21 reasons The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a feminist film

If you’ve never seen the recent Guy Ritchie film adaptation of the ’60s TV show The Man from U.N.C.L.E., I just have one question: Why the hell not?

man from uncle poster

It’s hilarious, clever, beautifully shot, perfectly cast and, most importantly, its characters are people, regardless of whether they’re male or female. So, spoilers ahead, here are all the reasons why I think The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is the feminist film-that-should-be-a-franchise we all need. (Tragically, as of yet, no plans have been announced for a sequel, which is a real shame because I’d like to see the gang in their “curly wurly shoes” in Istanbul.)

And when I say feminist, I don’t mean it belittles men, because those films and shows aren’t feminist. Men and women being portrayed as actual men and women – who knew this was such a big ask?

  1. Gaby fixes cars and Napoleon’s comments about it have nothing to do with her gender. Plus her first scene has her in mechanic coveralls – and not tight-fitting, cleavage-showing, ass-hugging coveralls. Actual mechanic coveralls.
  2. Napoleon wears an apron and cooks truffle risotto without shame or insecurity.
  3. Napoleon and Illya are both fantastic leading men, but they’re flawed characters, and not just superficial flaws like “Oh he’s got mom issues” or “Oh he’s a rebellious type.” No, no. The one is identified as having an Oedipal complex with psychotic tendencies, not often a character trait of a leading man. And the other is just a straight-up douche with possibly no conscience – he just happens to be on the “good” side even though he’d probably do just as well on the side of the villains. They’re not expected to be perfect, and neither is Gaby.
  4. Gaby’s makeover scene has her all-too-realistically trying to get used to squeaky ill-fitting shoes. She also has a can’t-control-me-down-just-because-you’re-buying-me-things kind of unshakable attitude that’s to be admired.
  5. Illya has a keen designer fashion sense that, like Napoleon’s cooking skills, is expressed sans shame and insecurity.
  6. Gaby is clever and calls out Illya and Napoleon on their endless bullshit without being a nag or an overbearing woman who seeks to destroy their egos. She simply wants to survive without the constant bickering of the men in her life:

    “Stop! You two are supposed to be looking after me. So why am I playing mother, huh?”

  7. Though I’m sure their physiques are something to be admired (Henry Cavill is not one to shy away from Instagramming his own hot bod), neither Illya nor Napoleon are at any moment topless. Not even when Napoleon has sexy times. The lack of objectification is refreshing.
  8. Gaby’s pajamas, like her coveralls, are loose and comfy. And her dance skills are more comical than sexy. She’s acting like me and my friends would – except my friends and I don’t have the same level of badassery that enables a woman of 5’5″ to tackle a man of 6’5″.
  9. When Gaby passes out before anything happens with Illya, he simply picks her up and puts her in her own bed without trying anything. Like a real man would and should.
  10. Though Gaby is a funny, comfy-clothes-wearing badass, that doesn’t mean she’s not feminine. She wears the heck out of a mod dress and being played by Alicia Vikander, she’s of course beautiful. But she’s not a sex object, nor is she a saint. She’s a person.
  11. Because of lines like this:

    “We might be engaged, but I’m my own woman.”

  12. Victoria Vinciguerra is both a female and a (nearly) flawless villain. “A lethal combination of beauty, brains and ambition,” as Napoleon’s boss puts it early on in the film. It’s something both Stephen Colbert and I want to see more of.
  13. These leading men are not only flawed character-wise, they make actual mistakes. Illya isn’t that great at picking locks. They both jump out of a window into what they think is a lake but is actually a pile of rope on a dock. Characters who make amusing mistakes that actual humans would make quickly earn my respect – especially when those characters would be perceived as predictably flawless heroes in nearly any other movie.
  14. Two grown men share a Vespa. I’m not sure if this is a feminist detail or just a hilarious moment, but it’s made it on the list.
  15. Gaby is a solid, confident secret agent that no one suspected because she’s a BAMF.
  16. Even though Illya gets protective of Gaby as he develops feelings for her, he doesn’t try to talk her out of her mission or suggest she can’t do it or persuade her to let him take her place.
  17. Gaby and Illya never actually get physical. Yes, on the one hand, this is super frustrating. But on the other hand, it proves an action/comedy doesn’t require characters getting it on to make it a good movie.
  18. Gaby turns out to be the one who protects Illya, not the other way around.
  19. Seriously, Victoria is such a BAMF. She poisons every bottle of liquor she has because “it’s much easier to trust a drink you fixed yourself.” She can see everything when it comes to do-gooders messing with her nuclear plans. She kills Gaby’s dad without blinking an eye. Who does that? Great villains do that.
  20. Gaby isn’t a passive damsel in distress. Even after being thrown around in a rolling truck, she gets up with the same determination as a similarly hurt Illya and tries to save Napoleon by attacking his attacker.
  21. In the end, Gaby’s the one to defeat Victoria. Because she paid attention during technical-mumbo-jumbo-explanation scenes. And because:



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