Gaby, the estranged daughter of a Nazi scientist turned U.S. defector, is the initial impetus for bringing Solo and stoic KGB agent Ilya Kuryakin (Hammer) together. Both the United States and Russian intelligence agencies have discovered that Gaby’s father, Dr. Udo Teller (Christian Berkel) has been recruited by Nazi sympathizer power couple Victoria and Alexander Vinciguerra (Debicki and Luca Calvani) to develop a nuclear weapon. In an effort to keep the nuclear weapon out of even worse hands, the CIA and the KGB decide to briefly and begrudgingly put aside their differences in order to unite against a common enemy.
Of course, it takes a lot longer for Solo and Kuryakin to learn to trust each other – and even, perhaps, to like each other. Both of their first two meetings involves a shootout or an extended bout of fisticuffs in the men’s bathroom (as the great Jared Harris’s Agent Sanders looks on in amusement), while the third involves a verbal goading match at a quaint local cafe. Meanwhile, Solo and Kuryakin have each been secretly instructed by their respective agencies to pilfer the nuclear plans for themselves – adding an undercurrent of suspense to the otherwise straightforward mission.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E unabashedly thrives on the magnetic appeal of its cast, but the appeal is more than just skin-deep. Cavill, who normally coasts by on the performance of his glass-cutting cheekbones, gets to flex his funny bone throughout the movie as well, delivering a droll performance that elevates situational comedy to actual art.
His buddy-cop chemistry with Hammer drives much of the humor, and Hammer himself brings a sparkle to an otherwise stale role. (Plus, Hammer’s Russian thick accent isn’t half bad!) Vikander is a master at playing “more to her than meets the eye,” as her inscrutable gaze lures you in at every plot twist and turn. And Elizabeth Debicki plays Elizabeth Debicki to a tee and takes the concept of a femme fatale to a whole new level. She’s so alluring, and so preternaturally comfortable in a dazzling array of gowns and finery, that you’ll forget she’s embodying a well-worn stereotype and relish every moment she spends on the screen.
The movie’s lush, ‘60s-era color palette is like a character of its own, playing right into expectations about James Bond-type spy dramas. But The Man From U.N.C.L.E plays against those expectations as well, leading to some of the movie’s most memorable – and understatedly hilarious – moments. There’s a dramatic moment in which Solo is about to be tortured in an electric chair, but it’s undercut by a comedic malfunctioning of said torture device.
There’s Solo’s suave lie-down on Victoria’s couch when he realizes he’s been drugged and just decides to roll with it. And there are two brilliant scenes in which chaos reigns in the background while (in one) Kuryakin calmly plays chess and (in another) Solo partakes in an impromptu picnic. In both scenes – as in the rest of the movie – the contrasting narratives of bombastic action and stylized satire stitch together into a scintillating cinematic whole.
Allyson can be found hiding from adult responsibilities on Twitter at @TheFakeFangirl and overanalyzing time travel stories at The Fake Fangirl.