A baggy, bumpy and often hilarious ride, Paul Feig’s latest functions as a test run for next year’s Ghostbusters redux, further strengthening the writer-director’s established brand of female-driven comedy. However, with laughs and personality in abundance, Spy is no mere stop-gap and, in the shape of Susan Cooper, Feig lends unlikely muse Melissa McCarthy her finest role yet. A gentle shift away from the actress’s oft-riffed upon, long-engrained mode of vulgar-lovable, the progressively headstrong Cooper marks McCarthy’s first convincing foray into centre stage after last year’s misfiring Tammy.”
When foppish agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law), the Bond to Cooper’s sadsack Moneypenny, is killed in action, it falls to Susan to step up as a field agent for the first time. Heroic as it may sound, this is largely due to her untapped potential to hover incognito on the periphery of super villainess Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne) and her entourage. Her ‘gadgets’ concealed inside an assortment of hemorrhoid wipes and fungal sprays, her alias a cat-lady archetype – ‘I look like someone’s homophobic aunt’ – myriad steps are taken to make Susan feel as little like an agent as possible. She’s further hindered by the ham-fisted approach of rogue agent Rick Ford. The role of Ford sees a perpetually-infuriated Jason Statham brilliantly skewing his hard-man persona. As the relatively unimportant plot progresses however, Susan ditches her cover, and finds herself operating in increasingly close quarters with Boyanov.
At two hours, Spy is undoubtedly overlong, and following an excellent opening act, struggles to sustain momentum across its running time. Yet, what it lacks in narrative consistency, Feig’s film assuredly makes up for in laughs. You’ll hardly care for the reasons why Boyanov so entirely trusting of Cooper when it provides a platform for such magnificently profane exchanges between the two Feig stalwarts. Besides the key players, Feig populates Spy with an ensemble of fine comic actors, the likes of Peter Serafinowicz and Miranda Hart doing their utmost to ensure the laugh quota never drops noticeably. Feig also clearly knows his way around a set-piece, instilling the film’s standout sequences – a pre-credits Bond-pastiche, a Vespa-chase through the streets of Budapest – with requisite character and comic beats. When McCarthy falls off a bike, in the film’s cheapest, most obvious sight gag, it’s so well timed that it’s impossible not to laugh. Spy’s true breakout however, is Statham, his pent-up rogue agent possessing all the misguided self belief as Jay from The Inbetweeners, whilst nearly getting himself killed on numerous occasions. The film’s final scene provides all of Feig’s supporting characters with fitting send-offs, and Ford’s final farewell gives Spy its funniest line.
While Spy is often crass, Feig’s script displays a clear love its memorable heroine. In a film populated with cartoon characters, her progression from the depthly confines of the CIA radio bunker to full-blown rogue agent is well-established, her increased confidence hilariously signposted through her growing penchant for profanity. With the film resting entirely on her shoulders, McCarthy does a stellar job of making Susan a memorable and unique heroine. It’s undoubtedly progressive in its feminist message, and while its male characters are almost uniformly oafish, Feig never over eggs the film’s female-empowerment leanings, instead focusing on delivering a barrage of excellent one-liners that leave the lingering sense that we wouldn’t mind spending another 90 minutes, if not two hours, with Susan and co.