Movies adapted from television shows are almost always destined for failure. The notable exception is currently sitting on top of the box office.
But the reason “Mission: Impossible” works is because it was based on a show that was more about a cool concept than iconic characters and because they handed the movies over to stylish directors who weren’t exactly beholden to the source material.
“The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” duplicates this recipe and nearly matches the carefree, action-paced success of the “M:I” franchise.
The other thing that helps is it is based on a show that didn’t get a lot of love in syndication, so it is pretty much unknown to anyone not alive in the late 1960s.
You’ll also be hard-pressed to find a much better premise for a spy flick. Set at the height of the Cold War, agents from the CIA and KGB are forced to work together to stop a group of ex-Nazis from blowing up the world.
CIA agent Napoleon Solo (played smoother than silk sheets by Henry Cavill) has a back story that’s almost as cool as his name (I won’t spoil it for you).
He is paired with KGB operative Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer, who plays a character who is as blunt an instrument as his last name).
This odd couple of espionage are led on an undercover mission by a fetching East German girl (Alicia Vikander) whose family ties lead the boys into a showdown with femme fatale Victoria (Elizabeth Debicki).
“The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” is a whole lot of campy fun that owes a lot to the Sean-Connery-era James Bond movies.
And if you want campy fun and action, you can’t find a much better director than Guy Ritchie to be the straw that stirs the drink.
Ritchie, who co-wrote the screenplay with Lionel Wigram, actually sits on his hands a bit in this movie, keeping his camera steady and even lets a few action pieces coyly and quietly play out in the background.
But don’t worry, before it’s all over the camera has all the requisite eye-popping swoops and swirls we’ve come to expect from Ritchie.
He also did some interesting casting, as this international group of actors are from different countries than the characters they play. Cavill and Jared Harris (who plays Solo’s boss at the CIA) are both Brits playing Americans, Hammer is an American playing a Russian, Vikander is a Swede playing a German, and Debicki is an Australian playing an Italian. By the time Hugh Grant shows up sporting his own posh British accent, he must have felt very out of place on set.
Simply put, this is a movie that works. It’s breezy, it’s entertaining and it even manages to feel fresh as it treads the most well-worn of territory. Cavill and Hammer have good chemistry, plus it’s always neat to see Superman and the Lone Ranger sharing a space outside of a Jim Croce lyric.
More than anything, this movie made me wish it was the pilot episode of a TV series. That might be the biggest knock on this film is the promise of potential of what’s to come is greater than what we’ve already seen.
The upside is since Hollywood is clearly out of ideas, complete box-office failure is the only thing keeping us from a bigger and likely better “The Man from U.N.C.L.E. 2.”
“The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” is rated PG-13 for action violence, some suggestive content, and partial nudity.