Spy beings much like any James Bond or spy film would begin, with the hyper-suave and handsome agent posing as a guest at a party, in this case Bradley Fine (Jude Law). But we know the truth: behind the veneer lies a lethal killing machine, and behind even that is the nerd-techy Susan Cooper (McCarthy), the woman behind the man (she navigates him through enemy territory via satellite and ocular cameras). She’s almost non-essential to the seemingly phallocentric CIA, however, but without her he’s nothing. Her position is tenuous and replaceable at best, and it doesn’t help that Cooper is head-over-heels for Fine and more than willing to submit to him, therefore holding a role beneath Fine.
Director Paul Feig touches on the position of women in the world as he always does, but here he looks at film history itself, pointing his lens at the traditional spy thriller, slowly subverting the genre via its female cast.
Although Cooper is bumbling throughout the film, she’s never been given the chance to go in the field herself, instead making tech magic happen in a basement in front of a computer screen, despite being a trained agent. That is, until an agent is killed by the nefarious Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne), who absolutely shines as a vicious villain, so blasé about killing anyone who crosses her or simply makes a mistake. She needs to be in more films. CIA Director Elaine Crocker (Allison Janney) doesn’t have enough confidence in her to deploy her in the same caliber as some of the male or more experienced agents, so initially her role as a spy is limited, and it’s Cooper’s desire for retribution that leads her to take the helm of her abilities. As the film progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that the women are the agency’s smartest characters and kick the most butt.
Feig seems to have a knack for showing women beyond a perceived notion of womanhood in scenarios typically reserved for men (in film or real life): In Bridesmaids, it was the gross-out comedy, an R-rated romp featuring a full cast of talented, funny and lewd women, the buddy-cop film with The Heat, and now with Spy, where the women are double crossing, kicking butt, and taking names.
Nevertheless, what detached me most was, ironically, the McCarthy personality itself. Don’t get me wrong, she’s incredibly talented, but the jokes this time around seemed tired and stale – I’ve seen the fat man/woman slapstick too many times. How strange, considering Feig has now worked with her a total of three films that he would continue to use her in this way. In fact, it is McCarthy’s subtler gestures that go a long way, whether it’s a grunt, groan, or general displeasure in a task at hand, where she exposes her brilliance, not the tilting over on a scooter/moped contraption while she struggles to desperately get out.
So what does Spy really amount to? A mildly funny film that just sort of slowly moves from point A to B, it works in parts. Statham’s brilliant in a rare comedic turn, he plays it straight (with a slight wink) and it works, Rose Byrne is stunning and it is a great treat to watch her on the screen. This film is a tepid attempt at most, but it works better than Feig’s previous film, the mean-spirited The Heat. That being said, most audiences might find pleasure in this sophomoric comedy and that’s okay, because Spy is certainly far from being the worst comedy out there.