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Review: Spy (2015) — Bending Genres and Stereotypes, Spy is Surprisingly Full of Cultural Relevance and Laughs

Spy-banner

Popular director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, The Heat) tackles the spy genre with the aptly titled Spy, which sees Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) as a desk-jockey for the CIA, working as a liaison for one of the agency’s super-spies Bradley Fine (Jude Law). Cooper is a terrific analyst, but an underachiever and a joke to her fellow operatives, but when Fine is apparently killed in action by mob queen Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne), and the identities of many top CIA agents are compromised, Cooper must leave the safety of her desk and go undercover to expose the plot of Rayna and her arms dealer associate (Bobby Cannavale) before it’s too late.

Both serious and in comedy, the spy genre is already loaded — the freaking sequel to Cars was a spy movie! — and 2015 alone will see the release of new instalments of James Bond and Mission: Impossible films, amongst others. The question is whether Spy contains anything to make it stand out from an already crowded sub-genre. The answer is yes, Spy does hold it’s own in many ways, but it may not be what you were expecting.

Because people who look like this are funny, get it? That's the joke.

Because people who look like this are funny, get it? That’s the joke.

What makes Spy stand out is it’s gender politics. Director Paul Feig and frequent collaborator Melissa McCarthy have a history of making films centred on strong females, but Spy also includes strong critiques on workplace equality and even the portrayal of female action stars. The fact that Susan Cooper was one of the best graduates in the CIA academy, yet took a lowly position as an analyst in a dishevelled CIA basement at the behest of a male-dominated hierarchy surely has to resonate with the female workforce. Even when Cooper takes the plunge of putting herself into the field, a dangerous position that requires skill and wits to survive, she is presented with the cover of ‘lonely cat-lady’ and her secret agent devices — a favourite spy staple — consist of a rape whistle blow-dart and poison antidote disguised as stool-softening tablets. She’s treated this way due to the way she looks.

Apart from her supporting role in Bridesmaids, I have yet seen a Melissa McCarthy role that I have enjoyed. Thus far, I have found her schtick irritating and on-the-nose, but the potential was always there with the right role, and Spy is her best performance yet. She’s funny without being self-deprecating — she’s actually one of the most competent agents in the CIA –it’s the other characters constantly condescending and underestimating her. She’s well aware how good she is, but has relegated herself as a perpetual doormat, towing the line and content with a life of mediocrity. Fully realising her destiny as kickass spy is her character arc, as she overcomes her own self-doubts as well as the doubts of others.

The surprise is that McCarthy isn’t that much of a goof this time around; playing it relatively straight while it’s everyone around her that is incompetent, and this is preferable. The shocking revelation of this movie is that despite years of contrary evidence, McCarthy is solid at carrying a movie without being a goofball, and it is Jason Statham who excels at being the bonehead.

Some of the best moments are reserved for Statham’s spy Rick Ford; basically a send-up of his big-screen tough-guy persona. His ridiculous machismo hits the perfect level of hilarious before it becomes gratuitous. Whether it’s spouting a laundry-list of accomplishments (read: action-movie stunt tropes), or claiming he’s ‘done this before’ while hanging from an in-flight helicopter (he has!), Statham’s comic timing as the alpha-male lacking self-awareness is great! This Statham is more Clouseau than Chev Chelios, and it may be my favourite kind of Statham.

Spy Melissa McCarthy Rose Byrne

The Spy Who Loved Boobs

The supporting cast is also a blast to watch. Rose Byrne nails it as the blunt, crass, mob queen Rayna Boyanov. They didn’t share much screen time in Bridesmaids, but McCarthy and Byrne’s comic timing and chemistry is on-point and their back-and-forth barbs at each other are a definite highlight. It’s odd seeing Jude Law playing a super-spy, yet acting with an unnatural American accent, but otherwise he is as suave as you can imagine. Peter Serafinowicz has a nice role as a bumbling Italian agent, and Allison Janney is great as the no-nonsense CIA boss. The only drawback of the cast is comedian Miranda Hart, playing Cooper’s CIA associate. Every single joke of Hart’s fell flat and her character grew irritating quickly; a minor blemish in an otherwise stellar cast.

No spy movie is complete without an elaborate opening credits sequence (more movies need to embrace opening credits, as I’ve noticed credit sequences are increasingly relegated to the closing credits; but that’s for another time). I’m admittedly a sucker for a classic Bond-style theme song, and “Who Can You Trust” by Ivy Levan, and the 007-style graphics during the opening credits gave the movie a great head start and a big thumbs up!

 

Llama Score: 7On paper, you wouldn’t expect a movie like Spy to be anything more than a forgettable action-comedy, but the truth is Spy is consistently funny, has solid action sequences, and enough social commentary for long-lasting depth and popularity. Melissa McCarthy’s best performance and top ten all-time spy comedies.

 

Award: SeagalAward: Fury

Highlights Banner

– Jason Statham’s bumbling Rick Ford.

– McCarthy and Byrne’s chemistry.

– Shockingly competent and exciting action.

Lowlights Banner

Spy. This title stinks in it’s laziness. I hate it.

– Miranda Hart. Not a single funny moment. Get in the bin.

Further Viewing Banner

– Bridesmaids (2011)

– Diamonds are Forever (1971)

– Get Smart (2008)

– Pineapple Express (2008)

Directed by: Paul Feig Written by: Paul Feig Produced by: Paul Feig, Jessie Henderson, Peter Chernin, Jenno Topping Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Jason Statham, Rose Byrne, Miranda Hart, Bobby Cannavale, Allison Janney, Jude Law Distributed by: 20th Century Fox Run length: 120 minutes Australian Release: Out now in all major cinemas

 

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