After Agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law) is killed in the line of duty, and the CIA’s top operatives are exposed, desk-bound Agent Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) heads out into the field to find and track Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne), Fine’s killer and the daughter of a European criminal who’s hidden a nuclear weapon. But when Agent Rick Ford (Jason Statham) goes rogue and almost blows Cooper’s cover, Cooper has to go deep undercover with Boyanov.
Honestly, when I first saw the trailer for this movie, I was worried. I thought, “Oh, great. It’s another movie where Melissa McCarthy plays fat, dumb, and disgusting for yucks.” And I say this with good reason. It’s a trend with her comedies lately, and I can’t understand why because she’s so much better than jokes about her weight (like, damn, leave that shit to Kevin James who literally has nothing else in terms of talent). Fortunately, Spy went against that “Haha, she’s fat!” trend and actually delivered a hilarious, action-packed spy film.
One of the best things about the film is that it openly mocks the James Bond films. From the cheesy opening credit sequence and Bond Girl-sounding alias “Amber Valentine” to the European villains who often kill their own henchmen and the secret agent who was presumed dead only to end up a double agent (a.k.a. Jude Law’s Bradley Fine), Spy is all about tackling those secret agent film tropes.
Jason Statham’s Rick Ford is the best example of this satire. He’s essentially director and writer Paul Feig’s criticism of James Bond. Ford is British, goes against his own agency’s plans, and likes to pull off unbelievable feats as a spy, like being on fire while driving a car on a train or reattaching his own arm (none of which we see because Ford is the tough guy who can’t live up to his talk). While Ford is a good fighter, he’s a terrible agent. He’s always falling into traps, and he’s too busy “going rogue” to ask for help. And like James Bond, he only survives because those around him (namely McCarthy’s Susan Cooper) manage to save him right before everything goes to shit.
Even better, Feig turns McCarthy’s Cooper into the heroic spy James Bond should be (in that she doesn’t pull off any stunts that 1) are impossible or 2) she hasn’t proven she can physically do). In fact, Cooper frequently outsmarts the villains and manages to save her own neck, as well as those of the other agents, because she put in the actual time behind the desk and in field training (unlike Bond, whose “proof” of skill is that he’s hot, charming, and shoots people). Cooper also gets the “Bond treatment” with dudes. Her European contact and lusty Italian, Aldo (Peter Serafinowicz), throws himself at her constantly. And then she ends up sleeping with Ford because, come on, they butted heads the whole movie like Bond and Vesper.
But above all, what I really love about this movie is that Cooper is a well-rounded character. From the start of the film, we see that she’s a good CIA agent. Although she isn’t out in the field, she plays a “Q” role and manages to keep Agent Fine alive (until he fakes his death) in sticky situations by providing directives in his ear.
But despite her skill, she also lacks confidence in her abilities at the beginning of the movie (which gives her the opportunity to grow). At first, she never tries to go into the field (though she wants to and has great training scores) because she admires Fine and believes him when he says she’s better in his ear (which provides the perfect setup for Allison Janney’s boss-ass CIA Director to make a statement about women in the workforce and how men will “snipe” them to stay on top).
And while Cooper is the butt of jokes about being unattractive, gross, or incompetent (like how she constantly gets assigned an identity that involves being a cat lady), they’re always jokes about what other people assume she’s like, not who she is. And the plot allows her to prove all of those assumptions wrong.
As Cooper’s story plays out, we get to watch her come into her own as she finally starts to see herself in a different light. She goes from “sit back and be quiet” to “kick ass and take names” without an unbelievable jump (Again, because we’ve seen proof that she has what it takes to be a spy). It’s almost as if she gets the chance to learn about herself as much as the audience does, and it’s great character development.
Also, even though Cooper goes from quiet to sharp-shooter, she never loses the initial traits that made us like her and sympathize with her. Even when she’s spewing f-bomb insults at Rose Byrne’s Rayna Boyanov (and her various assortment of Eurovillain bros) or suddenly getting credit for her awesome secret agent work, she never turns into the mean girl. She’s always well-intended, down-to-earth, and kind. Like I said, she’s a well-rounded character, and I’m very happy to see that McCarthy has finally found a way to still get in some of the grosser humor (like puking all over a guy she killed) without sacrificing character (like rejecting Fine’s offer to go get dinner after she became the hot commodity to hang out with her friend, Nancy, who was always by her side through thick and thin).
Overall, Spy is the right combination of comedy and action. The insults between characters are super quotable (Think Bridesmaids quotable), and the fight sequences are well-choreographed and bloody enough for the R-rated audience. While the CGI moments are kind of dorky, the fact that director/writer Paul Feig used what could’ve been just an okay comedy to criticize the James Bond franchise really upped the awesome factor. Also, MAJOR KUDOS to Melissa McCarthy for finally choosing a character who’s well-rounded and isn’t just a fat punchline for the audience to laugh at. I honestly think this is the first time where she was laughing with us.
For my radio review of Spy on “Pat & JT in the Morning,” visit this link (starts around the 19:22 mark).