Before the British music invasion, there was the British spy invasion. And just as The Monkees were our response to the former’s fusillade, so too did we launch a counter-strike against the latter. Our answers to James Bond were Derek Flint, Matt Helm and TV’s men from U.N.C.L.E.: Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin.
Director Guy Ritchie (“Sherlock Holmes,” “Snatch”) brings the popular 1960s television show to the big screen with “Superman” Henry Cavill and “Lone Ranger” Armie Hammer as the reluctantly paired Cold War-era CIA and KGB agents. And in doing so, Ritchie re-creates a vivid and authentic retro vibe — more like Don Draper than Austin Powers — that is as enjoyable to experience as the adventure itself.
1963 was the year Alcatraz closed and Pebbles Flintstone was born. It was also the apex of distrust between the United States and Russia and the year Nazi allies nearly obtained a nuclear weapon, which is something we might not have known had this film not been made.
The story unfolds with Solo (Cavill) whisking Gabby Teller (“Ex Machina’s” Alicia Vikander) out of East Berlin with Kuryakin (Hammer) in hot pursuit and doesn’t let up until the credits roll. In between, a senior British agent (Hugh Grant) recruits them to keep the bomb out of the hands of the Nazis who escaped to Argentina after WWII.
There is chemistry between Kuryakin and Gabby, while Solo pretty much, as Stephen Stills famously advised, loves the one he’s with (which, by the way, in the spy business, is known as “the perks”). But as the core of the nascent “United Network Command for Law and Enforcement,” there is obvious symbiosis, and my bet is that a sequel is in the works. Which I am already looking forward to.
Ritchie paints a fun “mod” backdrop of fashion, music and weathered cinematography against which a solid spy caper unfolds. And, whether they are incessantly bugging each other or arguing while a notorious torturer gets his due behind them, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” doesn’t forget to make us smile.
Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Napoleon Solo has a picnic lunch in a getaway truck while his partner’s flame-engulfed Chris-Craft eludes an attacking skiff.
How c.o.o.l. is that?