First “Eggsy” and now Susan Cooper, the latest Feig-McCarthy collaboration makes another dive into espionage silliness before Ethan Hunt and Bond arrive later this year. Thanks to an outpour of approval from SXSW, Spy encounters the danger that is hype, but in the end emerges unscathed, in style and triumphant.
Aptly named agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law) is the CIA’s best, but even he admits it wouldn’t have been possible without Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) in his ear. No, Cooper isn’t tiny, she’s just brilliant at guiding Fine toward the objective from her desk in Langley’s vermin-infested basement. And that has always been Cooper’s life, which isn’t the kind she wanted. What’s also unwarranted is a busted mission that left Fine dead, identities of CIA’s top operatives known and a nuclear bomb hidden by arms dealer Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne). As one of the very few yet exposed, Cooper is fit – she even volunteered – to save the world against the coldest of receptions from Agency chief Elaine Crocker (Allison Janney) and agent Rick Ford (Jason Statham).
Perhaps the key reason behind Spy’s success is how complete it is. As a Bond parody, it has a dynamite intro and smashing opening titles. As a comedy, no jokes land with a thud or at places where they shouldn’t be. Most importantly, as a spy film, there’s enough globe-trotting, double-crossing and danger-brushing that with all the hilarity removed Spy can easily join the gritty playground notable cinematic spies are playing in.
The film’s well-roundedness is present in the casting too, asking performers to stay in and then go out of their comfort zone. Paul Feig’s script, of course, utilizes every chance it has to let McCarthy’s well-known feisty and swearing-storm-at-the-ready personality appears, but it also, at least twice, lets viewers see how natural the comedienne can be in serious territory. Whenever she shares the space with Byrne, Spy’s exotic locales and action sequences become secondary to their chemistry. On that note, Byrne should be a villain more often, sultriness and supercilious attitude both optional but highly recommended. The men are also solid, with Law unleashing his signature classiness to be Bond’s double and Statham summoning all of his previous made-of-brawn roles to embrace what might have been described as “Rambo without a brain.” Theodore Shapiro’s energetic score seems to reflect this two-sided nature as well, at one point emulating Bond with elegant brass notes before jumping to the pounding bass of modern action scores or “Bounce” from Iggy Azalea.
Nonetheless, much similar to how this is Cooper’s first time in the field, Spy could have done better in certain areas. Though variety in humor is always a welcoming factor, the use of “stuffed with exaggerated imagery” jokes is the one kind the film can live without. It’s pretty bizarre how self-referential Spy is when one character asks another to tone things down. Action sequences, on the other hand, could use some ramping up; the choreography of those in the film is so simplistic it clashes with the film’s visual and narrative scope. Take Hot Fuzz for example: the budget isn’t as high as Spy, but visceral always comes knocking when bullets fly and glasses shatter. That said, it’s commendable that all the heart-pounding bits happen with a purpose and consistently impactful due to Robert Yeoman’s steady camerawork. Ah, the wonders of being inspired by Casino Royale and Jackie Chan films!
The year 2015 is a great time to be a spy: Kingsman was a sleeper hit, Spy will definitely test the third return to The Further out in theaters and naming one’s film as either “Mission: Impossible” or “007” is a guaranteed hit. With such a hilarious and energetic feature in a genre known more for manliness and sleekness, the crew of Bridesmaids might make that forthcoming all-female Ghostbusters work. Bond, Bourne, Hunt and Bauer, time to back off and watch out.