Guy Ritchie – aka ex-Mr Madonna #2 who made his name as the director of Lock, Snatch and Two Smoking Sherlocks – has abandoned Lahhndan, and the type of cor-blimey crime caper which made his name, and returned to our screens with a postwar spy movie set in East Berlin and a host of other European locations.
How Solo became a duo
Based on the beloved 1960s series The Man from UNCLE, the film is clearly another studio attempt to set up a new franchise (as is de rigueur these days), so this is therefore in large part an origins story to show how top American agent Napoleon Solo (Cavill) and Soviet spy Ilya Kuryakin (Hammer), originally played by Robert Vaughn and David McCallum respectively, initially come to be working side by side. Of course, it has a lot to do with a woman and a twisty-turny double-cross or two.
With a token effort to place the narrative in some historical context, Ritchie slips a snappy MTV history lesson into his opening credits, chronicling the events leading up to the Second World War and beyond, up to the Cold War and annexation of Berlin.
Solo is the American agent sent behind the Iron Curtain to extract Gaby Teller (Vikander), the daughter of a kidnapped nuclear physicist, Udo Teller (Christian Berkel), who is reportedly building a bomb for some fascist offshoot of the Mussolini regime. Kuryakin is the Russian agent charged with stopping them getting off Soviet soil.
But shortly afterwards, the trio learn that they’re to assist each other in serving the common interests of their respective nations and locate Professor Teller before the fascist renegades have a working nuke.
Adequate Bond audition
It’s interesting to see Cavill in this role – his most prominent since taking on the mantle of Superman in Man of Steel, a film which set the DC Comics movie-verse off to a shaky start. It’s wise of him to try to grow roots in other genres before an inevitable super-fatique sets in. If it all goes tits up at DC, he’ll need a lifeboat – look at poor Brandon Routh.
So, right idea – wrong film. While Cavill’s dashing chiselled features exude a certain Golden Age charm, and he nails the dry delivery of his Bondian one-liners (he’s the 2/1 favourite to succeed Daniel Craig, according to Paddy Power), nothing escalates beyond that.
Eventually, you’re left with the monotony of Cavill smugly coasting from scene to scene with some predictably smart-arsed quip in waiting. You wait for that punch-in-the-face moment that will distinguish this from the rest of its genre and it never arrives – after which Hugh Grant shows up.
A dick-wagging match
It’s self-consciously styled and shallow stuff – but not all bad. Everyone clearly enjoyed themselves, there are several moments that provoke a wry grin, even the occasional titter – but nothing can elevate what is essentially two muscular alpha apes having a dick-wagging match all over southern Europe, banging on about booze, fancy food and flapping over how to dress their unruly pet mannequin (Vikander).
It’s less like The Man from Uncle and more like ‘Queer eye for the spy guy’.