‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’ (2015) review: The definition of style

‘U.N.C.L.E.’ super stylish, but lacks substance

Let’s get it out of the way: U.N.C.L.E. stands for United Network Command for Law and Enforcement. I know, it was important to establish that early — because the rest of story in this hyper-stylish Bond film rip-off/television show reboot by Guy Ritchie couldn’t matter less. But man, is it pretty to watch all this nonsensical chaos.

For those of certain age, the pitch-perfect look of “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” will bring back memories of the perfectly tailored suits and French couture of the early 1960s, during which the original TV show first aired. For those who didn’t know that “U.N.C.L.E.” was a before it was a movie, you get the visual treat of watching three shockingly pretty people — Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer and Alicia Vikander — galavant across Europe amid the loveliest of set pieces. Again, this is a Guy Ritchie flick.

But before we get to the good stuff, let’s talk about the plot. Have you seen a 007 movie? You’re good, then. There are exotic locales filled with beautiful and deadly people in equal measures. There’s a nuclear scientist and Nazi sympathizers. There’s a forced collaboration between Americans and Russians, because neither one of them can allow anyone else to have nuclear weapons, of course. Even the bad guys have impeccable style, as they try their best to be the next Bond villain.

It’s a strange retro take on nostalgia, as if the only thing that separated this films from the era it’s trying to replicate is simply time. But all that style, all that stagecraft, just doesn’t make for an interesting film, plot-wise. Cavill, despite his insanely strong jawline, is as boring as always, even if he plays Napoleon Solo, a former jewel thief turned CIA agent. (Did you see “Man of Steel”?) Hammer’s presence as Russian Illya Kuryakin, Solo’s nemesis-turned-partner, is massive, but that’s mostly because he’s really, really tall. Like, he towers over every one else, particularly Vikander’s Gaby Teller. It’s strange to see the two of them in the scene for some reason, but I found it oddly charming.

And that’s the crux of the plot of “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”: A bunch of pretty people have a bunch of nonsense adventures during the bunch of crazy that was the Cold War. But of course nothing is as it seems, even if everything turns out actually as you predict it will, double-crosses regardless.

In the end, “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” is stunning — visually. Director Ritchie has a keen eye for style, and it’s a shame he wasn’t able to bring even some of the charm from his “Sherlock Holmes” films to this one. However, if you’re looking for eye-pleasing car chases, fist fights, gun battles and more enjoyable action-film cliches, you could find worse to entertain you.

Three “What Cold War?” stars out of five.

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