Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. review

I've never actually seen the original show; before my time I guess. The trailer for this movie did not look interesting to me, but a friend recommended it so I gave it a try.

I was given the impression that this was an action movie, so I was quite surprised when the movie took every opportunity to not show any action. Apart from the first scene, pretty much all the action in the movie takes place off-camera or in the background. For example (mild spoiler warning for the rest of this paragraph), there's a scene where the Illya - or "the Russian" as I thought of him for the whole movie - is in a boat chase, being fired upon by pursuers with heavy machine guns. We don't actually get to watch this chase however; no, we get to watch Solo - "the American" - sit down and eat a sandwich. Gripping stuff.

I'm really not exaggerating, every single action scene after the first is either completely or mostly off-camera. Even the death scenes of the main villains are mostly off-camera. Not that it matters very much since the villains are not interesting or characterful or amusing or intimidating. In fact I wasn't even sure that they were the villains; I was still waiting for the real bad guy to show up when I realised the movie was over.

Not that the main characters have much more depth. The American is, well, James Bond Light (although I reckon he's more James Bond than Daniel Craig ever was); I actually thought that them nicknaming him "the cowboy" was completely nonsensical. The Russian is a Big Angry Russian, that's pretty much it, he's basically a cartoon. And the Girl is, well, a token and a plot device but never anything more than that. I wouldn't mind the characters being shallow if they were entertaining or there was some meat to their relationships with each other, but there really wasn't. They work together unwillingly, then the movie ends. There is virtually no character development, poor relationship development, and a noticeable absence of snappy dialogue.

Despite all that, I actually found the Russian fairly likeable. I wanted to like the American; the whole "always keeps his cool no matter what" thing he had going on should have been fun, but to me he crossed the thin line between amusing and obnoxious. The Girl was just completely unlikeable. I don't think she smiled once the whole film, she never did anything interesting or entertaining except for the one time when she strangely went completely loco for no real reason then passed out - to be clear I didn't think that was entertaining or contributed in any way to the movie, except to try to push a completely bafflingly unbelievable and undeveloped romantic sub-plot. Really, she was the worst part of the film. To be clear I'm not blaming the actress, just the writing.

The plot is only barely serviceable; it does the bare minimum necessary to give the characters a reason to work together while trying to throw in a plot twist or two, but never really fleshes anything out or manages to raise the tension much or, well, got me to actually give a damn.

So the movie doesn't focus on the action, plot, characters, or relationships. Then just what does it focus on? Well, to be honest, I don't know. Thinking back, I just can't remember where the run-time went. I guess I'd say it was just busy-work and weak gags. Actually, I think that's the perfect word to describe it: the whole movie is just weak.

Well, I guess it's stylish at least. It's mildly amusing, you probably won't get bored enough to actually walk away or regret watching it, but you won't remember it once it's over.

Overall I give it a 6/10. I suppose it's not the worst way to spend a couple of hours if you have nothing good to do or watch.


Let's count down the action scenes, shall we?
  1. The car chase. Mostly on-screen if I recall.
  2. The first toilet fight. Largely on screen with cuts to two old guys talking, but very short, uneventful, and poorly shot such that it has no impact.
  3. The mugging scene. Nothing happens except for one quick punch.
  4. The second toilet fight. Happens completely off-screen.
  5. The boat chase. Happens largely off-screen, as we're treated to the sight of the American exploring the contents of a picnic basket.
  6. The scene where the Russian escapes. Nothing happens.
  7. Rudi's death scene. Happens in the background.
  8. Storming the enemy base. This could have been an awesome scene, with a small army of commandos invading a stronghold. Instead it was cut down to a brief montage of unconnected one-second snippets, with several shown on-screen at the same time so you couldn't even focus on a single event.
  9. The car chase. This could have been amazing, with vastly different vehicles speeding over rough terrain, with the tables continually turning as the terrain favoured one side or the other. Instead it's poorly edited such that it's hard to see the relationship between the vehicles and hard to tell if the pursuers are gaining or falling back, then it ends.
  10. Alexander's death scene. Technically this is a fight scene, but the camera spends more time showing the Russian trying to stand up than actually showing what's happening in the fight, all we see are a bunch of unconnected blows with little sense of continuity. Then he gets stabbed, but we don't actually see it; we just see him fall back with the knife in his guts.
  11. Victoria's death scene. She just talks on the radio then the camera cuts back to show an explosion from the distance. I actually found it very anti-climatic.
  12. The final fight between the Russian and the American. Does not happen.

Talk about funny casting decisions; an American plays the Russian, a Brit plays the American, and a Swede plays the German. No idea how this came about, but sure, why not.

Let's come back to Gaby. She was almost amazingly boring, and did nothing but sit there and pout for most of her scenes; I don't think she ever displayed an actual emotion. Even when she finds out her dad was killed, she's just like "oh well, he died a long time ago to me", shrugs and moves on. Um, OK? I can see now why she was willing to put her life in so much risk to save him?

By the way, what the hell was that scene in the hotel? She's about to try to infiltrate an incredibly dangerous criminal organisation tomorrow. Her life, her father's life, and the security of the whole world will be at stake. So what does she do? Get stinking drunk on a bottle of hard liqueur. Obviously. Because being hung over is a fantastic plan for such a high-stakes occasion.

