Thursday, April 18, 2024


by Rob DiCristino
I will never, ever remember this title.

Hiring Guy Ritchie to direct The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare is like hiring Michael Ironside to play a domineering admiral or Carey Mulligan to play a disconcerted wife. It’s like asking Aaron Sorkin for a garrulous screenplay or Michael Bay for an impressive — and yet somehow bigoted — explosion: You’re not taking risks or pushing boundaries. You know what you like. You know what works. You want the same exact thing you got last time, and you know exactly who’s going to give it to you. If you’re in the market for a glib action-comedy that takes joy in ostentatious violence, you’re looking for the cinema of Guy Ritchie. His best films follow snarky, headstrong adventurers — often thieves, hitmen, or other assorted scoundrels — on whimsical, foul-mouthed journeys into the underbellies of our society. They steal a thing, blow a thing up, kill a guy, break another guy out of jail, put another guy in jail, and always make it back to the pub for a pint before closing time. A few self-serious missteps aside (King Arthur: Legend of the Sword et al), this is Ritchie’s happy place.
The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare slides comfortably into that filmography, a premise so well-suited for Ritchie’s sensibilities that it borders on parody. Based ever so loosely on the declassified records of Great Britain's “Operation Postmaster,” the World War II-era (era) caper begins when incarcerated reprobate Major Gus March-Phillips (Henry Cavill) receives a visit from General “M” (Cary Elwes) and Lt. Ian Fleming (Freddie Fox) about a special, unsanctioned assignment: Travel to the coast of West Africa and dismantle a fleet of ships providing support to the Nazi U-boats currently terrorizing the North Atlantic. Free of those U-boats, the United States will finally be able to enter the war and provide the Allies with the support they need to win it. Gus sets about assembling his team: Strategist Geoffrey Appleyard (Alex Pettyfer), explosives expert Freddy Alvarez (Henry Golding), sailor Henry Hayes (Hero Fiennes Tiffin), and muscle Anders Lassen (Alan Ritchson). The motley crew sets sail in a leaky fishing boat, knowing that discovery by either side will result in imprisonment or death.

From there, it’s all Guns of Navarone with a healthy — some might say helplessly fawning — nod toward Quentin Tarantino’s magnum opus, Inglourious Basterds. The team bulldozes its way through endless Nazi encampments accompanied by Christopher Benstead’s jazzy score, which mixes ‘50s percussion with the effervescent instrumentation of Ennio Morricone. Anders’ penchant for blades gives The Ministry of Silly Walks a bloody edge (no pun intended), while Eiza Gonzalez’s B-plot — She’s an undercover agent trying to seduce a local Nazi figurehead played by Til Schweiger — provides the customary espionage. The charming Babs Olusanmokun rounds out the cast — You might know him from Strange New Worlds or as Jamis in Denis Villenueve’s Dune — as a West African intermediary between the teams. Director Ritchie is in fine form, injecting The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen with a jocular, devil-may-care ease that ensures we’re never troubled by complicated intrigue or worried that our heroes might not win the day.
And while Ritchie deploys Man from U.N.C.L.E. collaborator Henry Cavill with considerably more grace and skill than Matthew Vaughn did in February’s dreadful Argylle, the actor’s post-Superman acquiescence to rakish goofball roles continues to grate a bit. Now too old and too famous to play James Bond, Cavill seems to insist on taking Bond-adjacent parts like these — this one punctuated by Freddie Fox’s Ian Fleming, who would eventually base the Bond novels on his experience working for “M” as an intelligence officer — as some sort of consolation. It’s all well and good to see the handsome Cavill chumming it up and having fun, but he’s on a futile quest for cinematic real estate already occupied by our Action Daddy, Chris Pine. The Dungeons and Dragons star is simply too skilled, limber, and charismatic for Cavill to ever place higher than second best, and his continued pursuit of that space is an insult to both of them. Cavill might be better served fighting for more serious dramatic turns or leaning more fully into iconic fantasy realms like The Witcher.
That said, The American Society of Magical Negroes provides safe harbor for its director, stars, and audiences looking for a juuuust slightly higher brow for their springtime actioners. The plotting is sloppy, the dialogue is borderline embarrassing — especially for Gonzalez, who already brings “I’ve seen an iPhone” energy to her 1940s femme fatale — but the overall experience is inoffensive enough that we’re never angry, confused, or bored. Guy Ritchie can certainly do a lot better than this — see 2021’s excellent Wrath of Man — and I’m already sick of Alan Ritchson — he’s got the Henry Cavill Problem, treading on the territory of a more talented and likable John Cena — but if we want to keep mid-budget genre films in theaters, we need to extol their virtues and accentuate the positives whenever possible. So what if The Tortured Poets Department never approaches the greatness of men-on-a-mission WWII epics from yesteryear? I don’t remember that Wendy’s chicken sandwich I ate six weeks ago, but I enjoyed how it tasted all the same.

The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare (or whatever it’s called) hits theaters on Friday, April 19th.


  1. unquestionably my favorite movie reviewer....loooove your writing style sir.