Before Spy the current state of comedy at the cinema was sad. With clunkers like The Duff, Hot Tub Time Machine 2, and Get Hard we are collectively due for a good belly laugh. Thank goodness for Spy, which is funny, empowering, and avoids the slippery slope of mean comedy.
Having fun with the James Bond types, Spy takes place within the espionage world of the CIA. Though we tend to associate CIA spies with less glamour than Bond, casting Jude Law as the aptly named Fine turns this assumption upside down. Fine opens the film by conducting a mission. He is dressed in an expertly tailored tuxedo, sipping champagne in a lavish mansion at the height of a sophisticated party. After distracting the mansion’s guards he enters a secret room and gets to work. As he is covertly conducting his business we realize that he is not doing this all on his own. Via an earpiece, his colleague on the other side of the globe in Washington DC, Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy), is directing his moves and keeping him as safe as she can. Through seamless teamwork they successfully complete the mission, and celebrate together after he safely returns home. On the next mission he is not so lucky. Fearing inside intelligence and double agents are to blame Cooper’s boss, Crocker (Allison Janney), reluctantly puts Cooper in the field.
At this point the audience may be expecting the jokes in the film to come from the fact that Cooper does not look like a typical agent. The other female agent we see, Walker (Morena Baccarin), is tall, slim, impossibly gorgeous, confident, and simply oozes sophistication. Cooper is none of those things, but she turns out to be an outstanding secret agent. None of the jokes are at the expense of her physical appearance. In fact some of the best jokes—including a running gag about her repeatedly getting particularly frumpy alternate identities—come from others underestimating Cooper. All of McCarthy’s strengths as an actress and comedian are perfectly highlighted in the film and the humor thankfully never turns against her.
Instead, the humor is created from quirks of the other characters in the film, and not aimed at them. Fine is a beautiful man and a stellar CIA agent, but the number of times he stops mid-fight to fix his hairdo is equally worrisome and funny. At first his coiffing was nothing of note, but the accumulation of the behavior turned out to be one of the better gags in the film. Cooper’s best friend and fellow agent Artingstall (Miranda Hart) was hilariously so excited by everything in the film. She comes across not as naïve, but as someone who is genuinely so thrilled to finally be a part of the action. Her giddiness is adorable and infectious, and a welcome addition to the typically cool-as-a-cucumber spy world. Even with these comedic gags in place, nearly every scene that included agent Ford (Jason Statham) was unceremoniously stolen by him. He is the picture of hyper-masculinity and clearly had a lot of fun in the role. Ford was the one character who lightly veered into farcical, but never fully falls into that mode. The film is a satire of spies, but never strays far from it.
The one comedic element that fell flat was the Italian agent Aldo (Peter Serafinowicz). His unwanted sexual advances toward Cooper are funny at first. As the film progresses, however, his sexual pursuit of Cooper just seems a little creepy and we realize that he is one of the few one-note characters in Spy. A tiny misstep in an overwhelming delightful film can easily be forgiven, but bears mentioning.
I was completely surprised by how much I liked Spy. I’m not sure if I had my expectations lowered due to the overall poor comedic offerings so far in 2015, my disappointment in director Paul Feig’s last project with McCarthy (The Heat), or the predictable marketing campaign for the film. In any case I was mistaken; Spy is the first brilliant comedy of the year.
Director: Paul Feig
Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson
Film Length: 117 minutes
Release Date: June 5, 2015
Distributor: 20th Century Fox