I’ve always harbored a dream of being the female James Bond. Basically, I’d kick the same amount of ass, but in designer gowns rather than suits, and have a range of attractive, international men of mystery to choose from. At this point, I’d just settle for being the female director of a James Bond film, but my attachment to the franchise and its fancy cars, futuristic gadgets, stylish clothes and often nonsensical plot twists is still very strong. One of the great things about the James Bond films is their willingness to look back on their own storied, yet uneven, history and laugh a little bit; the best Bond films, even when they’re gritty and dark like Casino Royale and Skyfall, still manage to pack in enough tongue-in-cheek moments to prove that they don’t take themselves too seriously. So, the notion of Melissa McCarthy, one of the funniest women in Hollywood, stepping in to become a female superspy in the Bond mold--therefore breaking the mold into a million little pieces--was definitely one I could support.
Spy, written and directed by frequent McCarthy collaborator and supporter of fantastic funny women Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, The Heat, the upcoming all-women Ghostbusters), plays to the cast and crew’s comedy strengths without resorting to simple parody a la Austin Powers. McCarthy stars as Susan Cooper, who shook off a lifetime of low self-esteem and lack of motherly support to quit her teaching job and become a CIA analyst. She graduated top of her class from the academy and is certified as a full agent, but she has never entered the field. This is the result of both her lingering lack of self-confidence and her infatuation with Bradley Fine (Jude Law) the handsome field agent that she supports wholeheartedly from behind her desk. After all, why go out into the field when she can be in Fine’s ear, helping him out, every single day? Bradley sees Susan as little more than a frumpy friend, but when he disappears in the field and all of the other field agents’ identities are compromised, Susan volunteers to put herself in danger and catch the criminal responsible. Said criminal is Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne), a Bulgarian crime princess with big hair who is in possession of a suitcase-sized nuke that she plans on auctioning off to the highest bidder. Armed with an array of different, horrifically unflattering cover identifies (a single-mother and software saleswoman, a crazy cat lady who sold the most Mary Kay products in her region), each one with its own awful wig, Susan sets out to track down--but not interact with--Rayna. To her chagrin, she is followed by Rick Ford (Jason Statham), another top agent who is enraged that Susan got the assignment instead of him and is determined to stop Rayna himself.
McCarthy has had a few missteps lately (Tammy, anyone?), but in Spy she is at her rock star best. The great thing about the character of Susan Cooper is that, while she is socially awkward and has some missteps upon being thrown out into the field, she is also a damn good agent. Her skills are never the butt of jokes because her skills are insane; she can defeat a man in hand-to-hand combat, hit her target with a gun and even land a plane. At one point, she decides to take on a new cover identity as a hired bodyguard, and proceeds to verbally abuse Rayna and her henchmen with such fearless, foul-mouthed bravado that I could barely stop laughing long enough to hear the next line. What unfortunately are the butt of far too many jokes are McCarthy’s looks. Obviously, Susan is supposed to be an unlikely agent, the kind of person who one would never notice or suspect, but these kinds of jokes are just too easy considering how clever both Feig and McCarthy are. Susan’s size, in particular, causes everyone to assume that she is not cut out to be an agent and to mock her, with the exception of hilariously over-the-top Italian agent Aldo (Peter Serafinowicz), who can’t keep his hands off of her voluptuous figure. He fills the role of the Bond Girl here, except that his affections, while flattering, are not returned by Susan. The scenes between the two of them are funny as well as refreshing, because they treat McCarthy’s looks as an asset as opposed to an obstacle to overcome.
Fortunately, when not focusing on flimsy fat jokes, Spy excels. The ensemble cast is pitch-perfect, with the standouts being Miranda Hart as Nancy, Susan’s best friend and fellow analyst who follows Susan out into the field and adds to the already substantial amount of shenanigans, and Statham, who as Rick is essentially playing a parody of every single character he has ever played in his lengthy career as one of the best action stars out there. In one standout scene, he rattles off a list of the ridiculous things he has survived in the field that prove he is a far more able agent that Susan, including such gems as “I swallowed enough microchips and shit them back out again to build a computer” and “I saw the woman I love get thrown out of a plane and hit by another plane in mid-air.” These situations are all the more amusing considering that they sound like things Statham has actually done throughout his career, and are all intoned in his gravelly, excessively serious Cockney.
When it comes down to it, Spy really is just a James Bond film with more (intentional) jokes, right down to the psychedelic opening credits sequence set to a soulful, bombastic ballad that rhymes lyrics like “love turns into lust” with “who else can you trust?” (The song, performed by Ivy Levan, is super cheesy but still better than Sam Smith’s attempt at a Bond theme for SPECTRE.) There’s also a great homage to Bond’s Quartermaster, in which Susan and Nancy walk into the secret space where the CIA keep all of their top-secret gadgets, gawking at shiny cars and sleek guns, before being handed supplies disappointingly disguised as things like rape whistles and hemorrhoid wipes. The action scenes are legitimately exhilarating, and McCarthy makes a hell of a secret agent. Normally I shy away from sequel talk, but I would love to see this ensemble team up again to take down some bad guys. Like the series it strives to emulate, Spy has the potential to become a great action franchise, and one led by a woman to boot.
Blu-ray Bonus Features
The Blu-ray release of Spy includes both the theatrical R-rated version of the film and an unrated version with bonus footage. In addition to these extended and added scenes, there are also gag reels, outtakes, eight behind-the-scenes featurettes and commentary tracks, as well as a digital HD download of the film.
"Spy" opens September 29, 2015 and is rated R. Action, Comedy. Written and directed by Paul Feig. Starring Jason Statham, Jude Law, Melissa McCarthy, Rose Byrne.