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The Man From UNCLE (Blu-ray Review)

ManUncleIntroDanger has never seemed so alluring when The Man From UNCLE arrives onto Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD and Digital HD from Warner Bros Home Entertainment.  Henry Cavill (“Man of Steel”) stars as Napoleon Solo opposite Armie Hammer (“The Social Network”) as Illya Kuryakin in director Guy Ritchie’s action adventure The Man From UNCLE., a fresh take on the hugely popular 1960s television series. The Man From UNCLE also stars Alicia Vikander (“Ex Machina”), Elizabeth Debicki (“The Great Gatsby”), with JaredHarris (“Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows”), and Hugh Grant as Waverly.  The screenplay was written by Guy Ritchie & Lionel Wigram, who previously collaborated on re-imagining the classic detective Sherlock Holmes in two hit films. The story is by Jeff Kleeman & David Campbell Wilson and Guy Ritchie & Lionel Wigram. John Davis (“Chronicle”), Steve Clark-Hall (“RocknRolla,” the “Sherlock Holmes” films), Wigram and Ritchie produced the film alongside executive producer David Dobkin.

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Film

Set against the backdrop of the early 1960s, at the height of the Cold War, The Man From UNCLE centers on CIA agent Solo and KGB agent Kuryakin. Forced to put aside longstanding hostilities, the two team up on a joint mission to stop a mysterious international criminal organization, which is bent on destabilizing the fragile balance of power through the proliferation of nuclear weapons and technology. The duo’s only lead is the daughter of a vanished German scientist, who is the key to infiltrating the criminal organization, and they must race against time to find him and prevent a worldwide catastrophe.

Trailers for The Man From UNCLE had me pretty excited for this particular spy movie.  Then, following The Kingsman, I was even more in the mood.  2015 is the year of the throwback spy movie.  While The Man From UNCLE is a perfectly fine and enjoyable film, its biggest offense is that its the weakest of all the films (Kingsman, Spy, Rogue Nation & SPECTRE).  That’s not to say, in a year where it could have played more by itself, rather than coming in behind three really terrific entries, it may have stood out and been a more memorable experience.  In this sense, it shows up, pleases and then you go on likely forgetting about it.

Guy Ritchie’s film is a beautiful looking one, that really likes to sit and shout the gorgeous landscapes of the globetrotting being done by his attractive cast.  For him, this movie feels like it shows a lot of restraint and poise compared to his other big works.  For UNCLE, that ends up being both a strength and a weakness.  While the film has its share of action set pieces, they seem to be lacking a sort of “punch” to them.  They come and go, and there isn’t really any takeawy.  Which is odd, because you would think there would be some sort of flare with Ritchie to leave his personal touch on them, making an impact in the sense that you get a sort of director trademark put to it.  Instead Ritchie focuses more on character interactions and sleuthy stealthy sequences.

One clever and enjoyable piece that UNCLE brings to the table is its overly smart “will not be fooled so easily” set of characters.  Its sort of a funny play on how these old spy shows would operate.  Everyone here from Napoleon Solo to Victoria always seems to be just a hair smarter than the other.  The film is a game of who can outsmart who.  Or just, who can outwit the other the most or long enough to win a particular obstacle.  Its something that you get constantly throughout the film, but every time you’re never expecting it.  These characters aren’t “too smart” that you roll your eyes at them, but plenty to make you respect the film for not having any dummies sitting around just letting the good guys win or having the good guys look silly.

If there’s a big strength to the film, it’s the two leads; Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer.  The two play off each other quite well and share good chemistry with one another.  You pretty much buy that they have a respect and admiration for one another, but would kill the other at the drop of a hat.  Its both fun and engaging, and helps out many of the action sequences.  Aaron Neuwirth is right on his assessment that its like watching Roger Moore’s 007 face off against Daniel Craig’s 007.  One weird thing I noticed was how uncomfortable Cavill looked in a suit/tux.  I get that he’s in Superman shape, but these clothes looked oddly tight and awkward on him.  It felt like he had to be super careful, because if he moved the wrong way he’d tear it.

