dir: Guy Ritchie
It was probably never going to work. I can’t imagine there’s much nostalgia for the show. It was too long ago, and there really isn’t that much to hang a franchise off. If you want to make something that looks like a dated Bond clone (or a homage-like retro Bond clone), you don’t really need to hitch your star to a barely remembered TV series.
Truth be told I actually do have fond memories of the show. I thought Robert Vaughn and especially David McCallum were totally cool when I watched repeats of the show on the telly way back when, and I thought they worked well together. I bought their friendship / partnership even before I really understood why an American and a Soviet spy should really have hated each other.
I always assumed they liked each other and worked well together because they were too cool for ideological / patriotic bullshit.
I still assume cool people like each other because they’re too cool for ideological bullshit. It’s the way to live, as far as I can tell.
It’s not really fair to call it a Bond clone, since Ian Fleming himself was involved with the show, and had basically conceived of it as being some kind of American Bond tv show (with Napoleon Solo as the main character). They threw in a cool blond Russian looking guy, and that was history being made.
In this iteration of it, they (thankfully) set it in the past, so that all the fashions can be all Carnaby Street Mod all the time, but it unfortunately also means they apply dull filters to much of the cinematography in order to convince us that we’re looking at the ‘past’. It just makes a lot of scenes look unbearably dull.
Wow. That word. ‘Dull”. It’s one you might be hearing a lot, with a disturbing level of frequency, over the course of this review.
This flick has major problems. I’ll delay gratification for a while before pointing out what I think is the fatal one by describing the oh so pointless plot.
Plot is there’s some former Nazi scientist putting together a nuclear warhead, a weapon of unimaginable destructive power unlike the other ones that have already been invented. The Americans and the Soviets are so, so terrified of someone else getting the bomb that they dispatch their two top agents to find some guy.
It helps that they have his daughter (Alicia Vikander) along for the ride. Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) is the American in the sharp suits and such. Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) is the glowering blonde Soviet who is meant to look like a peasant kidnapped directly from the steppes. Where are his turtleneck sweaters, huh?
Both Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer are attractive, strapping young men. Both Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer have probably been decent actors in stuff, it’s hard to tell.
Cavill, best known as the latest in a short line of Men of Steel, especially, is an actor / man of ridiculous, flabbergasting handsomeness. He’s probably physically perfect for this role, perhaps perfect for any role in any film that isn’t intended for Paul Giamatti.
He’s just that amazing-looking. Your eyes get lost in the contours of that face, of that chin. His posters, in another age, would have adorned every teenage girl and confused boy’s bedroom wall across the world, or at least the parts of the world where walls and posters and food are commonplace. He’s just *so* dreamy.
I can’t really emphasise how utterly terrible he is in this role. His every utterance; every time he’s enunciating his dull dialogue in this enervated made me long for eternal silence.
It’s staggering how terrible he is. Cavill is a Brit, so, yes, he has to put on an American accent. It sounds like his accent coach for this flick was an African-American stand up from the 1980s, because the voice Cavill uses here is the exact same voice Eddie Murphy used to use in the 1980s when imitating his version of an uptight white guy, who’s probably an accountant at that.
It’s a voice simultaneously smug, constipated and stultifying. It’s horrible to listen to! It renders everything, everything he goddamn says so flat and dull that I really did struggle with being able to stay focussed.
At first I thought, considering that the director is Guy Ritchie, maybe it’s a prank? A prank on the audience? Just to see if people will notice?
Then I thought, nah, it’s not a prank, it’s Ritchie taking the piss. This is a guy who’d cast Brad Pitt to play an Irish gypsy or marry Madonna for a laugh, he’s capable of anything.
Still, I found it inexplicable.
Armie Hammer, who is a big block of beefcake himself, doesn’t fair much better. He, being American, is saddled with an accent as well, a Boris/Natasha cartoon Russian one, which isn’t that bad in itself, but coupled with the flat delivery he’s been directed to give, it makes sections where Napoleon and Illya talk staggeringly hard to sit through.
Hammer is most famous not for that appalling bomb The Lone Ranger, but for playing those twin entitled Harvard frat boy probable date rapists The Winklevosses in Social Network. He is characterised as a violent dolt barely able to restrain his rage, which is a dame shame.
Alice Vikander as the unnecessary love interest doesn’t fare much better. She played a robot in Ex Machina, and she displayed more believability and life in that role than this one.
There is a villain in this, in so far as this inert flick needed a villain, in the shape of some heiress to a fortune who’s making bombs just for the hell of it. Although, I'm not sure, I think her Italian husband was Borat, maybe?
Elizabeth Debicki’s Victoria similarly delivers all her dialogue with flat, flat, flat intonations. The difference is she brings an iciness, a stylish menacing archness to her delivery that conveys plenty of tension, in complete contrast with anything anyone else tries to say at any time. The rest of them are delivering lines – she’s the only one bringing the goods.
A perfect example of this lifelessness is in a scene just after Solo has been tortured by some Nazi jerk. Solo and Kuryakin are debating what should be done with the chap, and it’s meant to be played for comedy (just like the dull scene where he’s grabbing a bite to eat in a truck as he watches the Soviet flounder about on a speedboat). But hearing these galoots dully grunt at each other as the chap burns in the background undercuts whatever humour they, or more importantly Ritchie, was going for.
It’s an easy reach to assume that the intentions at first were to start up another franchise in the way that he did with Downey Jnr and Jude Law in the No Shit, Sherlock Holmes blockbusters. If that was his plan, allow me to do a sarcastic slow clap and say ‘Bravo’ as limply as possible. All the same terrible over-editing happens here, almost to absurd effect, when he doubles back and gives us multiple explanatory flashbacks to explain how something came to be or how it happened.
Again, almost as a piss-take, there’s a flashback to explain something that happened 30 seconds previous in the running time. Our memories, surely they’re not that bad? The explanation of how they get the villain is so ridiculously over-explained with flashbacks not to earlier in the film, but to a few seconds earlier in what the protagonist was just goddamn saying! It’s the equivalent, and just as unnecessary, as me saying they flashback not to earlier in the film, but to a few seconds earlier in what the protagonist was just goddamn saying! That’s not a typo, folks.
This strange editing has to be at Ritchie’s hands. He’s been relying on this kind of lazy crutch in so many of his flicks that it’s a feature, clearly, and not a bug.
As with many or most of his flicks, the strange homoerotic / homophobic subtext (it’s not really subtext, it’s more just ‘text’, even down to the two big boys having dull but pissy arguments about what clothes Gaby should wear, fixations on bathrooms and toilets and such), the characters don’t really make a whole lot of sense, in terms of how they’re characterised, but it didn’t really matter that much.
I did warm to the characters by the end, somewhat, and I think they (being the big boys) came to an understanding that makes a kind of sense in this Cold War alternate history. They go from being about to brutally kill each other for their respective Empires, to grudging allies only through an act of kindness (implausible as that bloody watch’s rescue might have been), and one which gives them an awful lot of power deciding the fate of the world in a way that denies their masters’ objectives.
Still, when I get to a disappointing movie’s ending, and scenes occur that basically make the whole flick just watched look like the lead up to some other, more interesting flick, I wonder out loud “Gee, wish I’d watched that future flick instead.”
It’s something many people who see this flick will say to themselves, their priests or their therapists as well.
5 times sharp clothing on dull people saying dull things doesn’t equal recipe for success out of 10
“What I'm about to feed you, Solo, might taste a little bitter. Nevertheless, you're gonna have to swallow it.” – Look, Guy, you can stop now, okay? You don't have to go on with the charade anymore – The Man from U.N.C.L.E.