WRITTEN REVIEW – Spy (2015)
Directed by: Paul Feig
Written by: Paul Feig
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Jude Law, Jason Statham, Rose Byrne & Miranda Hart
Music: Theodore Shapiro
Release Date: June 5th 2015
Outside of the James Bond 007 franchise, there isn’t much in the way of classic espionage in mainstream cinema. Yes, there are movies in the vein of the ‘Bourne‘ franchise but when it comes to classy agents, inventive gadgets and flashy vehicles the “Spy” genre has been dormant for many years. Female-led spy movies are even rarer to come by, but from the director of the comedy sleeper hit ‘Bridesmaids‘ we now have ‘Spy‘ which also reunites director Paul Feig with the breakout star of that movie; Melissa McCarthy.
With a game supporting cast comprised of Jude Law as the suave Bond-esque character, Rose Byrne as the villianous femme-fatale taking part in a globe-hopping spy story, it would seem that ‘Spy‘ can certainly walk the walk. But with its incredibly witty and smart comedic script, it proves that the classic spy genre can still engage audiences. Especially when they’re this freakin’ funny.
Susan Cooper (McCarthy) has been working with the CIA for many years and was even one of their top-ranked agents during training. However, she has been relegated to sitting behind a desk acting as the eyes-and-ears for Agent Bradley Fine (Law) who does all of the field-work and taking part in the action. But all that changes when the daughter of a deceased terrorist, Rayna Boyanov (Byrne) has hidden a nuclear device and happens to know the identity of all CIA agents working in the field. Thanks to her being behind a desk for her career, Susan is not known in the field meaning that she has to go out and stop Rayna’s plan to sell the device and discover its location.
One aspect of the plot that hasn’t been hinted at in the advertisement (which I’m going to have to talk about because it’s a key component as to why the movie works) is that Susan Cooper already has CIA training and she was one of the top-ranking agents before working behind a desk. There’s no need for an extended training montage, or a sequence where Susan has to be instructed on what to do in the field because she already has the necessary skills to be the brilliant field agent that she wants to be.
So why isn’t she already a spy? It’s a pretty simple answer; self-esteem issues.
Having been taught by her mother to stay out of sight as well as Bradley Fine’s almost insidiously mean-spirited dismissal of her despite her obvious infatuation with him means that Susan is basically an invisible woman in the workplace who’s timid nature is holding her back. And when she’s finally given the chance to accomplish the mission that we, the audience, already know she can do, she’s given incredibly unflattering identities such as a single, loner, cat-obsessed woman, or a divorced tourist. Her gadgets are camouflaged as very demeaning handbag contents such as hemorrhoid wipes (which are actually chloroform wipes) or a rape whistle (which, when blown, fires a poison dart).
As far as the CIA are concerned, THIS is what Susan Cooper is able to convincingly pull off.
Along with the fact that Susan is instructed to follow the target and to NOT engage, it puts her in a great position for the audience to want to see her succeed. When Susan does engage the targets, is able to think on her feet and is also very physically capable in a fight, it’s satisfying to see Susan show all of the naysayers.
Yes, Susan still has self-doubt, but the real stakes of the situation (this is a real nuke that can cause real harm) forces her to step up and this is demonstrated in the funniest portion of the film where Susan winds up posing as Rayna Boyanov’s foul-mouthed body-guard and has to do a complete 180 in terms of her actual personality to keep up this ruse. It’s also a massive credit to Melissa McCarthy who is able to pull off these different personalities and make the transition seem believable.
It’s a testament to her range as an actor to make it seem plausible that the mild-mannered Susan Cooper can threaten to cut off a man’s penis and stick it to his head so he will look like a “limp-dicked unicorn”.
While the use of stunt-doubles during car chases and some action sequences involving McCarthy are apparent, due to it being a comedy that oversight is easier to overlook as opposed to it being a straight-faced, serious spy movie with bad production values.
The rest of the cast are awesome as well with Jude Law being very convincing as a Roger Moore Bond pastiche and also being a natural for farcical comedy. Rose Byrne gives career-best work as the spoilt, entitled villain who has no idea what she’s involved with and she works as a brilliant contrast to Susan Cooper’s demure persona in the early stages of the mission. But Jason Statham is the MVP supporting player as he dials up the self-aware attitude in portraying an incredibly extreme and intense version of his onscreen action persona. A man who lists off many of his incredible accomplishments in the field such as appearing in front of Congress convincingly as Barack Obama, or taking part in a circus show after breaking both of his legs.
If Jason Statham had a few more scenes in ‘Spy‘ then he could have easily stolen the movie right from under Melissa McCarthy, but she is undoubtedly the star here and she proves that she can lead a movie and be incredibly convincing while doing it. Her rapid-fire delivery for insults, or quotable phrases is incredibly on-point and you can tell that her and Paul Feig are a great pairing that allow room for experimentation and improvisation on set.
While Paul Feig clearly works well with actors and is able to create a smart, funny script with lots of character, in terms of imitating the production values of a 1960s/70s spy movie, he doesn’t quite have the technical know-how to make it work. The action is decent, but you get the sense that the pre-production team wanted it to be much bigger then it actually is. The fist-fights are well choreographed, but the reliance of shaky-cam does get very noticeable. The green-screen work is weak and as mentioned before, the use of stunt-doubles, while forgiveable, is still noticeable.
Also, while Paul Feig’s approach to improvisation allows for a lot of jokes, it also means that a lot of the direction winds up feeling flat. Seriously, count the amount of scenes that have two characters just sitting at a table with shot-reverse-shot composition. It allows for easier editing and for flexibility with the dialogue, but the repetitive nature of the set-up does become very apparent by the halfway point.
But the location work is still very good, particularly during the middle act when Susan goes to meet Rayna in Paris and the city does look lavish and beautiful, as does Budapest later on in the film. I do also admire the amount of gore in the film and how brutal some of the action is. The movie GREATLY benefits from the 15 certificate. A lot of it is going for shock-value, but it’s still entertaining with strong make-up effects. Theodore Shapiro’s music mimics classic-era Bond appropriately and it does add to the frequent action-beats and the movie’s main theme “Who Can You Trust” by Ivy Levan which opens the film feels like a very appropriate mood-setter while also working as a Bond-theme homage.
‘Spy‘ is a laugh-a-minute, immensely quotable comedy that is a great showcase for Melissa MaCarthy’s considerable talents while also working as a sly, meta commentary on her career. But ‘Spy‘ is easily the best movie of her career as well as a career high-point for director Paul Feig. While Feig works better as a director of comedy than action or espionage, his ability to get the best out of his gut-bustingly funny supporting cast (especially Staham and Byrne) more than makes up for it. ‘Spy‘ is an engaging, must-see comedy that even detractors of McCarthy will have a hard time disliking.
I give ‘Spy‘ 4 stars out of 5.
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Posted In: 2015 Reviews Current Reviews Reviews
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Posted: 21st Jun 15