It turns out, despite his tenure as the dourest Superman to date, that Henry Cavill having a grand ole time on screen is a pure joy. The Enola Holmes films figured this out, Witcher did not, but Guy Ritchie has been on the Let Henry Cavill Have Fun train since he directed Cavill in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Cavill and Ritchie reteam for The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare, a very, VERY loose adaptation of Damien Lewis’s book, Churchill’s Secret Warriors, which details the intelligence agents who worked to spy on, sabotage, and frustrate the Nazis during World War II. Cavill stars as Major Gus March-Phillipps, who is believed to be one the key inspirations for James Bond.


Cavill is in full glee mode, playing Gus as a Nazi killing reprobate whose lust for life seems at odds with the grim reality of the war. When we meet him, he’s incarcerated for unknown crimes, but he quickly proves light-fingered, stealing everything around him up to and including boats. Carey Elwes appears as Brigadier General Gubbins, called “M”, who pulls Gus out of the clink for a suicide mission to sink supply boats keeping the Nazi U-boat fleet operating. American troops can’t risk crossing the Atlantic to join the war as long as the U-boats keep sinking every other ship that passes by, so someone has to go take care of them, or else Winston Churchill (played under a metric ton of makeup by Rory Kinnear), will lose control of the government and the war effort.


It is impossible not to compare Ministry to Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds, as Ministry has a similar free-wheeling tone, many bloody scenes of mayhem, and lots of dead Nazis. There’s even a scene where a character gives away their identity by saying the wrong thing. Ministry makes you appreciate how good Basterds really is, but at its best, Ministry works as a kind of fun knock-off, less concerned with history, alternate or otherwise, and more concerned with everyone looking super glamorous all the time, even when mid-killing spree. There are so many killing sprees! 

The cast is rounded out by Alan Ritchson as Anders Lassen, Henry Golding as Freddy Alvarez, Hero Fiennes Tiffin as Henry Hayes, Alex Pettyfer as Geoffrey Appleyard, Eiza Gonzales as Marjorie Stewart, and Babs Olusanmokun as the shady Mr. Heron. All of these people are united in their desire for revenge against the Nazis, all are willing to risk life and limb to achieve their goal. Unquestionably the most fun action sequences come from Alan Ritchson as the bow and arrow wielding Lassen, the sequences are cleverly constructed and Ritchson is beyond capable of performing them in long, uninterrupted takes. But Eiza Gonzales also stands out as Marjorie, a sly spy who sets out to charm a creepy Nazi supplier, Heinrich Luhr (Til Schweiger), in the occupied African territory of Fernando Po. 


Ministry runs at a fast clip, just two hours and paced quickly. With such a large ensemble, it could have used a little room to breathe and let the characters develop even just a little, but Ritchie keeps things moving and the propulsive momentum builds to a finale sequence that is only barely based on reality. I have to admire Ritchie’s approach to history here, which isn’t the deliberate choice of alternate history that Tarantino made, but more, If you want to know facts, read a book, this movie is just for fun. Ritchie’s commitment to telling a good yarn and making a thrilling movie over honoring facts is strangely admirable, an echo Raiders of the Lost Ark’s approach to the same era. Just read the book if you want details, you nerds!

It also spares us the sad reality that almost all of these people met grisly ends throughout the war. Instead, we get a colorful adventure film about people hellbent on taking down the Nazis. The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare is fun, it’s spry, this is an astounding collection of hot people, standing around being hot for two hours, there is little to complain about. It looks great, the score is good, Henry Cavill’s cinematic good time is infectious. Let Henry Cavill have fun on screen, the results always speak for themselves.


The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare is now playing exclusively in theaters.