Director Paul Feig Starring Melissa McCarthy, Jason Statham, Rose Byrne, Miranda Hart, Jude Law Peter Serafinowicz, Bobby Cannavale, Allison Janney
The spy spoof is the original of all parody films. The action-comedy-thriller composite genre dates as far back as the 1960s and since then has endeared, becoming such a source for laughs and money. Somewhere along the way though things took a wrong turn and the laughs became cheap, then ran dry. It may be a bit much to expect every film for a fifty-year period to be of sound quality but for a while there things were getting a bit desperate.
Very recently, however, there’s been a resurgence. It’s still early days but the cheap gags and cartoony characterization are gone, replaced with human beings and a well thought out script. Spy is the first to capitalize on this new-found interest in creating a good spy comedy, and it’s set some lofty standards that need to be maintained should this resurgence seem nothing more than a mirage.
I’ll be honest: if you’ve seen one chances are you’ve seen them all. Susan Cooper (McCarthy) is a mild-mannered CIA analyst and the support for the suave suit-wearing spy Bradley Fine (Law). But when Fine goes down in the field and the identities of the CIA’s top-agents are all compromised Cooper steps up in honour of Fine to track arms dealer Rayna Boyanov (Byrne) and stop a potential nuclear disaster.
Though humorous the film is a slow starter and light-on for laugh-out-loud moments. But it is a strategic sacrifice as the early scenes are used to showcase Cooper’s lack of confidence and her near-romantic working relationship with Fine. When she goes undercover her motivations are clear and admirable. But though she may be rusty she’s not out of depth, as each action scene demonstrates.
By the time Cooper is in deep with Boyanov as her arse-kicking and foul-mouthed bodyguard the tone has changed dramatically. The jokes come thick and fast from herein, particularly from the headstrong rogue agent Rick Ford (Statham), whose exploits become more and more fantastical with each reiteration.
At films end Cooper isn’t same-old, same-old but a fully-fledged agent who has earned the trust and admiration of not only the people she works with but with herself. The relationships with all the people around her all change for the better, even Boyanov, and what’s better is it’s all believable.
Paul Feig has written a funny script that evenly blends action and comedy . The action scenes, though short and quick, are distinct from one another but what’s best is his source of humour. The usual oblivious incompetent agent cliché is present in Ford but the comedy surrounding Cooper actually comes from her empowerment from being in the field. She has no belief in herself to begin with but during her mission she’s quite resourceful and more than capable of holding her own against anything that comes her way. Spy may not be the classiest of affairs, there may be a couple of d*** pics in there, but it never resorts to gags about weight or gender.
To the power of; Melissa McCarthy is superb in not just her delivery but her physicality. She not only carries this film from beginning to end but elevates it, while the cast around her, particularly Rose Byrne, just bounce off of her. Everybody’s different, no two characters are the same, and it makes for great dynamic within the cast.
The spy genre is not one of my personal favourites, and I consider spy spoof films even less, so when I heard about Spy I was concerned for the health of McCarthy’s career. But I’ve got to be truthful here and say this is one hell of a film. Everything about it is executed perfectly, the humour is intelligent and the cast are talented enough to make the admittedly thin plot work without any drawbacks. But let’s face it, nobody went to see this film for an intricate plot.
Every genre has some downtime. It keeps things healthy so that it may last that much longer. This genre was going strong for a long time before it ran out of steam but Spy looks to have breathed new life into it. Having said that if this resurgence is just an apparition then don’t worry yourself because Spy is more than capable of standing on its own two feet. But underneath all that, the outlandish comedic espionage and the like, there’s a simple story about a woman who was unaware of her own true abilities and breathed new life into herself in the funniest way possible. Forget the rest of it; that’s what makes Spy such as great film.