True confession. I remember the TV show The Man from Uncle. Robert Vaughn (now only seen in Becker Law commercials) and David McCallum (now seen every week as Ducky on NCIS) played Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuriakin, an suave American and a clever Russian forced to work together during the Cold War to prevent disasters caused mainly by a sinister and clandestine outfit called Thrush. The original show was done in consultation with no less a person than Ian Fleming, the creator of the James Bond novels. It was Fleming who in fact suggested the name Napoleon Solo for the protagonist. The TV show was fun, one part Bond, one part humor, and all parts fun. There was only one other show on TV like it in the 60s– Secret Agent a British show imported to the U.S. featuring the beautiful Diana Rigg and the handsome Patrick McGoohan. It was actually a better show than UNCLE.
Now Guy Ritchie has sought to bring to the big screen the feel of the early 60s, its music, its cars, its clothes, its heroes, and its international dangers. There is no question that Ritchie has got the look right. It’s hard to believe people dressed like that in the early and mid-sixties, but if you doubt it, go online and watch a few episodes of Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In. Focus in on Goldie Hawn, or watch some episodes of the Smothers Brother’s Show. So the look and the feel of the movie is just right.Ritchie in some ways plays it safe, as he has concocted here a prequel, before there was even an agency called UNCLE. He wants to show how Solo and Kuriakin came to be partners and worked together. Thus this one hour and 56 minute film does not have the feel of a rerun or a redo of the original show. It is new material, basically. The acting is tongue in cheek, rather like the early Bond stuff, and both Cavil and Archer do a good job, though the phony Russian accent wears on you after a while. As for Alicia Vikander as Gabby, she’s fine as the petulant foil to the guys, Hugh Grant does a nice job playing M’s role for the British side of things.
The weak element is the action itself. While the plot is straight forward enough (prevent the bad guys from acquiring a nuclear weapon—- a story ripped from our own current headlines). The action scenes are a bit too herky jerky at points, though sometimes the multi-screen effects work rather well. Making up from the lack of mystery and intrigue in the story line is the humor, which is well done.
I will not spoil the ending, but there is a hint of a sequel— set in Istanbul, which would be great fun. Hopefully the movie will do well enough to warrant a sequel.