If you’re into the spy fantasy genre, or have just been enjoying the output this year, definitely give The Man From UNCLE a shot.  While you’re hanging out with it, its a very fun time, but a few days down the road it’ll probably be off your mind.  And that’s fine.  In a year where less spy films may have been available (Or had The Kingsman not come first), this one probably could have felt like something more novel.  Cavill and Hammer are terrific on their own and together.  As it is, I liked it well enough and found it harmless, classy and fun, if ultimately not making a stamp or cause to be incredibly memorable in the long run.

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Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

Clarity/Detail:  This is a lovely transfer.  Globetrotting becomes a breathtaking tour of beauty.  These exteriors of places traveled in the film look really awesome and pause-worthy to just gaze at (Not as good as, but reminding me of Skyfall).  Detail is very high in this striking and colorful picture.  

Depth:  Depth comes across very well.  Exteriors look pretty impressive.  People and objects really give some good spacing from their environment.  Movements are smooth and cinematic.  Objects in the background are sharp in static shots when the focus allows.

Black Levels:  Blacks are very solid here.  Shading is really great.  There are plenty of nighttime and darkly lit scenes that this one masterfully reflects its intentions and maintains a good sense of detail.

Color Reproduction:  Colors are made love to by this transfer.  There is a rich palette on display and its lusciously displayed.  I think that’s the intention of the cinematography, to be quite vibrant and it shows without bleeding.  If something has color here, its going to make itself known but not come across as distracting as it works with the picture being painted.

Flesh Tones:  Skin tones are natural throughout.  Facial details like scars, cuts, stubble, make-up, lip texture and the like are visible and nearly every distance.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean

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Audio 

Audio Format(s): English Dolby Atmos, English 7.1 Dolby TrueHD, English Descriptive Audio, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish (Latin) 5.1 Dolby Digital, Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish (Latin), Portuguese

Dynamics:  Matching the great picture quality is an equally awesome audio mix.  From the very engaging quiet moments to the comfortable action sequences, this one features great range and dynamics.  Vocals, effects and music all have a nice loose reign in this balanced mix.  Effects are very distinct and well defined.  If there’s a little piece of a sound hanging around from something, you’ll hear it.  Its a clear and crisp track that will have you engaged from the quieter moments to the loudest.

Low Frequency Extension:  Gun firing, bombs detonating, car and ship engines humming and crashing all feel the vibrations of your subwoofer.  Its an active player and has the ideal amount of effectiveness without digging way too deep or feeling much too light.

Surround Sound Presentation:  I cannot comment on the Atmos track, so this is regarding the 7.1 mix.  As to be expecting, this features some really fun movement and does just keep the action to the front.  The rear and side speakers are given their own bits and pieces to add to the puzzle as well as maintaining good environmental ambiance and filling the score.  Front channels boost and slick and stealthy depiction of movement, distance and placement of action.

Dialogue Reproduction:  Dialogue is crisp and ideally placed in the mix’s volume.

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Extras 

The Man From UNCLE comes with a DVD Copy and an UltraViolet Digital Copy of the film.

Spy Vision: Recreating 60’s Cool (HD, 8:34) – Discusses the stylings, technologies, characterizations and elements being used in creating a period set film like this one.

A Higher Class of Hero (HD, 7:13) – Behind the scenes and analysis of the action sequences in the film.

Metisse Motorcycles: Proper-And Very British (HD, 4:49) – Devoted to the motorcycle in the film and scenes/action bits including it.  Armie Hammer gets to meet the owner of the bikes and see his shop.

The Guys from UNCLE (HD, 4:57) – Talks about the casting and characterization of Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer.

A Man of Extraordinary Talents (HD, 3:16) – This is the featurette where everybody fluffs on how great the director is.  In this case, its Guy Ritchie.  Armie Hammer thinks he’s great at chess.

UNCLE On-Set Spy (HD, 5:16) – A series of behind-the-scenes/on-set videos.

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Summary 

In a year without an abundance of Spy movies and ones that pay tribute to those of old…particularly the 1960s, The Man From UNCLE just might have been more of a standout.  Its perfectly enjoyable, but has been outdone by its contemporaries that left more of a mark and really had more punch.  This Blu-ray features a top of the line video and audio presentation.  As far as extras, you’re left with a bit of a generic bunch.  I think the film is fun enough to warrant owning and a place in your collection (ESPECIALLY if you enjoy spy fantasy) at the right price.  Maybe Black Friday coming up will kick this thing at the ideal $10-12 range.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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