing fabulous clothes in fabulous settings, and just generally have yourself a damn fabulous time. I sure as heck did.