Man from U.N.C.L.E., which opens areawide on Friday, pre-dates me. Despite having grown up in a basic-cable home filled with Perry Mason, Dick Van Dyke Show and Green Acres reruns, I had no familiarity with the characters or the premise behind this particular beloved 1960s television series. The film reboot stars Superman Henry Cavill (a Brit playing American CIA agent Napoleon Solo) and Lone Ranger Armie Hammer (an American playing Russian KGB agent Illya Kuryakin) as two spies representing different sides of the Cold War who, in a twist of fate, are forced to band together to face a common enemy.
Highly stylized to evoke the period, Man from U.N.C.L.E. is visually seductive. It has an early James Bond feel to it which perhaps shouldn't be surprising given the fact that 007 creator Ian Fleming had something to do with the early concepts for the original TV show.
The plot involves ensuring nuclear technology doesn't end up in the wrong hands. Naturally, the destruction of the world as these international men of mystery know it hangs in the balance. The key to figuring out a way to turn it all around lies with the sultry, headstrong daughter of a German scientist (Gaby, played by Ex Machina's Alicia Vikander).
Although there's humor, sexual tension and action to spare, it's not the Guy Ritchie (RocknRolla, Snatch, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) movie you'd expect. Certainly, it's smart and lots of fun. But it's also slightly slower paced and a little more of a literal homage than you imagined when your pulse first quickened with excited anticipation at early trailers.
In interviews, Cavill and Hammer have admitted even they didn't know anything about Man from U.N.C.L.E. when they signed on. (Hammer binge-watched early seasons. Cavill left it as a clean slate.) If that's any indication, there's likely to be many potential moviegoers who would be unmotivated by nostalgia. In recent years audiences have seen secret agent updates done in two ways: updated with amazing stars and stunts on steroids (Mission Impossible, James Bond) or satirized (Austin Powers). Even the comedic Get Smart remake was set in modern times. It feels like Man from U.N.C.L.E.— unknown to many and holding true to its inspiration — could have a more difficult time finding an audience than taking down a super villain.