It’s quite remarkable the longevity that the “spy” genre has endured over the years in film. If we take the heyday as the 1960’s – when cold war paranoia drew people to inner-workings of the secret services that kept us save from those Commy-scum and James Bond drove purdy cars. That’s six decades in which to cover the spy world in some detail whether it’s action with the Bonds or Bournes, John Le Carre style procedurals or comedies like Get Smart.
Writer/Director Paul Feig who gave us the lauded Bridemaids and equally funny buddy-cop movie The Heat turns his gaze to this cinematic institution. Of course the first thing that comes to mind when mixing the espionage world with comedy these days is Austin Powers. Sadly those films have not aged well, certainly to my eyes. Fortunately though Spy is not just a straight forward spoof.
Melissa McCarthy returns for her third team up with Feig, a partnership that could well rival Kurosawa and Mifune. She plays the hugely huggable Susan Cooper, a desk bound CIA operative who volunteers for a dangerous mission after loosing her partner Bradley Fine (Jude Law) in the field. She met with resistance by a wonderfully stone faced Jason Statham who is having great fun sending up his action man persona as Rick Ford, the most ridiculous assassin to ever grace the screen. Along the way she is supported her best bud Miranda Hart who is basically playing Miranda Hart. The duo’s awkward chemistry fits so uncomfortably well in the sleek, tailored world of the super spies that to see them scream with glee over gadgets and terror over flying bullets raises many a smile. Rose Byrne’s villainess is a expertly created creature. The ultimate ice-queen murderess she also gets some of the most unexpected laughs in the film mostly revolving around her deadpan critiques of Agent Cooper. Byrne’s real life husband Bobby Cannavale turns up in an underused role as another evil arms dealer, when he’s on screen though he has Robert Davi levels of charm.
The cast all handle their roles with little fault. Feig the director too combines the laughs and action with aplomb. For every tense moment of a terrorist bomber running through the streets of Paris is softened by McCarthy running around screaming how she needs to pee whilst wearing the most frumpy disguise. Wow that description really didn’t do it justice. A lot of the standard spy cliches are there; the casino’s, big cars, a plot involving a bomb, pompous orchestra soundtrack. There is a element of “seen it before” from other parody films and by this point they can seem like lazy tropes. Feig the writer though seems to utilise our familiarity with these standards in order to move the plot along quickly and provide the maximum amount of character interaction.
We know there’s a big arms deal going on but what we really want to see is more scenes of the seemingly sweet Cooper grow as an agent as she develops from desk clerk to action heroine. More so than the quick laughs and well mounted set pieces McCarthy’s performance is the star of the film. Seemingly to have found her Hollywood niche as the brash loudmouth Susan Cooper is her most likeable role yet. From minute one you’re rooting for her, making her later undercover assignments all the more funny for their transformations. She’s smarter than most around her and surprisingly just as dangerous – a scene where she stabs a man then vomits on him is a particular highlight.
A film that cares more about it’s characters than plot but also one that truly wants it’s audience to have a ball watching it Spy is one of the strongest Hollywood comedies of the year. Bring on Ghostbusters…
Dir: Paul Feig
Scr: Paul Feig
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Miranda Hart, Rose Byrne, Jason Statham, Jude Law, Peter Serafinowicz, Bobby Canavale, Allison Janney
Prd: Peter Chernin, Paul Feig, Jessie Henderson, Jenno Topping
DOP: Robert D. Yeoman
Music: Theodore Shapiro
Run time: 120 mins
Spy is out in cinemas from 5 June 2015 via 20th Century Fox.