From the trailer, after swooning into the eyes of Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer, the assumption was that the star of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. would be the razor sharp jawlines of the aforementioned hunks, burying the lede that this would be one of the most fun movies of the summer.
Based on the 1964 television series of the same title, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., teams up U.N.C.L.E. (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement) agent—the U.S. based Napoleon Solo (Cavill), an undeniably dashing blend of James Bond and Rock Hudson swathed in well-tailored suits and pithy quips—with Illya Kuryakin (Hammer), a mysterious Russian force with a penchant for rage fits and trembly hands. The constantly bickering pair are tasked to bring down an international crime organization that has wayyy too many nuclear weapons for comfort. Their only real lead is Gaby (Alicia Vikander), a German mechanic whose estranged father might be involved in said criminal organization.
Director Guy Ritchie made no attempts to create a modern version of U.N.C.L.E., favoring the original Cold War setting of the television show, which really works to the film's advantage. U.N.C.L.E. satisfies on multiple levels. It's an effective '60s throwback—reminiscent of another '60s throwback gem, 2003's Down With Love starring Reneé Zellweger and Ewan McGregor. U.N.C.L.E. hammers down its '60s setting by completely nailing the aesthetics, from the lush, sweeping European sets to the lust-worthy costumes and Ritchie's split-screen action shots and mod font choices.
It also takes its unbearably handsome leads (U.N.C.L.E. trails behind only Magic Mike XXL as the biggest thirst trap movie of the summer) and mines the secret comedic talents of both men from behind their too-blue eyes. It's also a great action movie, sleek and stylized—Cavill and especially Hammer effortlessly knock their enemies out with punches, guns and various automobiles.
But most of the best action in U.N.C.L.E. is perpetuated by the women. Gaby opens the movie, with Napoleon in the passenger seat, in a high-speed car chase ending with her small car lodged between two buildings. She's also a woman, who when drunk, throws her entire small frame right into Illya initiating a chaste but tense wrestling match. Perhaps even cooler than Gaby is Victoria (Elizabeth Debicki), the villainess behind the whole nuclear weapons operation. She's coolly glamorous in one-shouldered dresses, doling out orders to the men around her. And when they inevitably fuck up she's more than willing to take matters into her own hands.
Surprisingly, it's been a pretty great summer for women in action films. There's been the awesome, always tough gals of the Fast & Furious series and Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow from The Avengers (though yes, she's always underused). While Bryce Dallas Howard's Jurassic World character is certainly problematic, you can't not respect her for saving her people from dinosaurs while running around in business wear. Melissa McCarthy in Paul Feig's action comedy Spy not only brought her signature laughs but also perfected a new side to her often physical comedy—high-octane action. McCarthy more than held her own next to Jason Statham, and this is a guy who starred in Crank.
A relative unknown showed up Ethan Hunt—is he showing his age?—in Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation. Guess who it was? Rebecca Ferguson's Ilsa Faust, who not only served up 1980s Jaqueline Bisset-style glam but out-actioned Action Star Tom Cruise for most of the movie. The woman singlehandedly saved him from a deadly whirlpool and in the same instant stole valuable information from him!
But all bow down to the King of Action this summer: Imperator Furiosa.
Charlize Theron brings the multi-layered Furiosa to life in Mad Max: Fury Road. She kicks more ass with one arm than the entire Fantastic Four squad did with super powers. But at the same time, she's willing to put her own life on the line to defend what's right and casually bring down an entire patriarchal reign.
Furiosa is a perfect example of why the women in this summer's crop of action movies are so remarkable. It's not that these women aren't just kicking ass, but they are, for the most part, fully realized characters—not just token women thrown in. There's motivation behind the bullets they shoot and the punches they throw. The civilizations they aim to destroy and the secrets they are keeping are carefully measured decisions.
It's long been the case with men and action films—so why shouldn't it be any different when women step into the genre? And these films, now including The Man From U.N.C.L.E., prove just how satisfying it is to see. Now, how much longer do we have to wait for Ghostbusters again?