Man, Do We Need to Talk About U.N.C.L.E.

Do a shot every time we use the word 'fabulous.' Then go watch the movie. It'll help.

So recently Cole and Clarice sat down to rewatch the 2015 movie reboot of Man from U.N.C.L.E. They saw it when it released in theaters, and did not love it. They tried to give it another shot when it released for rent, and still did not love it. When discussing a movie to watch during a recent evening they suggested this movie, even though they knew they did not love it!

Yes SOMETHING — they honestly don’t know what — keeps drawing them back to this movie. Perhaps it’s as simple as the fabulous clothing or the gorgeous cast, or perhaps it’s something else altogether. (It’s certainly not Jared Harris’ atrocious American accent.) Regardless, they decided to sit down with the film YET AGAIN, and really hash out their feelings towards it.

 

Unfortunately, the Exciting Opening Sequence Gives a False Expectation

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Cole: Holy SHIT is this opening sequence fun.

Clarice: It is! The opening sequence alone is precisely what I wanted from the movie going in — it served my expectations up to me on a beautiful, be-suited platter. Just about every facet of that sequence works.

Cole: Literally everything. Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer are gorgeous eyecandy. Alicia Vikander is wonderfully sarcastic and annoyed. The pace is awesome, the music fantastic, and it’s the perfect way to introduce our three leads in an organic and interesting way. It starts the film off with a blast of energy and gets you hyped for the rest of the film with the promise of: This is our tone, we’re fabulous, get fucking used to it.

Clarice: The comedic timing is executed finely and with consistency. From the use of humorous wide angles, down to focusing on details like the squeaky window, Guy Ritchie & Co. are firing on all cylinders. 

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Unfortunately, the rest of the film never quite hits that same level of effortless, breezy execution again.

Cole: No. It really, really doesn’t. I remember the first time we saw this in theaters. The opening chase sequence ended and I was IN. As I said above, the film makes a promise of tone and pace and style. I thought this movie was going to be FUCKING GREAT based off the opening sequence, assuming, in my naivete that everything that made the opening so brilliantly awesome was going to be carried all the way through the film. That was certainly what I wanted. Alas…

 

No Consistent Tone

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Cole: Okay. The Tone. Or tones, rather. Because this shit is all over the damn place.

Clarice: The tone wobbles about a lot (something I honestly believe is typical of Ritchie’s films). It veers drastically at times between ‘light-hearted comedic romp’ and ‘poorly-focused joyless slog.’ …Was that too harsh?

Cole: No, I believe that was perfectly accurate. This film is all over the damn place and it really doesn’t know how to balance its serious side with its fun side.

Clarice: It’s the comedic inclinations that work best and give the film its zip. Napoleon Solo wears an apron and makes truffle risotto!! The men bicker about picking designer outfits for Gabby!!

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Cole: Alicia Vikander dances drunk in pajamas and giant sunglasses before tackling Armie Hammer to the ground!!

Clarice: Napoleon and Illya reveal they’ve uncovered one another’s planted bugs!!

Cole: Napoleon and Illya break into a Vinciguerra shipping yard: “You take top, I’ll take bottom!”

Clarice: Savvy and suspicious Victoria throws off her robe! and hops in her fab sportscar to speed to the hotel of thief “Jack Deveny!” Then sleeps with him!!

Cole: Victoria drapes herself across the back of a sofa after drugging Napoleon with whiskey!!

Clarice: … Perhaps we’ve gotten distracted?

Cole: Yes. Yes, we have. Shall we get back to the point?

Clarice: Certainly. The point being: that’s all the fun half of this movie (the lighthearted romp). The other half (i.e. the joyless slog) is most egregiously encapsulated, I think, by what I shall call Unnecessary Torture Tangent.

Cole: Ugh. What the actual FUCK is the point of the torture sequence? It is gratuitous, extended and brings the entire film to a screeching halt from which it never manages to recover.

Clarice: It totally derails everything. Why are we suddenly in another movie?? He couldn’t just be Gabby’s shady uncle? Why make him an infamous torturer?? How is that necessary? It serves no real purpose.

Everything is so much more enjoyable when the movie is allowed to breathe and be a deft play on self-serious spy film conventions, as opposed to trying too earnestly to twist/manipulate it into also BEING a spy film. Does that make sense?

Cole: Absolutely! It forgets how to have fun and ends up feeling like two different films fused together in the middle, one of which is far superior (hint: it’s the first one).

 

Can Someone Tell Guy Ritchie ‘Unflappable’ Does NOT Mean Sociopathic?

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Clarice: Ah yes… Napoleon Solo: probably my biggest sticking point. And that pains me. It’s a shame because he is 100% exactly my catnip character.

Cole: You mean dark-haired and gorgeous with a defined jawline, wearing fabulous suits and armed with sarcastic condescension?

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Clarice: EXACTLY! I cannot impart enough to people how much / on how many levels his character is practically tailor-made to appeal to me. And yet…

Cole: And yet, what starts out as unflappable in the opening sequence quickly devolves into something much colder and detached. It’s not endearing or amusing – it’s actually kind of unnerving.

