The Enjoyable Remake Affair

The West Australian


Man from U.N.C.L.E. (PG)

Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer


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Whether by accident or intent, the trailer screened before this movie preview was of the forthcoming Batman Vs Superman, in which Henry Cavill reprises his role as the Man of Steel. While Cavill portrays a hero with a more human streak in U.N.C.L.E., the square-jawed star certainly proves he is equally at home with a cape or a cannon.

His team-up with the similarly angular Armie Hammer, who is also best known for playing another hero, The Lone Ranger, works a treat, and does more than a fair job of emulating the friendly fire that sparked the energy of classic pairings such as Roger Moore and Tony Curtis in TV's Persuaders, or Robert Conrad and Ross Martin of Wild, Wild West.

A similar bond existed between Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, the stars who first played Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin - American and Russian spies paired up to prevent global threats - on the original U.N.C.L.E. TV series. This new movie match-up shows off a sound grasp of light comedy and displays a chemistry that is enjoyable to watch - Cavill with his suaveness, and Hammer with his frequent lapses of temper - so much so that we know they are destined to become best of colleagues by film's end, despite a stunt-packed opening scene which has both trying to kill each other.

The movie is set in 1963: an era of spy gadgets, sleek cars, mod clothes and martinis. Solo (Cavill) is on a CIA mission to smuggle charismatic auto mechanic Gaby Teller (Alicia Vilkander) out of Berlin, wanted because she can help locate her missing father, an ex-Nazi scientist who'd been working for the US. KGB man Kuryakin (Hammer) pursues the duo and shows his resilience and aptitude by refusing to be shaken off the trail, no matter what manner of maneuver Solo can throw at him. Although Solo succeeds in the end, his superior (Brit Jared Harris) assigns him to work with Kuryakin to prevent a mysterious cabal, headed by Victoria Vinciguerra (Aussie actress Elizabeth Debicki), from acquiring a nuclear warhead.

It makes for an interesting cosmopolitan cast: two Englishmen playing Americans, an American hamming it up as a Russian, and an Australian taking on an Italian role. Hugh Grant plays Alexander Waverly, the British intelligence man whose name telegraphs to long-time U.N.C.L.E. fans his ultimate role, although in the original series he was undoubtedly an American.

Director Guy Ritchie fills his action sequences with comic interludes that raise the film's appreciation factor. Finding temporary refuge while he and Kuryakin are being fired at by pursuing henchmen, Solo helps himself to an unattended basket lunch while leaving his partner to fend for himself. Ritchie continues the chase in one tiny upper corner of the frame while in the foreground, Cavill enjoys a sandwich and some wine. In another scene, a stereotypical Nazi scientist tortures Solo in a fearsome electrical device, only for the tables to be turned when Kuryakin arrives to save the day. The villain is then tethered to his own device and kills himself after accidentally triggering it while the two agents turn their backs.

As the end of it all, we see the formation of U.N.C.L.E. It would have been a nice touch to have Teller to be revealed as April Dancer (for you newbies, Google the name), but presumably that would have quickly given the ending away. An even better touch would have been to include either Vaughn or MacCallum in cameo roles, which would surely have sent many an old fan home satisfied, this reviewer included.

U.N.C.L.E does not have the serious thrills of a James Bond or Mission Impossible, nor does it sway to the manic outrageousness of Kingsman or Spy, but falls into a happy medium which caters for a maximum dose of enjoyment. The combination of Cavill's James Coburn-esque coolness and Hammer's lovable doofusness works so well it virtually ensures a sequel is on the cards … and perhaps this time they'll bring their inverted triangle badges with them.

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