Yes, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is cheesy.
Yes, it’s totally a throwback to the 1960s, not just in content but in style.
Yes, it’s predictable and unrealistic.
And yes, if you like spy movies, you should totally go see it. Not because it’s artful, but because it’s fun–as was the 60s TV series from which it hails.
If you want a movie with style, action and a bit of comedy, director Guy Ritchie is your guy. The entire approach to this film was retro, not just to retell a spy story from the 60s, but to take the viewer back to the 60s. The coloring, the music, the split-screen cuts–all of it tips its hat deliberately to another time. It’s not a film to be taken seriously; quite the opposite, in fact. It’s a film that doesn’t take itself too seriously, which makes it endearing.
All the Cold-War spy elements are in play here: the American con-artist (Napoleon Solo, played by Henry Cavill) strongarmed into espionage as an alternative to prison, pitted against Soviet crony Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer)–spies from enemy countries who want the same thing: to stop a group of exiled Nazis from obtaining the Bomb, and to rescue the guy they kidnapped to make it for them. (And to grab the technology for their respective countries in the process.) Their shared connection is Gaby (Alicia Vikander), the daughter of the kidnapped scientist–who, in a tasteful departure from 60s “Bond girl” sexism, is actually a streetwise German auto mechanic who contributes meaningfully to the plot instead of just standing by and looking sexy.
All through the story, the banter and tension between Solo, Illya and Gaby keep us entertained as we work through the twists and turns of the story (which turn out to be fairly predictable). The one critique as far as films go is that we never really feel the chemistry between the Soviet and American agents that we’d expect to feel. They try hard, but it doesn’t come off. Meanwhile, Solo remains something of a mystery, as we learn very little about his backstory in the process.
That said–again, this isn’t a film for high-art cinephiles. It’s a film for people who like spy movies and action sequences–and Ritchie gives us that in spades. The last scene even opens the door wide for any of a number of sequels, should box office returns convince the studio to produce them.
So if you’re in the mood for something much lighter and less gritty than Straight Outta Compton, grab some popcorn and go see The Man From U.N.C.L.E. in theaters while it’s still playing. You won’t come out deeply enriched or more intellectual, but the cheesiness will make you smile all the way through the movie.