Fun Action with No Tension


Summary

  • Great cast lacks depth in forgettable characters.
  • Action lacks tension and consequences throughout.
  • Ritchie replicates past work with diminishing returns.



The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare takes Guy Ritchie’s obsession with English ‘gentlemen’ away from country manor houses and moves it out to sea during the height of World War II. Based on Damien Lewis’ non-fiction bestseller, The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare is a fictional recount of the very real Operation Postmaster. The mission saw a rogue group of Allied soldiers create havoc to sabotage Nazi U-Boat operations. The operation was vital to the Allies winning the war, as it opened the door for the U.S. to join the Allied powers and defeat the Nazis.

On the surface, The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare is as suave and quippy as any Guy Ritchie film. Yet it lacks the intelligent script at the core of the British director’s best works. This had all the potential to be one of Ritchie’s best yet and return the director to the heights of his Snatch days. But sadly, the all-star cast and genuinely entertaining action scenes weren’t quite enough to overcome its problems, and the overall experience feels as forgettable as King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.



A Great Cast Playing Forgettable Characters

The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare

2/5

Release Date
April 19, 2024

Runtime
120 min

Pros

  • The cast is great
  • There are exciting and funny moments
Cons

  • Feels derivative of Ritchie’s earlier work
  • Too many characters to get invested
  • No tension in the action sequences

The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare holds its audience hostage through the star power of its phenomenal cast. Henry Cavill, Alan Ritchson, Henry Golding, Alex Pettyfer, Eiza González, Cary Elwes, Babs Olusanmokun, Rory Kinnear, and Hero Fiennes Tiffin all working together on one film sounds like a guaranteed success. Not only are they icons of the action genre, but they have the talent to bring depth and humanity to their respective characters.


But the cast isn’t given any depth or dimension to work with. The combination of a half-baked script and rushed editing removes any sense of individuality from their characters. Ultimately, the plot boils down to a group of posh British (and one Danish) soldiers on a boat. They do some explosions and shoot some guns while wearing plot armor thicker than Henry Cavill’s beard. Once the credits roll, the only thing audiences have learned about the team is that they enjoy killing, sometimes.

The performances of everyone involved carry this lackluster script to the finish line. Henry Cavill’s tongue steals the action scenes, with the Man of Steel star behaving more unhinged than we have ever seen him. As the leader of the Special Operations Executive, Gus March-Phillips’s (Cavill) every move is calculated entirely by intrusive thoughts. Laugh at a Nazi’s joke before killing him? Check. Tell members of British Intelligence to “please f*ck off”? Hell yeah. Steal an S.S. Officer’s coat and hat and wear it for over half of the film, for no reason? Absolutely.


Meanwhile, Alan Ritchson is having the time of his life shooting Nazis with a bow and hamming up a Danish accent. Hero Fiennes-Tiffin, despite being a comparative newcomer to the action blockbuster, holds his own in scenes as the sensible sailor steering the squad around British ships and German submarines.

Attention Is Given to All the Wrong Components

However, in trying to give every character equal attention, The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare ultimately detracts from their screen presence. With such a phenomenal cast, Ritchie is faced with an almost impossible balancing act of giving each character enough spotlight to make them memorable to audiences. Characters like Freddy Alvarez (Henry Golding), the team’s resident pyromaniac, feel criminally underutilized.


This isn’t helped by the strange decision to keep all of his actions off-screen. Alvarez had the potential to star in the coolest action scene in the film. While the rest of the team is being interrogated by Nazi officers on their sailboat, Alvarez is on a covert mission to single-handedly plant a bomb on a Nazi warship. Sounds awesome, right? Well, too bad, we don’t get to see it. Audiences are deemed worthy of watching the explosion go off in the distance, but, strangely, aren’t shown the most exciting part of the sequence.

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Ironically, the two most memorable characters in the film aren’t actually part of the team. Rory Kinnear (Skyfall) is incredibly entertaining as Winston Churchill. His take on the British Prime Minister is far from Gary Oldman’s dramatic performance, as Churchill is given the Guy Ritchie treatment, swearing at members of the British Intelligence who want him outed as PM.

Alongside Kinnear, Freddie Fox (Slow Horses) portrays Sir Ian Fleming. Fleming was famously a part of the Special Operations Executive and many of the team’s missions went on to inspire his James Bond novels. Sadly, Fox isn’t given a lot to do in the role, and the fact he is portraying such an iconic figure is about the only thing enforcing his character’s memorability.

The Action Lacks Threat and Consequences


The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare opens with Gus March-Phillips (Henry Cavill) and Anders Lassen (Alan Ritchson) being questioned on a boat by German naval officers. Despite being surrounded and unarmed, the pair can’t help but crack jokes as they pretend to be a couple on a romantic cruise. As the scene escalates, the team is forced to attack the Nazi officers. But, because this is the cold open, audiences know that none of the team will die yet.

This lack of threat and tension is present throughout every action sequence in The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare, even its climactic final shootout. Despite having no backup, and being outnumbered 200 to 5, at no point does the film make the audience worry about the mortality of its characters, removing much-needed weight and tension from the otherwise senseless and violent spectacle. In the closing firefight, Henry Hayes (Hero Fiennes-Tiffin) is shot in the shoulder, and the film starts to give the impression that the tides of the mission are starting to change. But no, he’s fine. His gunshot wound isn’t addressed at all, and Guy Ritchie does nothing with the potential for dramatic tension.


5:05

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Babs Olusanmokun and Eiza González chat about working with Guy Ritchie on The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare.

Ritchie Is Replicating His Work with Diminishing Returns

Guy Ritchie fans compare all of his contemporary films to Snatch and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels for a reason: they’re so memorable. Rather than working to create something new, The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare is so desperate to recapture this magic, it loses its individuality. Almost every other line of dialogue feels unashamedly ‘movie-like’ as the script becomes more concerned with cool-sounding dialogue than conversations that build its eclectic characters.


The characters in Guy Ritchie’s earlier works are still inspiring British filmmakers and screenwriters today. Brad Pitt’s turn as a traveling bare-knuckle boxing champion, or Stephen Graham’s cockney gangster (with an accent so convincing, audiences didn’t realize he was from Liverpool), will never be forgotten. But by forcing this phenomenon, The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare ultimately undermines its potential cinematic memorability with dialogue that tries too hard.

That’s not to say The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare isn’t a fun film. The cast’s natural charisma and action scenes that feel ripped from a video game do enough to make its 2-hour runtime reasonably enjoyable. It’s just a shame to see a film with the potential of being the next Snatch feel more like King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. With that said, die-hard action fans will certainly get a kick out of it. The combination of brutal action and quippy dialogue feels like a love letter to the action films of old that cared little about violent morality. But for audiences looking for an engaging and memorable cinematic experience, unfortunately, Ritchie hasn’t hit the mark this time around.


Guy Ritchie’s The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare releases in cinemas worldwide on April 19.



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