In Which We Cried Uncle Almost Continuously Throughout

The Robot From Ex-Machina

by ALEX CARNEVALE

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
dir. Guy Ritchie
121 minutes

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is a lot more interesting if you imagine that Gabby (Alicia Vikander) is a corpse. Then Guy Ritchie’s revival of an equally horrid television series would start to take on a genre-bending Weekend at Bernie’s-esque feel. This state of affairs is accentuated by the fact that Vikander barely ever smiles in The Man From U.N.C.L.E, or speaks louder than a whisper. In that way, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. can be thought of as a spiritual sequel to Alex Garland’s Ex-Machina.

It turns out that Vikander is a spy for the British, which incidentally also happened in the latest Mission: Impossible. The British employ lots of women as spies — otherwise they would just waste away with nothing in particular to do like Bridget Jones or Margaret Thatcher.

Hugh Grant looks like a totem pole. He doesn’t appear until an hour into The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and it comes as a considerable relief since the accents of an imposingly sexual Henry Cavill and a completely bland Arnie Hammer are quite difficult to understand. (The two leads violate a major principle of casting which is that no heroes should look alike.)

Grant’s major virtue is that he is easy to fathom. The only person who did not understand exactly who he was is Elizabeth Hurley, and that was chiefly because of her own vanity. Even though Cavill and Hammer’s characters are supposed to be deft spies, they have no idea what is happening in this turgid plot either. Even when Cavill is tasked with killing Hammer, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. doesn’t become entertaining.

Hammer’s Ilya Kuryakin gets the poor end of the stick by far. Vikander seems extremely disgusted to be involved in a romantic plotline with him, especially when he creepily strokes her leg. Plus, next to the immense work of art that is Henry Cavill, he looks like the shrimp in a bodybuilding ad. Foreign accents have never been Ritchie’s strong suit — I still don’t understand half the dialogue in Snatch — and Hammer’s Russian brogue is all over the map. All this could be forgiven if The Man From U.N.C.L.E. looked good, but it does not.

Style should be the cornerstone of any fan service, and yet none of the people in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. have it. Their suits are shades of brown and black arranged too closely together; Vikander at different times resembles a puffin fish or an owl. No one comes across stylishly, not even the villain (Elizabeth Debicki). Possibly if Ritchie was still married to Madonna, she might have advised him of the general weakness in this aesthetic:

It emerges that the agents involved in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. are fighting some kind of post-Nazi plot. This twist sets a record, making the Third Reich far and away the most cinematic mass movement ever created. The Reich is supposed to possess a defective personal style, but in contrast to their slipshod pursuers, they have never come across more sympathetically. As menacingly dull as the plot of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is, it was substantially better than the last Superman feature.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

“Wonder Why You Hide” – Caspar Babypants (mp3)

“Day Is Gone” – Caspar Babypants (mp3)

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