2015 is shaping up to be a pretty good year for spy films. Some of these are franchise entries that haven’t been released yet but look promising, such as Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation and Spectre (Bond 24), I would also argue that after seven movies, the Fast and Furious team have graduated from street racers to international spies by this point. We also got an adaptation of Mark Millar’s spy comic Kingsman: The Secret Service and in August we’ll get to see Guy Ritchie’s take on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. These films all have their own interpretation of the spy genre, so it’s only appropriate that we also get good old fashioned spoof to round things out.
Spy is the perfect vehicle for the talents of Melissa McCarthy who is finally the uncontested lead in a film. This is her third collaboration with writer/ director Paul Feig, but in Bridesmaids and The Heat, she was mostly relegated to second (or third) banana. When we meet her at the beginning of Spy, she is doing just that, being a supporting character to Jude Law’s suave Bond-esque secret agent. While he goes on missions saving the world, she sits at a desk and assists him through an ear piece. When he’s killed and all of their best agents have their identities compromised, desk jockey Susan Cooper (McCarthy) must infiltrate an international arms ring to prevent a global catastrophe. It’s basically The Other Guys of espionage films.
The film is perfectly cast all around. At first it’s a little depressing to see McCarthy’s character play the doormat for humour, but the payoff is when she’s finally in the field, kicking ass and forgetting to take names. Her character really shines once she saddles up to the prissy villain played by Rose Byrne and turns total alpha on her. The two develop an indescribable chemistry. Jude Law and Jason Statham are great at lampooning characters we could easily see them playing in a straight spy film, particularly Statham as the testosterone driven rogue agent constantly reminding people just how badass he really is.
As the film progresses, it does begin to loose the spoof aspect with the concentration shifting more towards the action and plot twists (don’t worry, McCarthy is hilarious throughout). Despite some of the action actually being pretty decent, this isn’t what we go to this kind of movie to see and it ends up dragging things out a little. We don’t really care who is double crossing who, and since this is essentially a send-up it’s all pretty predictable anyway. This seems to be a recent trend in movies, where filmmakers or studios feel that they can’t be just one thing and have to hedge their bets by trying to please everyone, but at least we’re spared any romantic subplot.
When it comes to the jokes, there’s nothing really that new here, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing (except when it comes to all the ‘you look like…’ one liners, can we please retire those?). It’s at its best when pushing the envelope of good taste, like vomiting on a corpse in slow motion. It’s kind of sad to say that everything is a little funnier because it’s a female-heavy cast in a normally male dominated genre, but this is becoming Feig’s modus operandi which he’ll be continuing with the Ghostbusters reboot. I don’t mean to imply that we’re laughing at these women like “haha she punches like a girl”, but it just makes everything feel a little fresher. In addition to McCarthy and Byrne, Miranda Hart and Alison Janney get their fair share of laughs, while the men play clueless archetypes to a T (think Jon Hamm in Bridesmaids).
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