Based on the mid-1960s television series about international spies, stolen submarines and deadly intelligence, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is director Guy Ritchie's answer to a question nobody asked, in which a Swede plays a German, a Brit plays an all-American and Armie Hammer plays Ryan Gosling with a cartoonish Russian accent.
Their mission? Acronymous.
The throwback homage to paranoid Cold War spy fare is populated by CIA, THRUSH, MI6, KGB and U.N.C.L.E., but it's a Trojan horse. This isn't an espionage movie so much as a slick, self-reflexive paean to the 1960s spy lifestyle – one that applies a state-of-the-art 21st-century budget to retro elan. But it does have its pleasures.
The best/worst is British actor Henry Cavill's ironic presence as the all-American superhero. Uneasy allies and intricate plots are the backbone of the genre, but the leads don't have the chemistry of the originals and megalomaniacal world domination isn't as fresh as it used to be. The women are interestingly sphinx-like, but beyond modelling terrific outfits, haven't much to do.
The spectacular Italian locations, jazzy score and vehicular action finally go somewhere in the third act, when Ritchie riffs a few stylistic conventions of the era. Mesmerizing and clever, but more style than substance.