‘Ministry’ entertains but misses the mark

Excited for my first movie review, I looked up the local theatre offerings: “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire,” “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire,” “Abigail,” “Civil War” and “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare.” The first two hit you in the face with the fact they’re movie empires, both on their fifth movies, and that felt like too much baggage for my first go. Abigail is a horror movie about being trapped with a 12-year-old ballerina and Civil War just feels too close to reality these days to be an escapist movie.

That leaves “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare,” a movie directed by Guy Ritchie whom I find to be a movie-making-wildcard. He’s responsible for movies like “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,” “Swept Away” (a movie that has suffered just that, being swept away from the public’s consciousness, but it starred Ritchie’s then wife Madonna), “Sherlock Holmes” (the 2009 take starring Robert Downey Jr.), “Aladdin” (2019 live-action with Genie Will Smith) and “The Gentleman” to name a few. He also writes most of his own screenplays. Usually he has great characters, witty dialogue and an engaging plot. From what little I heard about this movie going into it, I was assuming this would be a profanity- and violence-filled movie with an entertaining storyline. That’s… not what I got.

First, a quick and spoiler-free plot summary: Churchill is facing reality, that England is nearing the end of its fight against Hitler and America is reluctant to enter the war, especially with the deadly Nazi U-boat attacks. Even Churchill’s own military commanders are suggesting capitulating to Hitler. So, Churchill greenlights a small commando group to infiltrate Nazi lines and cripple the supply line to interrupt U-boat activities, giving birth to the modern concept of special ops forces and even James Bond.

The meat of the story is in the small group special mission, something that shouldn’t be a very new concept to most. What makes this have a slightly different twist is that it’s (very loosely) based on real life events. SISU went off the deep end of reality and is basically a one-man personification of the idea of sisu. “Inglourious Basterds” took real wartime inspiration to create an alternate history of WWII. “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare,” on the other hand, takes real soldiers and events to tell a rather embellished story. Some of the characters are amalgamations, like Henry Golding’s fictional character of Freddy Alvarez, but most of them, including Ian Fleming, were real people that were given some movie tweaks. After watching the movie, and admittedly having a good time, I wanted to know more of the “fact versus fiction” aspect and took a deep dive into history to see what I could find. That, to me, is the strength of this movie. Just please make sure to do the same instead of accepting these events as fact!

Where the movie didn’t work for me started with the characters. On the acting side, I think the cast did the best they could with what they had, but there just wasn’t any character development. The audience is presented with a roster rundown of the main characters, each presented with two features: why they hate Nazis and what their main talent is. Henry Cavill plays Gus March-Phillips, the leader of this crew, and we know he hates Nazis, following orders and shaving. He also has a fondness for coats and hats. Beyond that, he’ll remain an enigma. The same can be said for the villain. We’re set up with dialogue saying, “The only thing worse than a Nazi is him…” Menacing, no? Problem is, he’s a stereotypical Nazi in his core values and just has a habit of throwing out riddles. We’re given a literal peak into the window of his deprave and barbaric nature, but never once revisit it. He becomes just as cliché as everyone else. Nearly every character has something making you think, “Huh, that’ll be interesting,” only to get to the credits and realize they never paid off anything.

My other issue is the lack of anything memorable. They try to make things suspenseful, but since the main group shows in their first Nazi encounter that they will thumb their noses in the face of Nazis and their multitude of guns with no consequences, there is seldom a time I worried about a character getting into a dire situation. The promised violence never really surfaces either. Scores of Nazis die, yes, but usually from far away with constant suppressed gunfire. None of the action engages the audience and the rather tame nature of the death and destruction subverts expectations. It isn’t like they made this a family movie, it’s still R-rated, but I was left scratching my head as to why. The pacing of the story is also shockingly slow, but the incredible score keeps the audience engaged enough to get by without noticing too much.

Perhaps the warning I missed was the fact four people are credited with writing the screenplay. I went into the movie with an open mind and, in the end, I’m not at all sorry I saw it. However, it didn’t live up to the expectations I had going in. Fans of WWII stories will most likely still have a good time, but anyone looking for an action-packed movie should find something else.

Kent Kraft is someone who has always loved movies and the worlds they can transport you to if you’re willing. More than 20 years ago, he married this love of movies with his love of writing and has a personal archive of more than 700 reviews of movies and their special features. Now living in Laurium, he looks forward to bringing his movie thoughts to a local discourse.


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