60s Bond in the style of Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes.
It may not have the punch of Bond or the spectacle of Mission: Impossible, but Guy Ritchie's big screen adaptation of the classic Man from UNCLE TV show is both fairly faithful and rather good fun.Although distinctly favouring style over substance - as you would only expect from any Ritchie flick - UNCLE is a charmingly harmless throwback effort steeped in playful 60s trappings, orbiting the surprisingly effective unlikely pairing of Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer. Hammer throws himself into a thickly-accented portrayal of blunt force trauma Russian secret agent Illya Kuryakin, who is reluctantly forced to work with suave CIA operative Napoleon Solo in an effort to stop the nefarious plans of some evil Nazi wannabes who are trying to build their own nuclear bomb. Cavill and Hammer share great chemistry - and palpable antagonism - as they work with Alicia Vikander's East Berlin defector to track down the weapon-of-mass-destruction-in-the-making. It's Cavill who arguably owns the piece, however, jettisoning his Superman tough guy routine in favour of a far more affable - and far from super-tough - spy whose charm and debonair attitude feels lifted right out of the trademark George Clooney character playbook (unsurprisingly, Clooney was once in line for the role).What Cavill distinguishes himself at doing, however, is simply becoming Robert Vaughn's Napoleon Solo. It may well be that only a few viewers will notice the tics and tells, but Cavill is channeling Vaughn in a way not unlike Pine's take on Shatner's Kirk for Abram's first Trek reboot. From his lazy drawl to his laid-back attitude, even over a quarter of a century after last having seen any UNCLE, it's possible to see the distinct similarities, which bring warmth and familiarity to the role. Beyond the three leads, Elizabeth Debicki and Hugh Grant make for strong support, and Ritchie weaves a surprisingly complex web of superspy intrigue as he whips across exotic locales and split-screen music-montaged action sequences. The banter is engaging, the humour in-line with the tone of the piece, and the entertainment undeniable. It may well be Bond-lite, but since the creator of Bond, Ian Fleming himself, originally designed UNCLE to be just that, it's unfair to cite that as a criticism. This may well be only a half-effective origins tale, but it wouldn't be such a bad thing to see it turned full-franchise.
Picture QualityRitchie's trademark style spills out into a yet another visually impressive feature.
The Region Free UK release of UNCLE boasts a largely outstanding 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation, framed in the film's original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 widescreen. Detail is excellent throughout, bringing the 60s decor to life with fine observations, and rendering subtle nuances and palpable textures with aplomb. Even Ritchie's more aggressive stylistic overtones - and first time attempt at purely digital cinematography - do not interfere with his near razor-sharp presentation. Indeed one of the most distinctive elements is the colour scheme, which grounds the piece in full period glory, although the arguably surprisingly prolific night sequences remain a true highlight, with rich, inky blacks and supreme shadow detail - and none of the digital flaws like banding or crush to detract from your absolute enjoyment of said sequences. Overall, a stylish, well-observed demo treat.
Sound QualityDolby Atmos-capable or not, you'll be impressed by the aural accompaniment.The Blu-ray of The Man from UNCLE includes a Dolby Atmos soundtrack that can be listened to in 5.1, 7.1 or various Atmos configurations.
Cas Harlow reviewed the audio using a standard 5.1-channel setup - The accompanying soundtrack is an equal parts period-infused and aggressively steampunk offering, balancing a light jazz score that is reminiscent of not only old UNCLE episodes and early Bond outings, but also the similarly period set Harry Palmer films, like The Ipcress File and Funeral in Berlin (which covers some similar ground), with all the pomp and fury you'd only expect from a Ritchie film. Dialogue remains prevalent across the piece, dominating the front and centre channels where appropriate, effortlessly promoted with clarity and precision, whilst the multitude of languages spark up suitably stylish subtitles (which are even implemented in one innovative spy sequence where they are listening into a bug they planted on a target). Effects are myriad, from the unexpectedly powerful engines of the vehicles in the early chase sequence, to the thwap of the silenced pistols; from the rattle of assault rifle fire to the boom of detonated explosives. Racetrack cars screech across the soundstage, bullets ping around you, and an electric current sizzles right through you. The track promotes great sound design, although the highlights are almost all music-orientated, with Ritchie often drowning down the rest of the sounds into nothing as he lets operatic, classical or jazz pieces to engulf you whilst his stylish split-screen action takes the stage. With welcome input from the LFE channel, this is a superb aural accompaniment.
Steve Withers reviewed the audio using a 7.2.4-channel Dolby Atmos setup - The full Dolby Atmos soundtrack retains all the surround performance mentioned by Cas above but adds a degree of greater immersiveness thanks to the use of the overhead speakers. However compared to some of the other Dolby Atmos soundtracks that we've reviewed recently, The Man from UNCLE lacks that real sense of dimensionality found on the best Dolby Atmos mixes. There are strong points of course and dialogue is crystal clear, which is important in a film that places so much importance on witty banter. The Atmos soundtrack also serves the jazzy score well, bringing the music to the fore and complimenting the 60s-influenced on-screen visuals. The low frequency effects are also nicely rendered with bass energy perfectly balanced with the rest of the sound field, giving even the silenced pistols a nice percussive kick. The surround effects are also well placed within the 360 degree surround field, moving around the room with a high degree of precision. Whether its fist fights, gunshots or explosions, the soundtrack handles them all well and delivers plenty of dynamic range. Where the mix is somewhat let down is in terms of the overhead speakers, which get very little use throughout the entire film. As a result the sound design feels anchored to a single plane and doesn't deliver the hemisphere of sound found on great Atmos discs like Mad Max: Fury Road. The overhead speakers are used on occasion and when they do they really add to the sense of environment, such as with echoes or ricochets. However the stand-out sequence is a chase in off-road vehicles that really brings the entire mix to life, especially as one of the vehicles crashes and rolls down a hill with the sounds following the on-screen action. Overall the Dolby Atmos soundtrack on The Man from UNLCE is good but not quite up there with the best mixes we have heard.
ExtrasA slew of featurettes - unfortunately amounting to little more than half an hour of material - provide some insight into the production.
Recreating 60s Cool is one of the more chunky offerings, which looks behind the inspirations for the piece, and then investigates the period setting, sets, costumes and location. A Higher Class of Hero tries to explain how they distinguished the action sequences from the norm, whilst The Guys from UNCLE focuses on our two lead actors and A Man of Extraordinary Talents focuses on the writer/director. On-Set Spy collects 4 brief minute-long additions into rather specific background quirks from the production, and we also get a specific Featurette on the restoration of the period bikes used in the film.
Blu-ray VerdictIt may well be Bond-lite, but since the creator of Bond, Ian Fleming himself, originally designed UNCLE to be just that, it's unfair to cite that as a criticism.
The Man from UNCLE's impressive video and audio can't be brought down even by its unhealthy smattering of insubstantial extras, and it remains a solid package for fans of the film. Don't be too put off by the negative reviews and comments about the film; it may not hold the clout of brutal giants like Bond or Bourne; or thrill you to the edge of your seat like the standout Mission: Impossible outings, but it remains a fun, frivolous little throwback piece which is pretty entertaining in its own right.
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