Although it’s been met with mixed reviews and box office indifference, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. flick is easily the best I’ve seen this year. It’s clearly not for everyone, but to me, it feels like Guy Ritchie called a meeting and started it off by announcing “Alright fellas, we’re going to make a movie that this guy Rocko will be into.” It’s made up entirely of things that I specifically am mad about, and I love every second of it.
First things first, regardless of what you think of anything else: The soundtrack is killer. Every tune is used to full effect, every song is evocative of the scene it aurally augments. Itstead of feeling like the sounds are dropped in, the soundtrack itself is a character. It’s got a lot of obscure tracks from Nina Simone, Roberta Flack, Solomon Burke, Louis Prima, and a host of Europeans making their take on that R&B skirt shake that keeps me (as well as plenty others globally,apparently) getting up in the morning. The next judo swing in the one-two punch is original instrumentals by Daniel Pemberton, made up of a fever dream take on the classic Lalo Schifrin and Ennio Morricone sound that will never grow old. The collective effect is that it does something weird to your right foot if you’re listening while driving. It suddenly grows heavy and makes you press harder on that gas pedal.
Although heavily stylish, nothing feels extraneous in Man From U.N.C.L.E. There’s not one scene that doesn’t serve the story. And while the story is made up entirely of things you’ve probably seen before, tropes that weren’t even new when the original show was back in 1964, the execution of those angles are fresh as daisies. Every time I felt like I was about to see something utterly familiar, I was surprised by the ride the movie took me on.
One thing that helped in that regard is that in works of Spy Fiction, and this is especially so in Spy-Fi, the hero is often incalculably cool, calm, collected, and infallible. By expanding the focus to two leads, they’re allowed to have failings that otherwise might not work to serve the story. Napoleon Solo is a bit square and occasionally incapable. Illya Kuryakin has anger control issues. They both fuck up, but between the two of them, they’re never quite fuck-ups.
There’s two criticisms I keep seeing of this film. One is that the show is old and people don’t remember it, so why see the movie? That’s too stupid a concept to even address and borders on being offensive, so I’ll move on. The other is that it’s not a faithful enough take of the show. I disagree with that, too. I don’t think it’s even a remake so much as an origin story and a prequel. The movie drops with a sequel hook that will probably never stick, but you can just watch season one/episode one of the show, and you’re good to ingest many more hours of fun with Solo and Illya.
Funny thing. Critics keep slamming the new Bonds as being too self serious and poorly staged for modern times. Here at last is a period piece that doesn’t take itself all too seriously, that managed to weave a story with jokes that isn’t a joke itself post Austin Powers, and it will be gone from theaters about 20 minutes from the point that I post this.
But hey, it got made. I saw it. So should you.