The biography on IMDb of multi-Oscar-winning director William Wyler, who gave us the timeless Roman Holiday, argues that his genius is not recognised because of ‘the lack of an obvious signature’. In our age of baubles, sound bites and ever-bigger splashes, a trend to overvalue the filmmaker who hammers the boldest imprimatur into his work has become rampant. Guy Ritchie is one such beneficiary of this cult of celebrity (though credit where it’s due: RocknRolla was a ripper). His movies are very blokey, in a gay macho way, and his penchant for making an impact through the visually startling has nearly always betrayed an inclination to place style before content. And so it is here.
Towards the end of his adaptation of the iconic sixties TV series, Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) break into a dockside warehouse. I realised that I was not exactly sure why they were doing that, but worse, I didn’t really care. Ritchie, perhaps fearing that others in his audience might be feeling similarly disconnected, falls back on the old split-screen device to wake us up. The trick succeeds, as eye candy nearly always does, and it leads to a spectacularly well-done set-piece that involves a truck landing on top of a boat – all of it accompanied by contrived music. Indeed, Ritchie’s reliance on soundtrack only highlights the paucity of his narrative (but again, credit where it’s due – the scene with Alicia Vikander dancing in her jammies to Solomon Burke’s Cry to Me is fab). Cavill is fine in the rather anodyne Robert Vaughn role, but the smartest decision that Ritchie made was to not try to come up with a new David McCallum. Hammer is huge and dense, so none of us need fear an overwhelming attack of nostalgia for the snowy-haired original. The two stars work well together, and it is good to see Hugh Grant back doing his shtick, albeit respectably grey and bespectacled, it’s just a pity that the material they’re given is so trite.