Directed by: Guy Ritchie. For some reason, it took me until this movie to reflect that we are now in the third phase of Guy Ritchie’s career. Don’t get me wrong—I feel silly taking Ritchie as seriously as I do, because from day one, he has been guilty of personifying everything that every crusty old cinema patriarch hates about modern film: the style-over-substance, MTV-generation, postmodern fetishization of the camera apparatus and editing tricks. Guilty as charged. But also, from day one, from the very first time I saw Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, I have thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. There was a bit of a rough patch there with his “middle period”, a bit of a wilderness period where he did the Madonna film that everyone hated, followed by Revolver, which was totally confusing and bizarre (mostly because Jason Statham has long, straggly hair in it), and then Rocknrolla, which to my eyes looked more like a Guy Ritchie knockoff movie like Smokin Aces or something than a Guy original. But to me, once he started doing those Sherlock Holmes films, he found his feet again. They weren’t great films, but really, were Lock Stock and Snatch ever really great films? Or were they really fun little tongue-in-cheek gangster movies? To me, the appeal of Guy Ritchie films was that they were gritty movies about tough guys that owed more cinematically and tonally to the Spice Girls movie than to Goodfellas. That’s exactly what I want in a Guy Ritchie movie; that and some slow motion bare-knuckle fighting. The trailer for the upcoming King Arthur movie shows that there will be, indeed, slow motion shots of shirtless men bareknuckle boxing, but that is one element regrettably missing in Man From U.N.C.L.E. Oh well, it’s still an enjoyable movie. Maybe the most interesting thing about this movie, though, was how it barely held onto the structure of an acceptable action thriller, and yet still kept me with it. I mean, the antagonism, the whole plot where the spies have to stop the bad guys from getting the bomb, that whole thing was so undercooked it barely counts as a plot at all. And really, to split hairs, it was a subplot, because the movie was actually about Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer getting to become friends and work together and respect each other. But of course, the film needed some kind of purpose, some bad guy, some great cause that would be the occasion of them working together and getting to know each other, etc. And I’m afraid, as much as I liked this movie, as much as I like watching Guy Ritchie’s plots and characters and listening to his dialogue, this is a pretty meandering, half-assed movie. The romantic subplot was probably the worst romance I’ve seen in a Ritchie movie (and that’s saying something), although the film does have two great roles for women, which I think is a career high for Guy Ritchie. What can you say? The action is really great, and there’s tons of great little bits—listening to Jared Harris’s hamfisted American accent, or watching the dapper Napoleon Solo put on a bib and enjoy a momentary picnic in the middle of a big chase scene (something that looks directly lifted from Downey Jr’s Sherlock Holmes persona), and that silly dance scene from Alicia Vikander (which mirrors the silly dance between Thandie Newton and Gerard Butler in Rocknrolla), all of that shit is really enjoyable. So maybe this is defining characteristic of Guy Ritchie’s movies—it’s technically a pretty poorly-made forest, but the trees are so satisfying to look at. And at the risk of making a dumber metaphor, I’ll just end it there.