If you were around in the 60’s (like yours truly), you remember the TV series that starred David McCallum and Robert Vaughn as Illya Kuryakin and Napoleon Solo. The popular series about a secret clandestine law-enforcement agency called United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, ran from 1964 to 1968. Even James Bond creator Ian Fleming came on board to create some of the elements of the show. Pretty cool, huh? It was so popular it spawned a spin-off, The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.
Playing out like a TV episode, we are introduced to Superman and the Lone Ranger. . . sorry, I mean Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer as the two super-spies who are forced to work with each other. It’s 1963 and in walled-up East Berlin, American spy and master thief Napoleon Solo (Cavill) has to rescue Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), an auto mechanic who’s dad is a nuclear physicist that’s been kidnapped to create an atomic bomb. But getting her over the wall to anti-communist West Berlin is impeded by a boorish Soviet spy, Illya Kuryakin (Hammer).
Once out after a harrowing escape, the two not-so-friendly men must join forces, after they are recruited by their bosses to take Gaby to Rome, Italy. There, Gaby and Illya pose as a couple to fool Gaby’s uncle in locating her sequestered father. It seems that her dad’s been taken by a crazy Contessa named Victoria (Elizabeth Debicki) and her evil hubby, Alexander (Luca Calvani). But finding that bomb and the computer disc plans are a priority, so the guys try and locate it while the Contessa speeds up her plans to arm the bomb.
But wouldn’t ya know it? Both Solo and Kuryakin have the rug pulled out from under them just as Gaby is about to meet her papa, when she pulls a double-cross! The guys are in hot water as they scramble to stay alive. Under the guidance of a new boss, Mr. Waverly (Hugh Grant), they’re informed that Gaby is, in fact, a British spy and that the double-cross was all part of an elaborate ruse. Geez, ya just can’t trust anyone nowadays!
Finally, it’s a race to the finish throughout the beautiful Roman hills and waters of Sicily to stop the Contessa from making off with the device as Solo, Teller, and Kuryakin joining together to stop her. Yup, these three form the basis for U.N.C.L.E. and leaves the story wide open for a sequel.
Director Guy Ritchie, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Lionel Wigram, really takes his time in telling the story with all sorts of backstories, side plots, and several ‘call-backs’ (scenes re-called a second time). Problem is, in doing this, you get a slow-paced story that drags the tempo down. Couple that with a remedial plot and you get a movie that is just… okay.
I did enjoy Ritchie’s direction, which is unique and stylized, but the script was only intermittently entertaining and generally misfires as it tries to be a mash-up of Mission:Impossible meets James Bond (times two).
You do have an eclectic soundtrack that is all 60’s jazz and wildcard Italian soul along with breathtaking on-location Roman landscape, so that’s a plus. All the costuming, cars, and gadgets are very cool and retro, but let’s face it, that’ll only divert you for awhile. Both Cavill and Hammer are very good as frenemies and play off each other quite well, while Vikander, who was so incredible in Ex Machina as the android Ava, is given a thankless role here as a damsel in distress.
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
A cracker-jack script by Christopher Wood and Richard Maibaum and expertly directed by Lewis Gilbert, this is one of the most popular of the Roger Moore 007 films. Just a fun film with Moore at the top of his game and before his scripts and stories started to slide downhill and dissolve into silliness and downright stupidity with Moonraker, Octopussy, and A View To A Kill. This film not only had a chart-topping theme song (“Nobody Does It Better”), but introduced us to the USSR’s General Gogol (Walter Gotell) who would appear in five more 007 films, and we finally found out what “Q”‘s real name is. It’s Major Boothroyd, by the way.