Clarice: Cavill is fine — nay, great! — when he’s making Napoleon a series of faintly bemused expressions and tilts of the head. His intonations in most line deliveries are pitch-fucking-perfect. He’s judgmental, expressive and funny. So it’s far less funny when he has no visible reaction to things whatsoever. And it doesn’t help that those instances in which he has no visible reaction are the bigger, more dramatic situations… often involving things catching on fire…

Cole: Agreed! Some of the time they nail it down perfectly, but some moments (and they are, as you say, the large, literally explosive moments) he has no reaction. The saddest part is that it would take so little to push the character into the correct tone. Henry Cavill is perfectly capable of it, but it seems he’s being directed down the wrong path when it comes to Napoleon Solo and his unflappable nerves.

Clarice: I think I understand what Ritchie is going for on a theoretical level? I.e. The concept of deadpan face(s) juxtaposed with Something Crazy going on in the deep space (he does love his deep space!)

Cole: I can definitely see what he’s trying for, but that does not mean he’s successful. The most definitive deep space moment in the film (the one with the speedboat) could be an utterly fucking amazing sequence but because Cavill literally has not emotion on his face it falls flat. They lose track of Napoleon about halfway through the film.

Clarice: Indeed. These reactions (specifically to the boat catching fire, and the torturer catching fire) feel inverse to Napoleon’s behavior throughout the rest of the film. It seems like whenever The Thing Happening ratchets upwards in drama, Napoleon ratchets down considerably in his expressiveness. And I don’t think that quite works. I think those moments could have been funnier and considerably more effective if Cavill retained the behavior pattern established by every other situation — a fleeting moment of befuddlement or distanced intrigue before settling back into his cool ‘don’t care’ (or ‘grudgingly care’) demeanor. Otherwise, all it does is make me think how much of a goddamn fucking sociopath Napoleon Solo is, and it lurches me out hard of finding him delightful. Even his suits and hair can’t save him from that.

Cole: I 100% agree. It’s such a small detail that could have saved so much of the film

 

Ladies be Fab! …Until They’re Not…

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Cole: ELIZABETH DEBICKI. And Alicia Vikander too. But…ELIZABETH FUCKINGFABULOUS DEBICKI!

Clarice: Yes. That. Elizabeth Debicki is almost too fabulous for words in this movie. And I think this movie proves that it doesn’t deserve her.

Cole: It totally does not deserve her. She is, frankly, wasted on it.

Alicia Vikander is also fantastic as Gabby, but in a different way. Debicki’s Victoria is impeccable, elegant and utterly commands every single room she steps into. Gabby is small and feisty and full of sarcasm. Both women are fabulous in entirely different ways, and that contrast is something the film could have and should have exploited to much greater effect.

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Clarice: Gabby’s perpetual expression of ‘generally perturbed by everything’ appeals to me on some real levels (especially since half the time it’s from behind giant sunglasses). And it’s Victoria’s perpetual expression of ‘entertained yet bored by everyone around me’ that is like a damn drug of chicness.

Cole: Once we hit the film’s second half both women switch gears for the worse. The first half to two-thirds of the film build Victoria up as a mastermind, someone who is literally smarter than everyone else around her, and Gabby as incredibly capable in a multitude of ways. So it’s incredibly frustrating to watch both characters get tanked to service dumb plot and the heroics of the two male leads.

Clarice: Ah you mean… Gabby gets captured and has to be rescued in a weirdly yawn-worthy final off-roader chase, and Victoria is suddenly arrogant to the point of stupidity and is defeated like a snap of the fingers? Boo.

Cole: Boo indeed. She definitely catches a big old case of stupid after being brilliant and two steps ahead the entire film. It’s one of MY big sticking points with the film: they build up and promise a fucking evil lady mastermind. And then. They don’t. Deliver.

Clarice: It feels lazy. I would hate this if it were any villain (because I do love my brilliant masterminds), but the fact that it’s a rare rare lady mastermind makes it sting all the more.

 

End = Blah.

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Clarice: By the time we hit the denouement of this film I’m just bored. Every goddamn time. Terribly, aggravatingly BORED. *grump face*

Cole: It is is such a bloody letdown. In all honesty, if they had managed to pull off an ending that was just as well paced and fun as the opening I would have been willing to forgive A LOT of the film’s shortcomings that pile up in the in between. As it is, the ending, uninteresting and unfun, only serves to highlight the flaws of Man from U.N.C.L.E. and make me angrier about them.

Clarice: Exactly. It leaves you with that feeling of frustration and letdown, as opposed to exiting you with the same delighted rush that was the beginning.

Cole: About when does it trip and fall face first into the boring shit, do you think?

Clarice: I’d venture the argument that it probably veers about the moment Solo gets captured?

Cole: I think that’s about right.

Clarice: I have communicated my distaste for the ‘infamous torturer’ tangent, and after that it just loses me more and more as it becomes about Hugh Grant explaining things, and the guys getting Gabby back. I mean, as fabulous as Victoria riding her speedboat to her private island is… it doesn’t in and of itself amount to much thrilling.

Cole: It doesn’t. Despite being FABULOUS. As you also mentioned earlier, it gets mired in trying so hard to by a spy film it forgets to be a satire of spy films as well (which is where its true strength and quality lies).

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So. As the eagle-eyed among you may have noticed, what happens when you take the first letters of all of our sections and line them up? What does that acronym spell?

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And if your question is: did we bend over backwards to ensure the first letters of our sections made an acronym for U.N.C.L.E.?? Then the answer is: Yes! Yes, we totally did. AND we found that gif. … We kind of hate ourselves.

But not really. We’re fucking FABULOUS. *runs away*