So now that she's completely drunk, what next? Well, she body-tackles the most dangerous agent in the KGB. Bear in mind that the only things she knows about this man so far is that he's twice her size, has anger management issues, and a couple of days ago he was trying to capture or kill her. What could possibly go wrong? OK, I can accept that for some reason when she gets drunk she turns violent (I don't think it's realistic or funny or endearing, but I can accept it if I have to). What I can't accept is that, while so drunk that she's literally seconds away from passing out, we're supposed to believe that she's capable of pinning down the Russian. Look, I know she's a mechanic (no, she's not a trained agent, she was only recruited recently to sit and wait for people to come to her) and that means she probably has a degree of wiry strength, but SHE'S HALF HIS WEIGHT. At best. If he could do push-ups, then he could push her off, at least the way she was supposedly pinning him, and we know this guy's strong; they made sure of that already with scenes like the one where he's physically impeding a car. That's not even taking into account that he's THE BEST AGENT IN THE KGB!

Oh, let me guess, "he was taking it easy on her". This is the guy who couldn't stop himself from hitting someone even though it risked his mission and the security of the free world, and he's currently very angry because he had to stand there and let a couple of minor punks steal his father's watch. And she just slapped him in the face twice then attacked him. No, he is NOT going to simply allow himself to be pinned for fear of hurting her.

Then I'm supposed to believe he starts to feel attracted to her while she's attacking him? What is it about an angry Russian KGB agent that makes you think he would be attracted to crazy German woman who violently attacks him? In the middle of a time when all the countries in Europe have a lot of bad blood between them? Personally I think that if she actually managed to out-wrestle him, it would be a blow to his pride and it would not endear her to him, at least not immediately. Maybe they would laugh about it later, but that would be later.

Bleh, every single thing about that whole scene was completely screwed up, I have no idea why the hell anyone thought it would be a good idea. I guess it's just supposed to make us think "she's tough", even though she spends the beginning and end of the film being rescued. Honestly, I see this all the time; a woman gets one strong scene (in terms of her being strong, not the scene; most these scenes are quite poorly done) so a movie or series can pretend to be progressive, then spends the rest of it's run time having her get captured and need rescuing. You know what? If you want to make a woman look tough, make her useful and reliable and capable of keeping up with the men for the entire run-time, don't just try to throw in a token scene that runs contrary to the entire rest of the movie.

Why does the best agent in the KGB have anger management issues? Surely you need a lot of discipline to be the best agent in the KGB? Why is this guy picked as a spy if he's so bad at it that he can't even stop himself from punching someone for the sake of not blowing his cover?

How was the American so familiar with the Russian's watch that he was able to spot it in the middle of a firefight? It's a very plain-looking watch that even the Russian confused another watch for at one point, so it's not like it stands out.

How was it the American's plan to get the car jammed right up against a window? Ho could he plan that, especially when he wasn't driving? Plus the car was driving on it's rims so the actual speed and manoeuvrability would be very difficult to judge, never mind that actually figuring out exactly where it would get stuck was impossible to begin with. Or was it not his plan, he just acted like it was because he just takes everything in stride all the time anyway?

They wanted the dad to finish the bomb in 20 minutes? Yet they waited 2 days to just grab the girl and use her for leverage, even though they knew where she was from the moment she entered the country? Makes no sense.

Why did they even need the dad to build the bomb if they all understood so much about the process that he couldn't even do anything wrong without them spotting it? If the already knew how every part is supposed to work, surely they could have done it without him?

You know what? If you want us to be surprised that some guy earlier in the movie is actually a British agent, then don't cast one of the most famous British actors in the world! Chances are when they see him people will be thinking "hmm, that can't be it, I'll bet he's important later".

The bit where the two don't kill each other at the end was anticlimatic. Plus the way that the Russian just slowly took his time drawing the gun even though the American could see him in the mirror was incredibly stupid. Also, the American was clearly not reaching for the watch; that was poorly shot in an overly aggressive yet obvious attempt to mislead us. But the Russian, who's all hopped up on adrenaline and ready to shoot the American, just stops and catches something that his enemy throws at him, rather than assuming it's an attack or a distracting and pulling his gun? Also, why was recovering his dad's watch enough to make him turn traitor? He didn't betray his mission to stop it from being taken in the first place, so why now? Don't tell me it's because he was "closer" to the American now; he clearly wasn't, as we can tell at the very end. And why was the American ready to burn the disc, even though his superiors already knew he had it (no way the Russians knew but the Americans didn't)?

So, despite them technically failing the mission (to retrieve the plans, so part of the mission at least), they were picked for this new task force? Why is the girl there, she didn't do anything that required skill (she couldn't even out-drive the Russian when her car was much, much better - she couldn't even out-drive the Russian while he was on foot!), the only reason she was useful at all was because of her father.

By the way, when the new task force is announced they all just sit there with glum unhappy faces. That's literally where the movie ends! I mean, really? Are you seriously telling me that's the ending you wanted for your film? The main characters unhappily resigned to the fact that they have to spend more time together against their will? What is the matter with you?

So where's Megatron? I heard that the custom P38 was in the movie, but good luck actually identifying it. They could have at least had it in the poster, but no; seems to be a Makarov and a Browning Hi-Power.

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