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Should I Watch..? Spy
What's the big deal?
Spy is an action comedy film released in 2015 which was written and directed by Paul Feig. The film stars Melissa McCarthy, Rose Byrne, Jason Statham, Jude Law and Miranda Hart and sees a desk-bound CIA analyst thrust into the field to stop the sale of a nuke. Originally conceived in 2013, the film was largely shot in Budapest which doubled for both Paris and Rome. Released to a warm reception from critics, the film went on to earn $235 million worldwide and generated enough interest for a possible sequel, which Feig has already begun working on. The film was also nominated for a number of awards including Golden Globes.
What's it about?
Susan Cooper is a CIA analyst working in their bat-infested basement in Langley, who largely assists super-spy Bradley Fine by relaying information to him whenever he's in the field. Helping Fine to escape after accidentally killing arms dealer Tihomir Boyanov, she is unable to help when Fine is murdered on a mission by Boyanov's daughter, Rayna. With a number of CIA agents compromised including fellow super-spy Rick Ford and Karen Walker, Susan's boss Elaine Crocker has no choice but to send Susan out in order to uncover the location of a missing tactical nuke.
Crippled by personal insecurities and constantly belittled by Ford who shadows her on her mission, Susan finds herself torn between her objectives of merely observing Rayna and seeking revenge for Fine's murder. Before long, Susan finds herself totally out of her depth and reliant on the support of fellow analyst Nancy Artingstall and sleazy field agent Aldo. But as her confidence grows, she gets closer to Rayna and quickly discovers hidden talents...
Nancy B. Artingstall
Sergio De Luca
Release Date (UK)
5th June, 2015
What's to like?
Films like this and Wonder Woman (1) are proving to be something of a emerging trend in Hollywood, finally giving women a place at the front of films and helming stories of this kind. It's refreshing to see action comedies like this that offer viewers something different - we've all seen the likes of Beverly Hills Cop (2) dozens of times so it's great to see things from another perspective. It isn't like Susan is an one-dimensional character either - her lack of confidence and insecurity makes the film's narrative feel more interesting. McCarthy's gutsy performance in the role is also a change from the more photogenic stars usually in these sort of movies.
Statham also delivers a great performance as the uber-macho Ford, delivering lines of foul-mouthed relish with the sort of precise comic timing we've not seen since his debut in Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels (3). It's a reminder that he shouldn't just be confined to action roles. The film has plenty of laughs and not just because we see McCarthy kicking ass in a kitchen. But it also works as an action movie - the fight scenes are impressive and while the amount of action might disappoint fans of these films, it doesn't feel like a slog. Despite the comedy, it feels like a genuine spy film from the start - the opening theme and Law's appearance both feel deliberately reminiscent of Eighties Bond movies. As a whole, I enjoyed it - however...
- The role of Nancy was written specifically for Miranda Hart in mind, while Rick Ford was tailored to suit Statham as Feig is a big fan of his.
- The film was inspired by the Bond reboot Casino Royale (4) in 2006 which Feig claims is one of his favourite ever films. He also knew that nobody would ever ask him to direct a Bond film for real.
- During the stand-off between Susan's scooter and the BMW, Susan is accosted by a tourist asking for directions. He's played by Ben Falcone, Melissa McCarthy's real-life husband.
What's not to like?
...it isn't the laughter riot I was expecting. The film has so much potential - not just with McCarthy's character but also Statham's macho idiot - but it never quite gets into the sweet spot in the way I wanted it to. It's maybe a bit too similar to other spy comedies - it reminded me a lot of Date Night (5) with its fish-out-of-water theme. The comedy also never really seems to push on from watching someone like McCarthy doing action things. I wanted to laugh at more than just a larger actress doing kung-fu and shooting stuff, which seems to provide about 60% of the film's gag count.
The other thing I didn't like about Spy was the fact that it doesn't push on with trying to plough its own field. Instead of being a truly progressive picture, it settles for being a middle-of-the-road effort with enough laughs to fool you into thinking you enjoyed the film as a whole. Sounds harsh perhaps but Hart's character is essentially the same one we see in her sit-com Miranda, the plot doesn't do a great job of hiding its twists and the implausible set-up means you never really buy into the concept. I like this film, believe me. I just wanted it to try a little harder and deliver something truly memorable besides an odd cameo from 50 Cent and an oddly predictable script.
Should I watch it?
Spy stands out from the crowd by finally putting women at the forefront of these sort of movies, relegating actors like Statham to supporting roles. There are plenty of laughs and the action is suitable for this kind of film but it never strays too far from the formula, despite promising to do so. In the end, Spy is a competent effort that will amuse and entertain but is about as progressive as a 1970's stand-up comic.
Great For: jaded female action fans, CIA analysts, undemanding audiences
Not So Great For: adrenaline junkies, European viewers, misogynists
What else should I watch?
McCarthy is leading the charge when it comes to pushing boundaries for women in cinema, whether it's in comedies like this and Bridesmaids (6) to the ill-advised reboot of Ghostbusters (7). But there remains a huge schism between men and women in movies, both behind and in front of the camera. Between 2007 and 2015, of the top 100 films each year, just 4.1% were directed by women and it doesn't show any sign of changing just yet. Directors like Katherine Bigelow (The Hurt Locker (8)) and Sofia Coppola (Lost In Translation (9)) are pivotal in changing attitudes towards women in movies.
Feig seems to have become something of a specialist when it comes to bringing female-helmed pictures to life. With Bridesmaids taking the world by storm, he has since gone on to use McCarthy again in another action-comedy alongside Sandra Bullock, The Heat (10), as a pair of mismatched cops trying to bring in the bad guy. Like Spy, it might upturn traditional gender roles but remains a largely formulaic film - albeit one with great chemistry from the two leads.