Blu-ray Review: The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

By , Contributor
Maybe the 1964-68 TV series upon which The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is based simply doesn't have enough cultural cache. Despite an attention-grabbing trailer and a big late-summer marketing push, writer-director Guy Ritchie's action spectacle just didn't snare much of an audience. Now available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD via Warner Bros. Home Entertainment (all three formats are included in the Blu-ray Combo Pack), the film has plenty of zip and zest, but it also suffers from jumbled storytelling and eventually wears out its welcome by the end of its 116 minutes.

The film adaptation sets the story in the same time period as the TV series: the early 1960s, smack dab in the middle of the Cold War. Henry Cavill (Man of Steel) is CIA agent Napoleon Solo. Armie Hammer (The Lone Ranger) is Illya Kuryakin, a KGB operative. They're enemies forced to work together in order to halt the nuclear plans of Nazi sympathizers Alexander (Luca Calvani) and Victoria (Elizabeth Debicki) Vinciguerra. Alicia Vikander is on-hand as Gaby Teller, daughter of former Nazi researcher-turned-U.S. ally Udo Teller (Christian Berkel), the woman Napoleon is initially sent to rescue. 
man from uncle 1 (380x166).jpg There's a whole lot of plot to deal with here and the lack of clear purpose, not to mention characters who are uniformly difficult to warm up to, does Ritchie's efforts a disservice. At some point viewers almost have to shut off their brains and let the action (much of which is cleverly staged) wash over them without trying to follow the tangled storyline. The intentionally stylized acting, particularly detrimental in Cavill's case, doesn't help endear U.N.C.L.E. to viewers. Fans of the TV series will remember MI6 operative Alexander Waverly, portrayed here in a supporting role by Hugh Grant.

On to the good news. In high definition on Warner Bros.' Blu-ray edition, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. looks quite spectacular. John Mathieson's vividly colorful cinematography looks every bit as sharp and nuanced as a big-budget, studio-produced recent film should. Much of U.N.C.L.E. unfolds under relatively low-light conditions, yet the transfer is solid in terms of fine detail. Black levels remain solid throughout. 
man from uncle 2 (380x159).jpg Lots of loud, smash-and-grab special effects dominate the robust Dolby TrueHD 7.1 surround mix, which offers Dolby Atmos for those so equipped. Composer Daniel Pemberton's score fills out the spaces between the bombast very effectively. U.N.C.L.E.'s sound design is consistently inventive and Warner has definitely delivered the goods.

Special features are a bit light, with a series of six relatively brief, superficial featurettes being all we get. The best is the short series "U.N.C.L.E.: On-Set Spy," which offers five snippets (totaling just over five minutes) of behind-the-scenes material that feels just a bit less promotional-oriented than the rest. "Spy Vision: Recreating 60's Cool" focuses on production design elements; "The Guys from U.N.C.L.E." spotlights stars Cavill and Hammer; "A Man of Extraordinary Talents" sings the praises of director Guy Ritchie; "M├ętisse Motorcycles: Proper—and Very British" is a neat look at the bikes utilized in the film; "A Higher Class of Hero" focuses on the staging of the film's often impressive action sequences.

Somewhere buried deep within The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a fresh, funny, stylish action adventure. There are flashes of it here and there throughout Guy Ritchie's film, but on the whole this is a mess and a slog to sit through.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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