‘The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare’ Review: Where Ritchie Dares

Aaron Neuwirth reviews The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare, Guy Ritchie's "based on a true story" war movie caper, starring Henry Cavill.
User Rating: 7

With director Guy Ritchie delivering a lot more action cinema to theaters as of late, it makes plenty of sense to see a team-up with producer Jerry Bruckheimer for The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare. The famed producer has produced dozens of action flicks over the past few decades, most recently including Top Gun: Maverick and Bad Boys for Life. Having the two together, the promise of an explosive WWII spy adventure with a bit of a comedic edge is the recipe for a good time. This film does, indeed, deliver on that potential, and even if the film is not aiming to do much more than show the latest depiction of a true event where a ragtag group came together to take down a bunch of Nazis, sometimes simply seeing filmmakers set their sights on a specific target and hit it is just what’s needed to deliver on some cinematic fun.

Based on Churchill’s Secret Warriors: The Explosive True Story of the Special Forces Desperadoes of WWII by Damien Lewis, I feel like that title already explained half the plot. Henry Cavill is Gus March-Phillipps, a maverick soldier who leads an offbeat crew that includes Alan Ritchson’s Anders Lassen, Henry Golding’s Freddy Alvarez, and eventually Alex Pettyfer’s Geoffrey Appleyard. They are tasked by Winston Churchill (Rory Kinnear) to head into Nazi-occupied territory and put a dent in the increased usage of German U-boats. Joined by Eiza González’s Marjorie Stewart and Babs Olusanmokun’s Mr. Heron, this elite crew will do more than make a little noise to complete their mission.

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One could see this film as if we were only watching the “Basterds” from Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds in action. ‘Ungentlemanly Warfare’ is not nearly as subversive or as interested in engaging with this story on a deeper level. Still, it does know how to satisfy on the sheer fun of having an assortment of colorful characters going through a mission that’s equal parts tense and exciting, not unlike The Dirty Dozen or The Guns of Navarone. Does mentioning films considered classics, modern or otherwise, make a difference here? Am I promising something stronger than what Ritchie actually delivers? Curious question, but it’s missing the point – this is all about watching a lot of attitudes coming together for the greater good, with an enemy that doesn’t need any real defining.

It’s an important distinction, as I once again find myself pleased with this run of films Ritchie has delivered since his billion-dollar-grossing Aladdin live-action remake seemingly gave him the energy and means to just do whatever he wants. The results have been a run of action/crime flicks (The Gentlemen, Wrath of Man, Operation Fortune) that amount to glossy B-movies with terrific casts and fantastic production value. There’s also the anomaly that is the War in Afghanistan film, The Covenant, but at least that seems to have been a proper small step towards how to make a war movie that’s constantly on the move.

I can’t say I have a deeper read on Ritchie’s underlying themes. He makes films for a broad audience willing to go on R-rated rides at the movies. Sometimes that’s enough. Here, the chance to see Cavill cut loose and be joined by a game-supporting cast makes for a good time. It’s telling that about a fourth of the film’s two-hour runtime is dedicated to gunfights, as this isn’t a film that’s trying to build goodwill off diplomacy until it’s no longer welcome. No, this is a film with a nice amount of spy raft and planning that leads to big payoffs, larger-than-life bad guys getting one for, and many war heroes looking cool while they’re in action. Suppose one thinks this film only speaks to a numbing of the violence depicted on screen. In that case, Ritchie and the crew are not exactly about to satisfy those not engaged by this sort of action movie.

As it stands, the cast easily helps propel things along, and that starts with Cavill. With this story featuring an actor playing Ian Fleming, it’s notable that Cavill’s character influenced the James Bond who was written about in the books. Fortunately, this is more than just “wink at the audience” casting, as Gus March-Phillips is far from the suave superspy working for MI6. Here, he’s a rebellious warrior who will do the right thing and laugh at his enemies as he does it. He’s vicious and cunning yet cool and collected.

Joining Cavill is Ritchson, and between this and Reacher, I’m just fully on board with seeing this guy be a fun hulk of an action star. Not afraid of acting a bit silly, Ritchson is in a great zone as another brutal soldier. The other members of the team all get their time to shine as well, with González and Olusanmokun’s work as spies being the most involving. On the other side, Til Schweiger (a ‘Basterds’ alum) gets to play his hand as an evil Nazi Captain, and ‘Ungentlemanly Warfare’ does the work in showing his cruelty without belaboring the point.

Given the heist-like nature of the plotting, there is fun to be had in seeing varying levels of escalation on display. Helping matters is seeing the different alliances that form and understanding all of the elements of the mission, knowing that it all can’t go to plan. While this is not a film that’s about to alter history, there is something to be said for seeing an old-school WWII movie that presents a very nuts-and-bolts depiction of “men on a mission” and enhances it with nifty modern touches that Ritchie knows how to deliver.

Having found a solid balance in his editing and shooting style, while Ritchie’s signature stamp is all over this feature, it’s not aggressively directed to the point of thinking there’s compensation for something here. To be clear, yes, it’s a stylish feature, and if it’s necessary to comment on the ratio to substance, well sure, there’s only so much to glean. All of that said, a well-made action feature that doesn’t talk down to the audience nor attempt to be clever for its own good makes for solid matinee entertainment.

I had a lot of fun with The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare. Whether or not it’s the latest Guy Ritchie movie to feel like the perfect setup for more adventures with these characters, I’m pleased by the specific and complete story it has decided to tell here. It’s also a film not afraid to get its hands bloody, which gives Ritchie and Bruckheimer the go-ahead to ramp up the destruction on display yet keep us riding shotgun with this wacky band of brothers. For the sake of this film, that’s what’s needed to accomplish its mission.

The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare opens in theaters on April 19, 2024.

Written by
Aaron Neuwirth is a movie fanatic and Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic from Orange County, California. He’s a member of the African American Film Critics Association, the Hollywood Critics Association, the Online Film Critics Society, and the Black Film Critics Circle. As an outgoing person who is always thrilled to discuss movies, he’s also a podcaster who has put far too many hours into published audio content associated with film and television. His work has been published at Variety, We Live Entertainment, Why So Blu, The Young Folks, Firstshowing.net, Screen Rant, and Hi-Def Ninja.

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