The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)
Taking a popular franchise that is familiar to fortysomethings and remaking it for modern audiences is a difficult proposition and a calculated risk. More often than not such undertakings fail. Consider The Wild Wild West, The Avengers (no not that one, the other) and more recently The Lone Ranger. The problem lies in trying to make a film that can please all audiences. Often the finished product is too different from original material to appeal to the “get off my lawn” brigade. Younger viewers often have no connection to the franchise or knowledge of the era it came from. This results in the film failing to find a market and leads to box office failure. However it doesn’t necessarily indicate that the movie is poor per se.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a text book example of this phenomenon, which is a shame. Guy Ritchie’s action comedy is far from a bad film. It’s stylish, sporting a wonderful stylised 60s production design and also has an amusing script. There are numerous homages and clever references to the spy genre, specifically those from the sixties. There’s more than a touch of Bond to the action scenes, international locations and some of the characters personal traits. The movies also boast a splendid cross section of international popular music from the period. The cast are also rather engaging. I was quite surprised by the lead performances from both Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer. I actually came away from watching The Man from U.N.C.L.E. quite entertained.
Yet I can totally understand why this movie was not commercially successful. For anyone unfamiliar with the original sixties TV show, this remake is just another comedy spy drama set in a period of history that is now just a chapter in a history book. An equivalent movie in a similar idiom such as Spy has the advantage of a contemporary setting and a broader rating. It is far more accessible and has no barriers to entry. Older viewers are similarly perplexed by The Man from U.N.C.L.E. as it is not an identical copy of what they are familiar with. The cast may not be known to them and the postmodern sensibilities of this film can be a major stumbling block. Nostalgia is sometimes a millstone.
Yet despite the odds being stacked against them, film studios still seem to back remakes of classic TV shows and movies. The allure of creating a franchise is strong and there are a handful of successful examples, such as the Mission Impossible movies, that appear to justify the risks involved. Therefore the recycling of “classic” content from the past five decades of TV and cinema is likely to continue. I have no doubt that the levels of success and failure will also remain the same.