This year is seeing a big resurgence in the spy genre. We’ve already had Kingsman: The Secret Service and soon we’re going to get The Man from UNCLE and Spectre. Out of this set of spy films though, the one I was the most cautious with was Spy. I have to say that I’m not really a fan of Melissa McCarthy or Paul Fieg and I count Bridesmaids as one of the worst comedies I’ve ever seen. However, Spy seemed right up my ally and I was hopeful to see a good female led comedy after the travesty that was Pitch Perfect 2 and I have to say that Spy delivered that.
The plot concerns Susan Cooper, the tactical support for CIA agent Bradley Fine. After a mission involving trying to find a nuclear device goes wrong and the identities of all the other CIA agents are compromised, Susan gets sent into the field. However, another agent, Rick Ford, who hated the idea of Susan going in, ends up trying to find the nuclear device and the person who know its location, Rayna, which complicates Susan’s mission. Now this plot isn’t anything original, in fact it’s identical to the plot of the Get Smart movie from 2008 (which I was a fan of) and this film follows a lot of the tropes, with one major exception: Susan doesn’t get by through luck and she doesn’t cause any damage due to clumsiness. Susan is already perfectly suited to be a spy but her skills on the technical side and her weight made it so the CIA didn’t see her as a field operative and her own self-esteem issues meant that she was comfortable as Fine’s support and all of this works into the skillset of McCarthy. In the past, I’ve only seen McCarthy given roles that fit into the funny fat friend cliche but here, when Susan’s undercover identities fit those roles, there’s a real sense of disappointment in it that does feel like a ‘take-that’ to studios and audiences (including me I have to admit) that couldn’t see McCarthy as a badass spy. It also works that a lot of the jokes are really funny. It’s hard to describe in a review since it’ll ruin all of the jokes. The action scenes meanwhile complement the humour, even with some pretty terrible CG at times, with the stunt team and McCarthy herself making the scenes work really well. However, there are some plot points that don’t really work, there are constant assassination attempts against Rayna that don’t add up to anything, a cameo at the end that feels really out-of-place and a few third act plot twists that could have been set up a bit better and these don’t allow the spy plot to hold up as well as it could have done.
The cast meanwhile are really solid. As stated earlier McCarthy does a great job with her character and acquits herself really well in the action scenes but she isn’t the comedic highlight of the film, that honour goes to Jason Statham as Ford. Now I’m not the biggest fan of Jason Statham, I do think he’s a good action actor but a lot of his films are pretty terrible and he’s pretty bad in them. Here though, he takes the image of himself as the indestructible badass and mines it for comedy, making fun of the over-the-top situations that spy films often end up devolving into, with it being pretty clear that it’s the characters stupidity that resulted in those situations. It also helps that Statham is more than willing to make fun of himself and this leads to the funniest moments in the film. As the villain Rayna, Rose Byrne does a great job, showing herself to be a pretty threatening presence and the interaction she has with McCarthy provides some good laughs. Jude Law meanwhile is a perfect fit for the snarky, smooth James Bond figure in the film, Bradley Fine, with his relationship with Susan being one of the best parts of the film. One of the things I was worried about prior to seeing the film was the involvement of Miranda Hart, who I am not really a fan of and I often find her annoying, but she’s pretty good here, providing some good laughs and the friendship between her and McCarthy’s characters comes across really well, whilst Allison Janney gets some good moments, but she isn’t in the film anywhere near long enough (although the same is true of virtually everything with Allison Janney). However, I wasn’t a fan of Bobby Cannavale and, as much as I like Peter Serafinowicz and his performance was good, the character was incredibly annoying. The biggest problem in the cast though is Morena Baccarin. Whilst she is well cast as the stereotypical female spy, she is given virtually nothing to do throughout the film and it’s clear that the character was written with a much larger role that ended up being cut out and this does hurt the film.
Overall, Spy is simply a really funny film. Whilst there are some problems with the plot, the performances, especially from Melissa McCarthy, Jason Statham and Jude Law and the script create comedy gold, with the whole plot around Susan working really well in the context of the film. I wish I could go into more detail, but it is incredibly hard to describe what makes a comedy work, just know that I laughed all the way through this.
My Rating: 4/5