The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was a midsummer delight as glossy as a perfume ad and more fun than a kiss with a stranger. But not many people saw it. Was the advertising to blame? When your raison d’être is putting comically beautiful people everywhere, you don’t obscure their pretty mugs on the posters. Or the title itself? Named for a show nobody under the age of 50 knows, the film diverged mightily from its nominal source material, confusing everyone.
Still, it didn’t do abysmally, and as summer drags on and people look for a distraction on humid afternoons, I predict it will remain on the charts as a sleeper, gaining slow and steady viewership. You can’t not want to see it after reading this. The ending, in which Hugh Grant’s character gives the agents another mission and tells them to grab their “curly whirly shoes,” certainly leaves the door open for a sequel.
Afterall, a sequel would give us more of the zany fun, the unashamedly silly dialogue, the dryly delivered non-sequiturs, and the old fashioned sight-gag humor.
On the other hand, one of the most pleasantly surprising elements was how (mild spoiler) the “romance” was handled. The previews made it look like a tiresome, overdone love triangle. But Henry Cavill’s character, Napoleon Solo, in a manner fitting his excellently over-the-top name and appearance, gave zero fucks about being part of the equation. They could have stopped there and still had the other two kiss at the end, the way these things usually happen in movies…
Another running gag (mild spoiler) was how their relationship never came to fruition and thus enabled the woman to pass the Mako Mori Test. For a movie accused of being “trite,” Man From U.N.C.L.E. is quietly subversive.
A sequel might tarnish this, feeling pressured to consummate their relationship. Its stars also occupy that odd Hollywood space in which their faces are recognizable (as Superman and as the Winkelvi), but they aren’t so famous that they can’t disappear into the roles — an increasingly rare treat among modern splashy blockbusters. George Clooney and Tom Cruise were both originally slated to star, and as a simple “George Clooney movie” or — shudder at the thought — a “Tom Cruise movie,” it would have lost most of its charm.
Most modern entries in the genre are carried on the shoulders of recognizable brands like Tom Cruise or Jason Bourne. In the true sleepy-revolutionary spirit of the ‘60s, Man From U.N.C.L.E. is charmingly contrary in its presence in a genre that has been taken over by franchises-on-franchises.
But action franchises are precisely why a sequel may never happen. As the Man of Steel, Henry Cavill is shackled by the DC chains until the end of time; Guy Ritchie has a whale of a six-movie project in the works, and Alicia Vikander is appearing in virtually every movie coming out this year. It looks like the U.N.C.L.E. gang might have suavely danced their way out of even addressing the issue of a sequel — unless poor Armie Hammer wants to do one himself.