Having successfully sent-up rom-coms and buddy cop movies with his most recent offerings, Spy sees Paul Feig, a director who excels at producing female-driven comedies full of genuine characters and pathos, take aim at the spy genre, re-teaming with his muse Melissa McCarthy for this clever spoof that’s as hilarious as it is progressive.
McCarthy plays Susan Cooper, a underrated CIA analyst who’s spent her entire career in a rat-infested basement guiding Jude Law’s dashing Bond-a-like Bradley Fine through various death-defying missions with little reward.
When Rose Byrne’s spoilt baddie Raina Boyanov assassinates Fine and exposes the identities of every known agent in the CIA, Susan is thrown into a dangerous undercover mission to foil the black market sale of a suitcase nuke and avenge Fine’s death.
The way Feig lovingly pokes fun at spy movies of the Roger Moore-era is central to the film’s charm, with a Shirley Bassey-aping title sequence and a playfully gross riff on the kind of ostentatious gadgetry Q was fond of dispensing to his favourite agent putting a classic sheen on proceedings.
The most entertaining subversion by far, though, is Feig’s decision to depict Susan as a smart and savvy rookie agent, using her own resourcefulness to gather leads while her more experienced male counterparts comically create chaos with shenanigans so reckless they’d make even Bond himself shake his head in dismay.
Feig also equips himself well with the film’s action sequences, delivering enough slick and pacey scenes, including a wonderfully inventive knife-versus-frying-pan fight, to keep the adrenalin flowing, but Spy’s primary concern is with making its audience laugh.
On that front it more than excels, largely thanks to the excellent performances of a committed cast who are perfectly happy to take shots at themselves. British sitcom veterans Peter Serafinowicz and Miranda Hart both impress as a sleazy Italian agent and Susan’s fumbling best-friend respectively, but it’s Jason Statham, surprisingly, who nearly runs away with the film as overconfident yet clumsy spy Rick Ford.
The Stath seems to relish the opportunity to tear into his own action hero persona and he’s rewarded with most of the film’s best gags as Ford delights in sharing tales of his ridiculous exploits with anyone who’s unlucky enough to be in the same room as him. “Once, under threat of assassination, I appeared convincingly as Barack Obama,” is just one of his many standout lines.
With so many outlandish characters around her, there’s not much room for McCarthy to show-off her full comic talents here. Instead, she’s forced to play the straight-man to her many goofball colleagues, a role that actually works well for the Mike and Molly-star, as McCarthy is able to showcase the subtler sides of her skills.
As such, she is able to evoke an endearing sense of pathos in Susan, a character who is constantly overlooked and put-down by the people she works so hard to please and it’s a triumphant pleasure to see her finally prove her mettle in the field.
With a winning combination of charming spoof and hilarious characters, Spy is yet another strong offering from Paul Feig, demonstrating a subversive edge and a knack for eliciting committed performances from a female-led cast, which bodes well for his upcoming Ghostbusters reboot.
Runtime: 120 mins; Genre: Action/Comedy; Released: 23 May 2015;
Director: Paul Feig; Screenwriter: Paul Feig;
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Jason Statham, Rose Byrne, Jude Law
Click here to watch the trailer for Spy