“You’re funny, it’s the Bulgarian clown in you.”
The trailer for Spy is a bit misleading. From what we saw before the film’s release it made it seem as though the movie is about a somewhat inept woman whose physical appearance is going to be mined as we watch her save the world despite her blatant ineptitude. But that’s not even the broadest stroke of the movie–Spy is much smarter than the trailer led me to believe it would be. Instead of a bumbling idiot who somehow stumbles and lucks her way into saving the day we get Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids), a CIA technical support analyst who provides the necessary backup super-spy Bradley Fine (Jude Law, Black Sea) needs. They’re Q and Bond, if Q was secretly in love with Bond and Bond liked Q a lot more.
We get to quickly understand how this relationship works while Fine is trying to discover the location of a bomb and he accidentally shoots the only person who knows where it is…oops. But wait, it turns out that guy has a daughter, Rayna (Rose Byrne, Neighbors), and now she has that rogue nuclear weapon and she’s keen to offload it. The problem is Rayna has been given all of the active CIA operatives’ names and appearances, a fact she brags about as she kills Bradley while Susan watches through his contact lens camera. So who can possibly save the day by discovering both the bomb’s buyer and location? Susan, who’s actually an agent herself and who’s grieving the loss of Fine and thus motivated to volunteer to undertake the assignment. Of course it’s a simple track-and-report so the stakes are high but not that high.
At least…that’s the plan.
The reality takes us through the rest of the film as Susan finds herself thrust deeper and deeper into the mire, and she has to use her quick wits and actual skills to get her out of jam after jam. And she is helped/hindered in equal measure by her best friend and fellow analyst Nancy (Miranda Hart, Call the Midwife) and CIA foreign intelligence asset Aldo (Peter Serafinowicz, Guardians of the Galaxy). The secret weapon in the film is in Rick Ford (Jason Statham, Expendables 3). He’s another CIA super-spy but unlike Fine’s gentleman spy Ford is a sort of unhinged-super-testosterone-filled agent who shoots first, second, and third and for whom failure is not an option. He’s beside himself with rage at the thought of their boss Elaine (Allison Janney, Mom) actually entertaining the thought of sending Cooper into the field and he responds by quitting the CIA and going rogue, adding another wrinkle to Susan’s plans as he unexpectedly turns up during her mission with hilarious results.
The main idea underscoring Spy is that if you underestimate yourself so will everyone else. And that’s what’s happened with Susan. For example when they first team up Bradley talks her out of going into the field (“He sniped you,” Elaine tells Susan) and she doesn’t have enough confidence to disagree, which leads to their ten-year partnership. She has a crush on Bradley and in a another nice change from the expected he doesn’t see her in that way but he doesn’t see her as invisible or a non-entity like you’d expect, either. He underestimates her and she agrees with him and so he sees her as vital to his job and his friend but nothing more.
There are several factors which contribute to Spy‘s success. First is the writing. Paul Feig has crafted a highly entertaining spy film which avoids lampooning the genre like the trailer suggests, instead providing some commentary on preconceptions regarding gender and appearance while honoring the best the spy genre has to offer. Spy works because it has so many elements of the genre presented with just a slight twist which prompts the comedy. There are the undercover personas, the gadgets, the gun fights, the cool cars and the hand-to-hand combat sequences, to call out the main items. All of these elements play with Susan Cooper as a person instead of forcing her into a stereotype. The next thing which sells Spy is the re-teaming of McCarthy with director Paul Feig. This marks the duo’s third collaboration after the hits Bridesmaids and The Heat, which Feig also wrote and directed. There’s something to be said for developing a shorthand with someone over the course of several projects and there’s clearly magic in the mix here. And more magic is created with the rest of the cast as well. I mentioned Jason Statham acting as a secret weapon and the biggest threat in his arsenal is his chemistry with McCarthy. Every scene they are in together works and give credit to Feig once again. Instead of Ford’s complaint with Cooper being that she is physically incapable of doing his job, it’s just that he’s done it before and done it better than she could ever hope to, in his eyes. Another thing which helps sell Spy is the music. From the theme song sung over the opening title sequence through the montages and the end credits the music feels as though it was crafted for a James Bond film. The last thing I’ll mention is the budget. The $65 million dollars shows on screen with action set pieces and lavishness befitting any other high-end spy film. The camera work, palette and direction all make Spy look as legitimate as it is. It’s a funny film grounded in both message and appearance, and that grounding keeps the film from becoming ridiculous.
The technical specifications are top of the line. The video is a 2.39:1 transfer and looks beautifully crisp with no pixilation, green-screen edges or other distractions. It’s a well-shot film. The audio offers a few different options, with a 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track leading the way in the English-speaking options. Its full soundscape provides all the richness one could hope for and I could tell special care was taken to keep the dialogue audible during loud action scenes. This is as well-produced a Blu-ray as you could want and you won’t find anything to complain about.
Spy (Blu-ray) is a special features lover’s dream, with over 2 hours of bonus content. There’s the UltraViolet copy to start us off along with alternate and deleted scenes alongside outtakes. There’s a commentary track, two different gag reels, eight different featurettes, the trailer and there’s also a theatrical release of the film.
If you think Spy is a laugh-a-minute comedy akin to a female Austin Powers you’ll be disappointed in the movie. However if you give it a chance you’ll find a deceptively thoughtful film which yes, is very funny to boot. The magic will continue with McCarthy and Feig pairing up again for The Heat 2 and the highly-anticipated Ghostbusters and with Spy making almost four times its budget worldwide I expect a Spy 2 announcement in the pipeline soon.