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U.N.C.L.E., Mission: Impossible seem unrelated to their TV namesakes
Robert Vaughn, left, originated the role of Napoleon Solo, with David McCallum as Illya Kuryakin, in the TV series "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." (1964-68). - photo by Chris Hicks
Instead of the TV series on which it is based, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. seems to be following the template of the Mission: Impossible movies take your title from a beloved television program and toss the shows concept out the window.

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. are both major summer action movies that opened within a couple of weeks of each other, and both are remakes or reboots of 1960s TV series that are fondly remembered by fans of a certain age.

But these films also demonstrate a certain contempt for their source material, which begs the question: Why are they named after these shows at all?

Rogue Nation is a hit that has legs Hollywood-speak for movies that continue to pull in box-office bucks well after opening weekend but the future of U.N.C.L.E. is less certain.

That may be because the Man From U.NC.L.E. TV series is unknown to todays target demographic, meaning young uns. Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation is more familiar, being the fifth movie in a popular franchise.

Rogue Nation is also bolstered by its name-above-the-title star, Tom Cruise, while the stars of U.N.C.L.E. are less familiar.

Henry Cavill, who plays the first lead spy in U.N.C.L.E., was Superman in the recent Man of Steel (2013), a role hell reprise in next years Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. But it can be difficult for a leading man to leave behind an iconic character and find success in other films. Only time will tell if thats a problem for Cavill.

Same thing with Armie Hammer, who plays the second lead spy in U.N.C.L.E. His only other lead role was as the title character in The Lone Ranger (2013), a flop in the United States but a hit worldwide, with Johnny Depp as Tonto getting top billing.

Cavill and Hammer share lead billing in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. On the print I saw, Hammer had top billing in the opening credits and Cavill had top billing in the end credits.

As for the films, I personally much prefer Rogue Nation over U.N.C.L.E. Not that the latter is bad. There are some good action sequences, and a couple of gags are pretty funny (though most of the attempts at humor fall flat), but its another example of style over substance by director Guy Ritchie, with flashy camerawork and edgy editing (including a 1960s throwback, split-screen action) often overwhelming the story.

But, as mentioned above, it does have something in common with the first Mission: Impossible it strays from the original series to such a degree that, were it not for the two spies names being Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, thered be no resemblance at all.

Obviously, a filmmaker who is tackling a remake doesnt want to be slavish to the original. He wants to make the film his own.

The best examples of movies-from-TV shows that accomplish this well are J.J. Abrams two Star Trek films (2009, 2013) and Andrew Davis The Fugitive (1993), which are very much their own creations but are also quite faithful to their roots.

So if you dont want to stick to the premise of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., just do some other spy film set in the 1960s and call the characters by different names. Fifty years later, who would even recognize any U.N.C.L.E. connection?

Thats also how I felt about Cruises first Mission: Impossible (1996). And if you havent seen that film, beware of spoilers ahead.

The first M:I movie veered so dramatically from the original TV show that it might as well have just been called Ethan Hunt (the name of Cruises character) or some generic action-movie title. (You know, like Die Hard. There hasnt been a movie called John McClane, but no one seems to care.)

By the end of the first Mission: Impossible movie, not a single character from the TV show is left. Worse, it trashes the whole idea of the M:I series, which was all about teamwork, about how these agents with disparate talents worked together to take down the bad guys each week.

That first Cruise film kills off the entire team in the opening sequence. Worse, however, is that team-leader Jim Phelps (Peter Graves in the TV show, Jon Voight in the movie) is revealed at the end to be a traitorous villain.

This allows Cruises Ethan Hunt to become a maverick agent early in the first film, working on his own, which is also what he does in the first two sequels. It might as well be just another James Bond riff.

As if to apologize for the first films sins, Cruise as Hunt becomes part of a team again in the fourth film, Ghost Protocol, which continues into the current Rogue Nation. So why couldnt they just do that in the first place?

Similarly, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is about two competing wild-card agents, Napoleon Solo (Cavill) of the CIA and Illya Kuryakin (Hammer) of the KGB, at odds over a mission in the opening sequence. Then they reluctantly team up after being ordered to do so by the CIA and KGB.

And for the rest of the movie, they fight, bicker, quarrel and declare that they prefer to work alone. Neither trusts the other.

Meanwhile, Cavills Solo is revealed to be a former art thief coerced into service with the CIA, and Kuryakin has anger issues and may be psychotic.

This is far afield from the Solo and Kuryakin played by Robert Vaughn and David McCallum in the TV series, in which they are not adversaries at all. In fact, in the pilot episode, Kuryakin refers to Solo as his friend. And they work together quite amicably with no apparent animosity.

On television in the 1960s, having an American agent and a Soviet agent working together during the Cold War was a metaphor for dtente. And they work together for the international spy network U.N.C.L.E. (an acronym for United Network Command for Law and Enforcement).

Weirdly, except for the title, U.N.C.L.E. is never even mentioned until the films closing moments, when the organizations chief, Alexander Waverly (Leo G. Carroll in the TV show, Hugh Grant in the movie), tells Solo and Kuryakin they are now a team working for him.

Perhaps a second film if there is one will be more like the show it is supposedly based on.

Hey, it happened with Mission: Impossible. It just took four films to get there.