ManfromUnclecoverGrade: A-/B+
Entire family: No
2015, 116 min., Color
Rated PG-13 for action violence, some suggestive content, and partial nudity
Warner Bros.
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: Dolby Atmos
Bonus features: B
Amazon link

Give me an imaginative origin story over a reboot any day of the week. Especially if Guy Ritchie (Sherlock Holmes) is sitting in the director’s chair.

For four years in the sixties, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum starred on NBC-TV as Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin—American and Soviet special operatives working for Alexander Waverly’s top-secret international counter-espionage agency known as U.N.C.L.E. (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement). It was the TV version of the James Bond films—a campy serialized spy adventure that aired during the Cold War but sidestepped the polarization between two superpowers and instead had U.N.C.L.E. facing off against T.H.R.U.S.H., just as the Bond films introduced SPECTRE as the nemesis organization.

In this 2015 film version of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. we get the story of how the two Cold War enemies came to work together and see how their very different backgrounds and personalities made them reluctant partners in the tradition of the very best buddy cop movies.

ManfromUnclescreenA scientist whose work could change the balance of world power has disappeared, and the Soviets and Americans realize that this is one time they must work together to keep such power out of the hands of rogue states. After almost killing each other in an opening sequence, Solo (Henry Cavill) and Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) are ordered to partner for the good of humankind, and they go to Italy to work undercover and try to locate the scientist through his daughter Gaby (Alicia Vikander) and her uncle—playful pun intended, I’m sure.

There’s plenty of action in The Man from U.N.C.L.E., but, just as important, the film manages to capture the tongue-in-cheek campy fun of the original series. In one scene, for example, Solo sits in a vehicle eating a sandwich and drinking wine while viewers see Kuryakin struggling with the bad guys in the distance. There’s plenty of banter, too, concerning the preferred Russian way and the American way of doing things and plenty of digs at each other’s competency. When Solo is about to open a safe and Kuryakin asks, “Did you disable the alarm?” Solo smugly replies, “There’s no alarm on the 307.” RINGGGG!!!! “Loving your work, Cowboy,” Kuryakin deadpans.

Cavill, Hammer, and Vikander have good chemistry together, and that helps to fill any voids when the action subsides. Even Hugh Grant, working with a very small role as Waverly, manages to get into the act, and Elizabeth Debicki really nails the glamorous Bond-style femme fatale down.

The Bond films always offered glimpses of exotic places and that was a part of their appeal. Ritchie understands that and provides a generous amount of panoramic long shots of Italy, where parts of the movie were filmed. A funky, hip soundtrack adds to the fun. Yes, there are familiar elements here, from the nuclear scientist to the psychotic torture expert, but everything comes together incredibly well. It’s formulaic, it’s familiar, it’s a popcorn movie, but who cares? It works.

Language: Surprisingly clean; a few minor swearwords and sexual slang references
Sex: A woman is shown in panties and the sides of bare breasts are shown in darkness; implied sex is listened to by electronic eavesdroppers
Violence: Death scenes are blunted by Bond-style jokes, and explosions and bullets, not blood, dominates here
Adult situations: Some alcohol and smoking, but not much, and it’s really on the periphery
Takeaway: In the right hands, old TV series make for great movie entertainment