Movie Review: Spy
Director: Paul Feig
Reviewed: 25 June 2015
Oh, what a difference a year makes, and what a difference a good director makes! Bouncing back from the abysmal and unfunny Tammy of last June, comedic dynamo and national treasure Melissa McCarthy returns to form in Paul Feig's thrilling Spy which has its sights set on lampooning elements of the genre while also telling a good tale. The mere treatment of McCarthy's office-bound but fully capable agent thrust into the field as a real person with friendships and hang-ups is a terrific leap forward, and the film rallies around its dynamite supporting cast who all look like they are having great fun. It's the best fun anyone has had with the James Bond/Spy genre since Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, and though it lacks that film's full-tilt anarchic goofiness, Spy delivers very solid laughs and enjoyable sequences. Well-done, all-around.
As CIA analyst Susan Cooper, McCarthy's character serves as the eyes and ears on missions for agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law, wonderful), feeding him information through contact lens cameras, talking to him through an earpiece while safely ensconced in the home office. When Agent Fine's mission fails due to the nefarious Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne, having fun), resulting in possible selling of bombs and it appears that agents' identities have been compromised, Cooper approaches Director Elaine Crocker (Allison Janney) about going into the field as a relatively unknown who has the training but lacks the experience. The film becomes Susan's journey from one world to another, complete with help from Nancy (Miranda Hart), a fellow analyst, and rogue agent (and constant hilarious one-upper) Rick Ford (Jason Statham, divine). The pursuit of Rayna and possible nuclear explosive devices allows Susan to prove herself as the plot takes her to gamble in the finest casinos in Europe, lounge in private jets, assume multiple identities, out-wit talkative baddies, and ignite the expected propulsive pyrotechnic conclusion.
Yet through it all, McCarthy and Hart in particular embody their characters with a sense of fun and fear that shines through all of the backdrops and costumes. McCarthy is back at the top of the mountain, spouting obscene tirades with the best delivery in the business and shining in the action scenes, particularly a close hand-to-hand fight in a kitchen. Feig wisely eschews an overload of visual effects and keeps us focused on these characters in conflict and conversation with each other, and that's the key take-away from this film. I wish that he would reign in his tendency to overload the endings of his films with celebrity cameos, and it does feel a bit long at the end. The film takes its cues from the slick, recent Daniel Craig Bond films like Casino Royale, but it enjoys itself in its joke-telling and set-ups. It is fun, and the film allows us the pleasure of watching Janney, McCarthy, and Hart work together in multiple scenes of intelligent, capable women solving the spy issues of the day with intensity and hilarity. And who knew Jason Statham, formerly of The Transporter film franchise, had such an affinity for comedy? I wish he could be nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his work in Spy. And Jude Law? He could have been Bond, but in this film, he gets to play it up in an endearing way; he's somebody that I constantly look forward to seeing again. And McCarthy returns to the top, and I'm awaiting her next work with a strong director.