An Underrated Henry Cavill Spy Thriller Is Killing It On Streaming

Henry Cavill's 2015 movie The Man from U.N.C.L.E is in the top 10 most-watched movies on HBO Max.

By Nathan Kamal | Published

For many years, Henry Cavill was a perpetual contender for the role of James Bond, reportedly coming close before being beaten out by Daniel Craig for 2005’s Casino Royale. It is difficult not to treat his 2015 spy thriller The Man from U.N.C.L.E. as something of a consolation prize, given that the stylish 1960s period-piece film has all the qualities of 007 without being quite name brand. However, the Henry Cavill film is getting a second life and perhaps a critical reappraisal on HBO Max, where it is currently one of the top 10 most streamed movies on the platform.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. stars Henry Cavill as the awesomely named Napoleon Solo, a roguish CIA agent in 1963 who comes into conflict with a violence-prone KGB agent named Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) while extracting Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander) from East Berlin. It swiftly becomes apparent that all three are going to team up to take down a conspiracy of post-WWII Nazis building a nuclear device, but the majority of the film is about the chemistry of the team and their very, very stylish outfits. 

Guy Ritchie directed The Man from U.N.C.L.E. in his post-Sherlock Holmes rebound, when it must have been logical to assume that the guy who turned Robert Downey Jr. into an ass-kicking Victorian detective could put some of the same magic on Henry Cavill as almost-James Bond. The film is based on a 1964 television series starring Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, which actually enlisted James Bond creator Ian Fleming to help develop the franchise. If you’re going to go with a knock-off James Bond, you can certainly do worse than Napoleon Solo.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. had a tortuous development process, first beginning in the 1990s (most likely in response to Pierce Brosnan’s revival of the 007 franchise). Over the decades, everyone from Steven Soderbergh to Quentin Tarantino was attached as director, and a truly absurd list of actors was considered for Napoleon Solo before Henry Cavill was cast. At various times George Clooney, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jon Hamm, Ryan Gosling, Channing Tatum, Alexander Skarsgård, Ewan McGregor, Robert Pattinson, Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Michael Fassbender, Bradley Cooper, Russell Crowe, Chris Pine, Ryan Reynolds, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Joel Kinnaman were in the mix. At a certain point, it seems more fruitful to wonder who wasn’t considered.

Unfortunately, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. failed to launch a new series of spy films; it became a massive bomb at the box office, not grossing nearly enough to justify its massive budget of period costumes and gadgets to Warner Bros. Critics were also not particularly kind to the Henry Cavill film, feeling it was more a conveyance device for striking outfits and 1960s music than a unique plot. However, after years of speculation that Henry Cavill has the kind of laidback coolness (and incredible looks) to play a 1960s superspy, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. proved it. Maybe someday a sequel will confirm it once again.