The opening of The Man From Uncle is a delight. Set in 1963, it introduces a suave CIA agent named Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill), who has been assigned to spirit a pretty German mechanic, Gaby (Alicia Vikander), out of East Berlin. Unfortunately for him, the KGB's Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) has other ideas, so the two spies are soon chasing each other around the city, taking it in turns to outwit each other, and driving so close to each other that their boxy East German cars are dancing cheek-to-cheek. Combining the immaculate style of an early Bond movie with the shadowy urban landscape of The Third Man, it's graceful, witty and breathlessly entertaining. The annoying thing is that the rest of the film is nowhere near as good.
There are various reasons for this, the main one being that Solo and Kuryakin team up shortly after their Berlin skirmish, and no one else in The Man From Uncle can challenge them as much as they challenged one another. A prequel to the snazzy 1960s television series with Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, the film asks why two Cold Warriors from either side of the Iron Curtain would ever work together: how formidable would a common foe have to be to force them to put aside their differences? But the answer to that question is: a common foe who isn't very formidable at all.
Directed and co-written by Guy Ritchie, The Man From Uncle has Solo and Kuryakin pooling their resources to rescue a German atomic scientist - Gaby's father - from a cabal of Italian fascists. And, put like that, it does sound like a big deal. As it turns out, however, our heroes' joint mission is hardly taxing.
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