Review: Spy

This article was originally published to The Edge on 7th june 2015

There are many films this year concerning the international men of mystery, the suave superheroes, tailored troublemakers, spies. All of them fronted by men. Trust in Paul Feig to bring us the first, and potentially only one, to have women as the protagonists, and the antagonists, while the men get to be comic relief in background roles. After last year’s abysmal Tammy, some may not be willing to risk seeing Melissa McCarthy in a lead role again, however they would be remiss to do so here. In Spy it’s all about her, and she leads it magnificently.

McCarthy plays Susan Cooper, the star CIA support agent of Bradley Fine (Jude Law), for whom she harbours a huge crush. However when arms dealer Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne) reveals that she knows the identities of the CIA’s top agents, it puts everyone at risk. Everyone except Susan. Stepping out from behind the desk she heads on a mission to track and stop Rayna from selling a portable nuclear device. With the help of her fellow agent Nancy (Miranda Hart) and the interference of rogue Rick Ford (Jason Statham), can Susan prove her worth in a world dominated by testosterone?

Susan’s great secret is that she isn’t the cat-loving loser her boss sees her as: she’s a total badass. Faced with danger and death she finds new ways out of problems beyond the expected fighting. Sure, she’s inexperienced, but not for long. There are next-to no jokes at her expense or that paint her in any way as a bad agent, only as a rusty one. McCarthy gets to run the gamut of representation here. Starting as a sweet and slightly bumbling character, she becomes not just more confident, but finds (through plot machinations) a way to being the ball buster of The Heat, and the gross, socially incompetent character ofBridesmaids. Throughout it all McCarthy is a charming lead, showcasing effective emotion more often than comedy. She’s funny, but not the funniest thing in the film.

Interestingly enough, with Rose Byrne and Alison Janney both playing no-nonsense women (the former of action, the latter of pithy remarks) the clownish buffoonery comes mostly from the men. Jude Law is the biggest parody of the spy genre the film offers, Peter Serafinowicz is a foreign asset with huge boundary problems and likely many sexual harassment suits (it’s a repetitive joke) and then there’s Jason Statham. It should be no surprise that he can be funny and that he is in on the joke, but here he is the joke. A po-faced, deadly serious, hyper-masculine figure of ridiculous proportions; every preposterous line he delivers is a crowd killer. There are a few big laughs throughout, and Statham is nearly always the one responsible.

Usually an action-comedy that is this funny would consequently have less than effective action, and whilstSpy‘s action is far from perfect, Feig does show early on that he understands the necessity for a scene to have clear geography and for the action to look good without being incomprehensible. It gets a little predictable and uninventive towards the end, but still remains fun. Much like McCarthy’s Cooper in the film – if you get the job done with minimal fuss, who cares how you did it?

Spy (2015), directed by Paul Feig, is distributed in the UK by 20th Century Fox. Certificate 15.

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