Turning one of the most beloved 1960s spy TV series into a movie was always going to be a gamble, but in the blokey hands of Guy Ritchie all is safe. It’s everything you’d hope for – stylish, great clothes, cool soundtrack, a decent enough plot about saving the world from a sociopath, and full of period detail.
Where it falls down is in the crucial chemistry between the leads – Armie Hammer does well as the grumpy, disapproving Soviet agent Kuryakin, but Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo is so wooden you wonder why someone doesn’t mistake him for a park bench and sit on him. There is no chemistry at all between either of them and Alicia Vikander, whose ‘aren’t I pretty’ routine is becoming slightly wearing.
After a brilliant opening sequence, where the credits are a clear homage to every 1960s spy thriller you’ve ever seen, Solo frees Vikander’s Gaby from an East Berlin, that is brilliantly realised by the set department. This pretty much sets the template for the rest of the movie – slow-mo car chases, bullets pinging around, cheesy one-liners – think an old-school James Bond.
The trio are then teamed up in a very funny sequence in a Berlin park – and they take on an evil, rich gang intent on getting their hands on a nuclear warhead – you know the drill. They are led by the glamorous Elizabeth Debicki, who happens to live in Italy – handy, if you want lots of shots of gorgeous coastline, beautiful cars and designer 60s clothes. The gang also contains a Nazi torturer, also useful if you want a go-to baddy our heroes can have some fun with.
Fun is the key word here, and there’s plenty of it. One of the best sequences has Kuryakin zooming round a harbour in a speedboat trying to escape a couple of armed heavies, while Solo sits back watching, with a delicious cheese and tomato sandwich and glass of local Italian red in his hand, trying to decide whether to jump in and help.
Ritchie uses quite a few techniques he refined in the Sherlock Holmes films, especially the showing-you-what-happened sequence then going back and filling in the gaps in slow-mo. He just about gets away with it, as does Hugh Grant, still doing his silly-ass English twit but looking grey and weary now.
Talking of performances, Cavill shows why he got so roughly treated on his Superman film. He resembles a giant oak, physically impressive but barely capable of moving, let alone emoting. Hammer does a much better job as the Russian with a past of psychotic episodes, losing his temper wildly but always leaving room for a pratfall or a gag. He’s great. The same can’t be said of Vikander, who seems to think pouting and fluttering her eyelashes is the same as serious acting. She has zero sexual chemistry with either lead, a crucial part of the original TV series – Solo’s brief encounter with a hotel receptionist is the one flash of real sexiness.
Overall verdict: Uber-stylish, glamorous and fun return to the cold war, with fantastic clothes, great music, a cod plot, cheesy dialogue, a couple of great gags and some wobbly acting. It won’t change your life but it’s two hours’ worth of solid entertainment.
Reviewer: Mike Martin