These days, moviegoers seem to like their spies the same way they like their superheroes: deeply burdened and possibly even depressed. (“Leaner, meaner, and a whole lot darker” is how one critic described the actor Daniel Craig’s hugely successful incarnation of James Bond.) “I happen to prefer movies that don’t take themselves too seriously,” says the English director Guy Ritchie, who identifies more closely with Sean Connery’s goofier 007 of the 1960s. The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Ritchie’s new spy caper adapted from the American TV series, is an old-school romp—slick and stylish but ultimately lighthearted.
In the film, Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill), an impeccably tailored, Cold War era CIA spook who doesn’t mind slicing a bit of truffle into his eggs, must team up with a KGB brute (Armie Hammer) who is more blunt instrument than sophisticated secret agent. Their mission is to stop an international crime ring led by an aristocrat (Elizabeth Debicki) from putting nuclear warheads into the wrong hands. In a way, it’s a classic odd-couple comedy, only supercharged with hair-raising car chases, glamorous ’60s fashion, luxurious European hotels, and a mysterious beauty (Alicia Vikander). “I borrowed from the original series and its time period,” Ritchie says. “But I got rid of the stuff I didn’t like. For example, the use of a karate chop, you know?”