Melissa McCarthy is undeniably talented, but her post-“Bridesmaids” work has been inconsistent at best. Movies like “Identity Thief” and “Tammy” mustered a few chuckles from audiences, but never showed McCarthy’s true potential, while a movie like “The Heat,” mustered quite a few heavy laughs, but nothing compared to her Oscar-nominated work from 2011’s comedic masterpiece “Bridesmaids.” I’ll be honest, like every other middle-aged woman in America, “Bridesmaids” is my favorite comedy, bringing back fond memories of truly falling out of my seat in the theatre on opening night from laughing so hard, there hasn’t been something funnier since.
When I saw the trailer for “Spy,” I had a mixed reaction, from first glance, from one end, I was excited to see Paul Feig and McCarthy team up once more, as their pairings have always been the successful ones. On the other hand, I was really afraid the film was going to play into a lot of the tropes that made McCarthy’s other movies so underwhelming, mostly with fat shaming jokes that people seem to love. The trailer also came out right after I got to see “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” which is one of the best films of 2015 so far, and seeing another spy parody movie definitely made me wary. So what’s the verdict?
Let’s just say I’m still sore from laughing so hard.
“Spy” is an exceptional comedy, one that goes for broke on the gut-busting laughs over the small chuckles that so many comedy films try to go for. But there’s something about “Spy” that also stuck out to me, apart from the incredible laughs the film provided, “Spy” is an accomplished action film as well, with wonderful set pieces and sleek cinematography to truly set it apart from other action-comedies. I found the plot to be engaging and layered, and I saw how “Spy” is just as much an espionage film as it is a comedy.
McCarthy is a bonafide action star as CIA Agent Susan Cooper. She obviously trained quite a bit for this film, and put 110% into the physical aspects of the film just as much as she did the comedic elements, and in a film like this, makes all the difference. Her comedic timing is excellent, her action chops are superb, her acting is great and McCarthy is a true winner in “Spy.”
But let’s not stop there, her supporting cast with whom she works is phenomenal as well, Rose Byrne and Miranda Hart in particular. I was skeptical to see Byrne play a villain in a film, as I had simply become accustomed her nice girl persona seen in recent films like “Annie” and “This is Where I Leave You.” Yet, as “Spy” began to play, and Byrne’s character became more prevalent, I remembered, this is her real forte, as Helen from “Bridesmaids” sprung to mind, and her brutally mean scenes with McCarthy played out, I knew what we had was great. British star Miranda Hart also makes a name for herself with American audiences as Nancy, Cooper’s best friend and fellow agent. Hart, a star in The United Kingdom, has yet to make a splash with American audiences yet, but her hilarious, and sometimes sad performance here really will connect. Think the personality of an English Bulldog in the shape of a tall British woman, and you have Hart’s character in “Spy.”
Director Feig really proved himself to be slick and effective outside of comedy with “Spy,” with his expertly handled action scenes that play better than some real action movies made of late. He favors coherence over frenetic cutting and shaky cam, which for an action film, plays wonderfully. I can tell that he and McCarthy have a connection that’s unlike any other, as I can see that McCarthy has her more layered performances with him, and that they probably are close enough to be truly honest with each other on set, not just point and critique like a director for hire would.
Another aspect of the film I enjoyed was the real connection to James Bond, the film reveled not only in playing off of the classic, over-the-top Bond films, but also playing a lot of the better elements of the newer films as well, this is made apparent very early on with Jude Law’s character, who resembles more of Inspector Clouseau than Bond himself, but truly delivers the painful laughs as well. Apart from Law’s opening scene, this leads into the Bond style opening credits sequence, which actually plays better than most Bond opening credits sequences, with its wonderful theme “Who Can You Trust?” by Ivy Levan, and it’s wonderful visuals that don’t rely on some of the misogynistic elements the Bond films play on occasionally, it might as well be a part of the Bond family.
Continuing on things I loved about “Spy,” I found the humor to be great. I know, I’ve said this before, the film is funny, but no, I simply liked the humor. In an R-rated comedy like this, many writers/directors rely on offensive humor to get the audience laughing, and while “Spy” is anything but restrained in its comedy, the film never relies on racist, sexist, fat-shaming, homophobic, transphobic or any sort of alienating humor to get the audience to laugh, which is such a virtue in a film like this. Perhaps the film may be alienating if you don’t like F-bombs, sexual humor or occasional gross-out gags, but then again, you probably wouldn’t be seeing this film anyway.
“Spy” is an exceptional movie, not just a great comedy, and not just a great action film. “Spy” is an exceptional moviegoing experience in general. It’s not a film you would necessarily take your kids to, so call the babysitter, but whether it be for date night, girls night out, a bro-date or simply a group event, “Spy” will never lead you astray from a spectacular time. McCarthy is superb as Cooper, and has wondrous chemistry with the entire cast, especially with Byrne and Hart. Feig really plays well with his story and entire cast (including a hilarious cameo from a rapper I shall not name) and really does well with both sides of the material, the action and the comedy. Ninety-eight percent of the jokes stick, and those 2 percent of those that didn’t still made me chuckle, if not only for how radiant and beautifully done McCarthy’s performance was.
But I swear if “Spy” ends up being better than “Spectre,” the world will hear my cry.
Directed by: Paul Feig
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Jason Statham, Rose Byrne, Miranda Hart, Bobby Cannavale, Allison Janney, and Jude Law.
Runtime: 120 minutes
Rating: R for language throughout, violence, and some sexual content including brief graphic nudity.
Also available in premium large format theatres
Twentieth Century Fox presents, a Chernin Entertainment/Feigco Entertainment production, a Paul Feig film, “Spy”