The Woman With The Golden Pun
Considering for years the PC/Daily Mail Brigade have deadpan suggested that ‘it’s about time James Bond was played by a woman’ and noone has bothered to do anything with that female spy concept, trust the lady friendly wonder team of writer/director Paul Feig and cuddly loudmouth actress Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids & The Heat) to pick up on that & run with it. Whilst it suffers from being too much like their usual work, Spy is an unexpectedly great and fun lampooning of the male dominated secret agent genre.
Bored of not getting anywhere in her career as a support agent for the CIA whilst she looks after her super cool secret agent, Susan Cooper (McCarthy) has puppy dog eyes and feelings for her charge Bradley Fine (Jude Law, Black Sea). After he’s shot in the line of duty on a mission trying to stop the arms dealer Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne, Annie) and the rest of the active CIA agents’ identities are compromised, Susan opts to fulfil her potential and move from her basement to the field as she goes to take down Boyanov and save the world of a nuclear bomb.
After seeing it in action, I feel like smacking my own head against the wall for not coming up with the idea of Spy earlier. Not to say the concept is that obvious – rather you’re more surprised at a female orientated spin on a comedy spy movie has not been done previously. The usual tired tropes of the traditional secret agent and espionage flick is given new life with the simple procedure of a gender swap. The humour is played straight and feels more like a loving pastiche rather than say an Austin Powers parody. Fine acts like a super cool American version of Bond down to all the quips and swishy dreamy hair, yet he still has to take his allergy tablets as he has a nasty habit of sneezing whilst holding up a terrorist when he’s extracting information. The numerous villains all appear at first to be criminal masterminds hell bent of earning a few quid or world domination, yet get to know them and they have daddy issues & are as ditzy as you or I. Allison Janney (The Duff) is the never joking and brutal head of CIA operations whose you can’t tell if she’s being serious or not. My boy Peter Serafinowicz (Guardians Of The Galaxy) nearly steals the show as an Italian local agent obsessed with boobs. Everyone here is clearly having fun in their roles and it reflects in the group performance Feig has developed out of them all as a bundling ball of energy which bounces the screen constantly.
The highlight though is the inclusion of one Jason Statham (Furious 7) as a rogue CIA agent. Happily taking the piss out of himself and unloading line after line of macho man anecdote bollocks which only seems to escalate with his bragging, he steals the film with his outlandishness all talk nonsense. It’s done so well that you don’t even mind that he doesn’t even have a nice action scene at all. My favourite? “Once I drove a car whilst on top of a moving train… whilst on fire… not the car. ME!” Wonderful stuff. Only complaint – Statham, an Englishman, is not allowed to drop the proper pronunciation of the ‘T-Bomb’ swear. Boo. There’s enough mileage made about the ‘basement’ office in the CIA that surely would be worth a sitcom. They’re treated like the scummy afterthought who really do all the work in pointing out upcoming threats to agents and they just sit in the run down, rat and bat infested basement with not enough power sockets, underpaid and undervalued. Ricky Gervais has made worse on less of a concept. Could be worth a go.
McCarthy’s usual typecast of being an oddity unhappy with her social standing and wanting to a member of the beautiful people her secret agent life is in the middle of works quite well without becoming demeaning. As someone who has had a pop at her and that before, I will concede that in this element it works very well and it’s my personal favourite performance hers so far. A broken mirror reflection of the usual high class, high glamour world of spy movies she’s ripping on, there is actually some excellent female empowering elements to Susan as she thinks on her feet and uses her wits about her to save herself and some of her dumber acquaintances on more than one occasion. She decides she doesn’t need that damn man in her life either at the end after lusting after someone who has mistreated her time and time again. I know it’s a thing to point out female empowerment nowadays in any media but when Feig does it this well without being anyway forceful, it comes naturally as a standard in cinema that should be enforced and to be honest I wish it was more of a balanced playing field rather than for Spy to be as much as a thing that it is. That’s not a knock on what it’s promoting or what this film is about – rather a wish for everything else to come up to this standard of lady bigging up kick-ass filmmaking.
Feig’s usual standard of low brow toilet humour is his own undoing however. There are moments of pure genius when he chooses to apply it to the spy film genre, like when Susan outwits but accidentally kills an enemy agent gruesomely and vomits on his corpse from a balcony. It’s ballsy and the comedic clash there works as a good joke. Shame that we get the usual American aimed gags like Susan’s gadgets being hidden in laxative pills or having three disguises where she has to dress up as a cat lady or similar ilk. Don’t tell me, it’s that famed cringe factor again isn’t it? In comparison to this year’s finer Kingsman: The Secret Service, the vulgarity was played up there overall with high violence in balance to the humour. Here, it’s just the jokes that have ended up approaching the style and grace of a week old hard turd that keep being left out on your door step by a serial offender. Despite a machine gun paced rapid and, at points, admittedly witty script, Feig can’t contain himself and caves to the usual urges to have McCarthy do her usual sweary ‘just don’t give a F’ loudmouth and you’ll forgive yourself of feeling the fatigue as the two hour runtime claws at you with that. It’s like when you throw that stick for your dog continuously – even your beloved pup will get sick of it eventually. It undoes ALOT of good acting and character work she’s put into her performance by seeing the same tired stereotype she must hate to regress back to.
We have to talk about a certain Miranda Hart (BBC’s Miranda) making her proper big screen début as well. She’s not bad here being fair and has decent comic timing with McCarthy but if you had enough of her giant awkward lady schtick from her sitcom, prepare for that tenfold. The problem is, I can see audiences seeing her for the first time absolutely loving her as this amazing breakthrough comedic performance and the Americans pawning over her like a classroom given the latest new toy craze at lunchtime. ‘Oh look at her eccentric British awkwardness, how hilarious’ whilst I’m the teacher in the corner considering ending it all and giving the kids therapy for the rest of their lives. Well, I guess it’s not the end of the world – they’ve already taken James Corden off us Brits hands and I can politely decline to watch the “hilarious” forced videos the next day on social media. I know also this is going to sound really cretinous after I’ve talked up a superb female empowering bit of cinema earlier, but for the love of Christ, was I the only person at just how god-bloody-awful her fake tan was? I mean, if it was intentional to make Hart stand out in every scene then job done as its really noticeable but more than likely our lady giant was meant to be maked upped to fit in with the rest of the beautiful cast members and it’s backfired massively. Horrible to see.
Still, for an idea long in the making that it borderlines ‘seen it before’ territory, Paul Feig delivers again on a 2010’s female empowering slice of cinema in a hilarious spin on the male dominated secret agent action genre in Spy. A super fun cast has a great time which translates to the jokes, even if you’ve seen all of them before and they’re too toilet to really give praise. Melissa McCarthy does her best work in awhile as a sympathetic character who you want to win and save the world whilst Jason Statham steals the show playing a jumped up version of himself. More than enough here in a girls-centric play about in the spy playpen to make this a winner. Also, it looks like America is about to take Miranda off our hands! Bonus!