Release Date(s)2015 (November 17, 2015)
Studio(s)360 Films (Warner Home Video)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: C-
Guy Ritchie’s big screen take on the classic 1960s The Man from U.N.C.L.E. TV series is a bit of an odd duck. It’s not exactly a straight port of the NBC series, though it certainly features the characters of Napoleon Solo, Illya Kuryakin, and Alexander Waverly, and… eventually… the name U.N.C.L.E. (which in the series stood for United Network Command for Law Enforcement, though that’s never mentioned here). Instead, the film is much more of an homage to the British Bond knock-off films of the same era, including 1967’s Deadlier Than the Male and its 1969 sequel Some Girls Do (both of which featured Richard Johnson as crack spy Bulldog Drummond), or the 1966 Italian film Kiss Kiss… Bang Bang.
Ritchie’s tale essentially depicts the formation of U.N.C.L.E., by teaming the American CIA agent Solo (played here by Henry Cavill, of Man of Steel fame) with his former adversary and Russian KGB agent Kuryakin (Armie Hammer, ex-The Lone Ranger), as well as a young German mechanic named Gaby Tellar (Alicia Vikander, seen most recently in Ex Machina). The trio soon finds themselves in Rome on a joint CIA/KGB mission to stop Gaby’s father, a former Nazi scientist, from delivering a working nuclear bomb to a group of Nazi sympathizers. Various twists and turns ensue, with no shortage of gritty spy action, and a convincing female villain (played by Elizabeth Debicki), all of it wrapped in a generous dose of 1960s glamour and panache.
The resulting film is a bit oddly paced, but it’s also stylish and fun when it finally lands its rhythm. Cavill is plenty solid as the slick-as-Brylcreem Solo and he has nice chemistry with Hammer, who’s also likable as Kuryakin, even though the latter never quite manages to convince you that he’s Russian. Vikander’s performance is also solid, if perhaps just a bit too cool. Still, the three of them actually work quite nicely together on screen, if you just go with it. Their dialogue is decidedly stock, rather on the forced and quippy side, but the film manages to finish strongly regardless.
On Blu-ray, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is presented in 1080p high-definition at a widescreen aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The film has a cool and slightly subdued look that’s full of contrasts and lush color, from the barren streets of East Berlin to the luxurious environs of the Grand Plaza Hotel in Rome. Image detail and texturing are excellent at all times, with deep blacks. It’s a rather unique and stylized looking image, clearly meant to recall the period of the 1960s. It almost reminds me of Ron Howard’s Rush in that respect, though the effect is not taken to quite that extreme. The disc’s audio is available in a smoothly immersive Dolby Atmos (core 7.1 Dolby TrueHD) mix that features abundant bass and is both lively and varied in its approach – again a stylized sonic presentation to match the visuals. Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is also provided in English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese, and optional subtitles are available in the same.
The disc’s menus are of the generic, cookie-cutter variety that Warner Home Video seems to have defaulted to of late. The disc includes a light batch of EPK featurettes, most of it glossy promotional fare. They include Spy Vision: Recreating 60’s Cool (8:34 – on the film’s style), A Higher Class of Hero (7:13 – covering its stunts, action scenes, and car chases), Métisse Motorcycles: Proper – And Very British (4:49 – on the film’s two-wheeled rides, and featuring a tour of the Métisse factory and an interview with owner Gerry Lisi), The Guys from U.N.C.L.E. (4:57 – on Cavill and Hammer), A Man of Extraordinary Talents (3:16 – on Ritchie’s eclectic interests), and 4 U.N.C.L.E.: On-Set Spy featurettes, including Don’t Swim Elegantly (1:08), You Want to Wrestle? (1:10), Heli Restored (1:09) and A Family Thing (1:48). That’s it on the disc. You also get a DVD version of the film and a paper insert with a code for a Digital Copy version. If you end up skipping these extras altogether, you really lose nothing of note. The Métisse factory tour is the most interesting of the lot, and the only real revelation comes all-too briefly in Heli Restored, in which you learn that one of the helicopters used in the film is the very same one (recently restored) that Honor Blackman flew (as Pussy Galore) in Goldfinger.
In spite of its flaws, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is worth your time. It’s not a typical Guy Ritchie film, but neither does it feel quite like other modern spy fare – think of the Bourne films, SPECTRE, or Mission: Impossible. It’s far from a perfect spy film, but its unique style and the overall strength of what the filmmakers were trying to achieve here make it worth viewing, and a more refined sequel would certainly be welcome. Warner’s Blu-ray version is light on value, unfortunately, but if you can get it on sale, don’t hesitate.
- Bill Hunt