Paul Feig is now two for two on female-driven R-rated comedies with Bridesmaids and The Heat. I really enjoyed both films, Bridesmaids more than The Heat, if I’m being honest. His latest is Spy, which is slightly different in that Paul Feig is credited as the writer, which he wasn’t for either of the two I mentioned. The films can also be considered the latest Melissa McCarthy vehicle, which is a red flag for certain people, which I understand (trust me, I saw Tammy too). However, I still like to give her a chance because the good stuff she’s in, she’s fantastic. So, I was more than willing to give Spy a chance despite the awful marketing.
Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) is a CIA analyst who guides Agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law) through missions. However, during an attempt to find and stop the sale of a suitcase nuke, Fine gets killed by Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne). She reveals that she knows the identities of the CIA’s agents, leaving them with no choice but to send out someone who was never out in the field, and that person ends up being Cooper. So, it’s up to her to go undercover and prevent the nuke from getting to the wrong hands.
2015 seems to be a year for spy movies. We’ve already had the great Kingsman, and we still have the new Mission Impossible, Guy Ritchie’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies and the new Bond film to get to. With Spy, Paul Feig and Melissa McCarthy delivers in what might just be their best film to date. It very much takes the best that both these people do creatively and makes it work. I think it works so well that even if you were hesitant going into it, you can find something to really like here.
One of the best things about the film is the way the character of Susan Cooper was handled. In most movies with this type of setup, you’d expect Susan to be a bumbling idiot type that trips and falls their way into saving the day. Many movies have done this, and some have done it well, to be fair. However, where Spy differs is that Cooper is actually a very capable agent who uses her wits and intelligence to get out of all the crazy situations that she finds herself in. The film is ultimately about someone who simply needs the necessary self-confidence in order to fully realize her potential. It’s actually really a refreshing approach for a comedy of this type. It makes for a very sympathetic and likeable protagonist that keeps the audience actively rooting for their success. Adding onto that is Melissa McCarthy giving her best comedic performance to date. She’s given several covers and identities, most of which seem to be a play on typical Melissa McCarthy personas, and it gives her plenty of opportunities to show off her range. It’s a testament to her talent and on-screen presence, and her turn here more than makes up for some of her recent work.
While Spy is certainly the Melissa McCarthy show, it helps having a pretty stellar supporting cast including, but not limited to, Jason Statham, Miranda Hart, Bobby Cannavale, Allison Janney, Peter Serafinowicz and Morena Baccarin. The standout to me, and I’ll admit that I might be a bit biased since I’m a fan, is Jason Statham as Rick Ford. Ford is one of the CIA’s top agents, but he goes rogue after his resignation following Cooper getting assigned a mission. During Cooper’s mission, Ford will randomly show up wherever Cooper is and make the situation worse, all while he claims to stop her from screwing things up. He is essentially playing the typical Jason Statham type character, but instead of being cool, intense and suave, he’s more of a dumbass completely lacking in self-awareness. Anytime he goes on these long tangents about all the crazy things he’s done (some of which are from actual Statham films), I was in tears laughing. He and Melissa McCarthy have such great chemistry with their hilarious back-and-forths together that I would love to see more movies with them together.
I also liked that along with the mostly consistent laughs, the film works as a Spy movie. Yes, it is predictable even if you’ve seen one movie in the genre, I get that. What I mean is that Paul Feig clearly has an appreciation for the genre that shows in the filmmaking. It plays with a lot of genre conventions without resorting to looking down on it. The action is really solid; one fight scene taking place in a kitchen was especially great. Sure it doesn’t match any of the action in Kingsman, but it certainly makes up for it by being a lot funnier. For anyone wondering, the fat jokes and gross-out humor are kept at a minimum, in fact I hardly remember any fat jokes at all. Most of the humor comes out of the character interactions. The characters can be straight up vicious to each other and the film does not hold back on its vulgarity, but thankfully, the film as a whole never comes across as mean-spirited. I will say that some jokes don’t quite work. Most of Miranda Hart’s material didn’t do much for me, which is unfortunate because she is really funny in other things I’ve seen her in. Also, while I initially did find some fun in Peter Serafinowicz’s character, his shtick did become tiresome and repetitive and almost uncomfortable after a certain point. Those are my only big misses with the humor, most of the film hits and it hits hard.
Spy is easily one of the best comedies of the year so far. I’m aware that it’s not going to appeal to some, but it’s more than worth giving a chance. Paul Feig’s screenplay and direction is solid, especially in how he handles working within the spy genre, but he allows the actors to work at their best. Don’t believe the trailers that are clearly misrepresenting what the film is about and what the humor is like, it’s about as baffling as the difference in quality of the Paddington trailers to the actual film. There’s some really smart stuff going on in Spy, but it’s ultimately the jokes that keep you going. It’s an absolute blast to watch, even with its occasional lulls. At least the very least watch it for Statham.