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Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: Many Action Hiding Weak Characters

Alex+Pettyfer%2C+Alan+Ritchson%2C+Henry+Cavill%2C+Hero+Fiennes+Tiffin+and+Henry+Goldin+all+join+forces+in+Guy+Ritchies+newest+spy-drama.
Courtesy of Lionsgate
Alex Pettyfer, Alan Ritchson, Henry Cavill, Hero Fiennes Tiffin and Henry Goldin all join forces in Guy Ritchie’s newest spy-drama.

2.5 out of 5.0 stars
When it comes to Guy Ritchie, one can only expect the most outlandish, over-the-top action centerpiece to arrive at theaters with explosive flare. Supported by an incredible cast that is fronted by Henry Cavill and Alan Ritchson, “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” is a film that plays to its director’s strengths every chance it gets.

Written by an assortment of seasoned screenwriters — Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson, Arash Amel and Ritchie himself — this World War II story is based on the historical events of Winston Churchill’s declassified documents during his time as Great Britain’s Prime Minister. This story is filled with seemingly impossible odds, to the point that it’s remarkable that this film is based on a real life historic moment known today as Operation Postmaster. Of course, Ritchie’s trademark action does little to quell audience suspicion. Unfortunately, the finished product gives little besides the action to do the fascinating source material justice.

Outside of that, there are some elements of the film that demonstrate how experienced the director truly is, such as the cinematography. Ritchie’s experience with action films comes in full force with every scene and cut, providing a fast-paced thriller that never comes up uninteresting with the locale. Ritchie makes full use of the movie’s setting, providing gorgeous shots of the small island of Fernando Po.

The cinematography truly shines with the action scenes, giving brutal closeups of knife takedowns, ax brawls and large weaponry that truly depict how much of a war zone this operation was in real life. The setting complements the crazy elements of the action perfectly, whether it be the claustrophobic hallway of a cargo ship, the grid-ordered buildings of a German outpost, or the wide-open streets of Fernando Po.

All of this serves the headlining action. It’s quick and precise with melee and ranged weaponry, providing a consistent pace for the film, which is desperately needed. Each of our heroes have different styles of combat, which helps to characterize the main cast. Gus (Henry Cavill) has a very nonchalant personality, complementing a combat style best suited for keeping distance. Anders (Alan Ritchson) is incredibly stoic and battle-hardened, leading to more fights that are up close and personal. The action throughout is incredibly dynamic and gives the movie the majority of its life.

Outside of the action, however, “Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” does little to nothing in terms of giving the main cast meaningful characterization. The story splits itself in two parts: the first holds Gus, Anders and three other fighters in Freddy, Henry and Geoffrey Appleyard, and the second holds an undercover plot with Marjorie (Eiza González) and Heron (Babs Olusanmokun). All five of the men in the first plot possess the same character archetype.They are all relaxed, professional, best-in-the-business warriors that get the job done, no matter what. This leaves very little tension within the story, as the five surpass every obstacle they come across with ease.

The same goes for the other plot line, in different respects. The spies are never caught until the plot demands it and they accomplish all of their objectives, such as recruiting local help and sabotaging enemy defenses, with nothing but a small breeze in their way. It’s infuriating to watch all of the main characters be so perfect as to completely negate any sense of struggle, with plans put into motion against staggering odds that stand no chance against the elite machines that are the protagonists. It eliminates any potential for interesting situations, almost as if sacrificing it for the fast-paced action of Ritchie.

On top of this, not a single character has any sort of traits outside of their backstories and trademark skills in battle. No character flaws exist for the main cast and no conversations are initiated among them to hint at something more or build relationships. A standard of character development is seemingly absent from this movie, perhaps because it is a historical piece based on real people. Any added dialogue could misrepresent who they were in real life. Whatever reason that may exist, it makes for an action-comedy that lacks any sort of meaningful or interesting explorations of character. It inhibits the movie from becoming more than what it is — a simple run and gun.

With all of this in mind, audiences who go into the theater seeking action are most certainly going to get their money’s worth. However, if one seeks to find something hidden beneath the explosive surface, they are going to find themself sorely disappointed. With Guy Ritchie, it’s easy to predict what’s in store for the average movie-goer.

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