Had “Spy” come out 20 years ago it would probably star Chris Farley, feature a litany of fat-shaming jokes and a have generic blonde love interest played by an actress who’s now forced to do Activia commercials. Thankfully those days are as dead as family-friendly rap and overalls, and people like Melissa McCarthy and Paul Feig are pounding the nails on the coffin.
Not only does the actor/director duo (having worked on “Bridesmaids” and “The Heat” together) bring out the best in each other, but they’re smart enough to realize what being progressive in movies entails. They understand it’s not just about having women in the lead role, but making them compassionate, capable and all-around human as well.
“Spy” is about a woman, Susan Cooper, who has always gotten the shaft compared to her “more attractive” CIA co-workers and put in the friend-zone by her dashing partner, Bradley Fine (Jude Law). But when the identity of all the agents is compromised she seizes the chance to be the hero.
McCarthy, who has in a few short years proven one of the best female comediennes ever, has always shined playing eccentric, over-the-top goofballs. Starting with her brash character in “Bridesmaids” and continuing on to her many appearances on SNL as one of their best hosts in recent memory. She has a stunning, angrily envious knack for immersing herself into any character and making them hysterical.
So what’s so amazing about her work here is that she injects that same amount of energy and timing into her most average character yet. Cooper is shy, unfulfilled and love sick over Fine. In short, she’s an average, everyday person with feelings and ambition. Rarely is that refreshing, but after “Tammy” I took many sighs of relief watching her here.
However, her most notable quality is her capability. There are no training hijinks wherein she fumbles and pratfalls over ledges or trips over tires as her trainer disapprovingly shakes their head—all during a festive montage with an Iggy Azalea track behind it. She’s naturally good at what she does, whether it’s sleuthing or straight up whooping a bad guy’s ass. And you buy every inch of it because McCarthy is able to effortlessly infuse confidence, mixed with a whip-fast attitude, into a person so willing to prove herself. She’s a person who’s always been great at what she does but who is only now getting to show it.
Feig knows McCarthy’s strengths and just lets her run with it here. All he had to do was add that extra layer of depth and give her lots of room to punch, drive, shoot and throw f-bombs like a pro. The level of trust between the two is extraordinary, and the two will surely go down as one of the greater comedy duos—this being their greater triumph.
On an action level, Feig obviously wanted to flex a new muscle he somewhat tapped with “The Heat”. Here the action sequences are far better choreographed and faster paced. That being said, he did seem to push for more slo-mo than the human mind can take. It seems that if you were to tally up the total time of all the fight scenes about half that time would be in impromptu slo-mo shots. McCarthy, Law and other stars like Jason Statham are so good at what they do I’d prefer to see them moving as if they were channeling Jackie Chan at all times.
Spekaing of Statham it’s worth noting his ability to immerse himself into such a ridiculous character, Rick Ford, who is basically a Jason Statham wanna be. His oafish arrogance paired with Cooper’s fortitude makes for not only some of the movies best banter but also gives the notion of female empowerment an extra kick.
As for the rest of the supporting cast there’s Miranda Hart as Cooper adorable, quirky and English best friend and Rose Byrne as the movies primary baddie. Much like Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd in “40-Year-Old Virgin” I could watch McCarthy and Byrne engage one-liners and call each other c***s all day. They’re so delightfully mean to each other that it seems a waste for one to give the other a compliment. In fact, if they did, I would demand a refund.
By the end, Cooper makes you see her less like a sad person becoming brave and skilled out of nowhere and sells you on her natural badassery and charm as she kicks the villain out of a helicopter. She’s just as talented at doing what she does as Jason Bourne or James Bond, coupled with her own bag of tricks up her sleeves. This is what being progressive is all about and “Spy” manages to do so in historical, hilarious, effortless fashion. Not to mention the whole thing is shockingly violent, which is an undoubtable plus.