The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare (2024)
The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare (2024)

Genre: Action and War Running Time: 2 hrs.

Release Date: April 19th, 2024 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Guy Ritchie Actors: Henry Cavill, Alan Ritchson, Alex Pettyfer, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, Henry Golding, Eiza Gonzalez, Babs Olusanmokun, Cary Elwes, Til Schweiger, Rory Kinnear

 


 

B

ased on Winston Churchill’s confidential files, declassified in 2016, “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” covers the specifics of Operation Postmaster, beginning in 1942 in the Nazi-controlled waters of the Atlantic. The veracity of that basis, however, is immediately called into question when armed German soldiers board a Swedish fishing vessel, manned by Gus March-Phillips (Henry Cavill) and Anders Lassen (Alan Ritchson) – who laugh in the face of the Nazi commander (March-Phillips is the likely real-life inspiration for Ian Fleming’s James Bond). Thus begins a statically cavalier approach to all modes of danger; unflinching nonchalance and breezy jokes consume every attitude of the heroes here, who never once appear to be in any real peril.

Strangely, it’s not unlike the over-the-top finale of “Inglourious Basterds,” but stretched out for the entirety of the film. Gung-ho adventure and onslaughts are on the menu, but the leads feel as if invulnerable to all avenues of harm. It’s a particularly odd contrast, considering this is the United Kingdom’s darkest hour, set during an international conflict against historically horrifying enemies – presented with exaggerated lightheartedness. Admittedly, it’s often pleasing to watch the protagonists so effortlessly demolish Nazi forces, always emerging unscathed, yet this also makes their accomplishments look unearned. It’s just too easy for them to get the upper hand – quite a bit like director Guy Ritchie’s previous crime caper “Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre,” which also featured nonstop wins and minimal threats.

The mission for Gus and his hand-picked team of rough-around-the-edges rogues – including explosives expert Freddy Alvarez (Henry Golding), intel specialist Geoffrey Appleyard (Alex Pettyfer), and the always-obedient soldier Henry Hayes (Hero Fiennes Tiffin), also joined by undercover operatives Heron (Babs Olusanmokun) and Stewart (Eiza Gonzalez) – is to cut off the supply chain to U-boats, which have been cutting off the supply chain to the Brits. It’s an unsanctioned, unauthorized undertaking, fit for unprincipled, unscrupulous rascals – like the type who might compose a dirty dozen as they set about taking down the guns of Navarone. This lot, however, is significantly cheekier and more sarcastic, always sure of themselves and never worrying about what could go wrong – which is, expectedly, plenty (at many moments, it’s as if they’re members of “The Suicide Squad,” outfitted with superpowers that offer them imperviousness to injury during last-second escapes). And when situations go south, the frequent changes in plans tend to slow the pace of what could have been a considerably snappier little thriller.

Plus, they’re far from ungentlemanly; when given the opportunity to kill a young German trooper, Gus chooses to release him, believing it to be the humane thing to do. The crew is selected precisely for their ruthlessness (some of the violence lives up to that) and their inability to keep their hands clean, yet they’re actually stand-up fighters, conducting themselves with zero shades of gray, and slaughtering only unsympathetic opponents. Meanwhile, Stewart is so ludicrously intelligent, to counter the ludicrous intelligence of her mark (the pretentiously evil Nazi leader Heinrich Luhr [Til Schweiger]), that almost none of her interactions pose any genuineness; there’s minimal intrigue when adversaries are equally, nonsensically smart (lending to one of the flimsiest scenes, in which a single-word slip-up unbelievably exposes a mole).

Clearly, Gus and company are far, far larger-than-life, though this helps during sequences in which they storm Nazi strongholds, engage in massive shootouts, and blow stuff to smithereens. Many of the action shots are genuinely exciting. But since everyone is comedic and insincere, suspense and consequences are terribly fleeting. This tone is reenforced by a steady barrage of brisk jazz, which adds to the jaunty aura of the group’s much too neat and tidy endeavors. Nevertheless, it’s entertaining to see the good guys succeed so gracefully, navigating every hiccup with ease – a done-before formula that is frequently amusing but rarely captivating. “Remember, gentlemen. Try to have fun.”

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10