Review: SPY Is One of the Best Action Comedies Ever
In case there was any doubt, Spy proves once and for all that writer/director Paul Feig brings out the best in Melissa McCarthy. Feig directed both Bridesmaids and The Heat, but Spy is his best film yet, and certainly the best showcase for McCarthy's talents we've seen thus far. As desk-jockey-turned-field-agent Susan Cooper, McCarthy is a whirling dervish of comedy, completely owning scene after scene with confidence that comes with the knowledge that she's playing a solid character with an excellent script as a foundation.
Susan Cooper (McCarthy) has spent her career at the CIA as the earpiece contact for agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law), using her computer system to guide him through dangerous missions from Langley and never having the opportunity to get into the field herself. But when Fine is assassinated by Bulgarian arms dealer Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne), Cooper discovers that Rayna knows the identities of all of the agency's field agents. Despite the protestations of hotheaded fellow agent Rick Ford (Jason Statham), the chief (Allison Janney) sends Cooper to Paris to gather intel precisely because of her lumpy, middle-aged appearance — she's never been in the field before, so the bad guys won't recognize her. The plot centers on the sale of a nuclear bomb, but the specifics aren't really that important: every plot point features a sensible reason for Feig to get McCarthy into the action, which is fine by me because she's a blast to watch here.
Cooper may trip herself up occasionally, but she's a competent and intelligent agent despite her inexperience; when something funny happens, we're laughing with her and not at her. That's an important distinction from something like the Paul Blart movies, which derive most of their laughs from "ha ha, the fat guy fell down." Feig has no interest in that kind of comedy, and McCarthy imbues her character with an honest inner life and makes the movie a joy to watch. Her arc is tremendous, from frumpy and sort of depressed to full-on Black Widow-style action scenes by the end. (Early on, we see a video of her from ten years before absolutely dominating a CIA training exercise, so her eventual transformation isn't completely unrealistic.) She's also allowed to play multiple characters within the film, going undercover first as a boring cat lady and an Avon saleswoman before eventually donning the persona of a foul-mouthed bodyguard in order to get closer to her target and ultimately save the day.
McCarthy is aided not only by Feig's succinct script and tight direction, but by an outstanding supporting cast. Byrne portrays a bitchy Euro-trash villain like she was born to do it, Law is perfectly cast as a suave-but-clueless field agent, and Peter Serafinowicz is wonderful as a sleazy foreign contact who's constantly hitting on Cooper. But much to my surprise, it's Statham who outshines everyone, finally getting a chance to showcase his comedic chops and absolutely slaying it. This is a legendary performance from the action star that's going to be referenced for years, and his sexist, idiotic, blustering character (clearly poking fun at his own resume) makes Spy the funniest film of the year.
One of the best parts about the film is how it lovingly riffs on the tropes of the genre without being annoyingly obvious about it. It never stops to congratulate itself for putting a woman front and center in a big budget action movie, or to linger on its themes of self-worth and the danger of exclusion — it just simply concerns itself with being a good movie, and achieves that goal every step of the way. Aside from a scooter chase sequence, the action is well-edited and choreographed, and a knife fight between Cooper and a female adversary wouldn't have been out of place in the kinds of straightforward action movies in which Statham usually stars.
From the excellent Bond-style opening credits sequence all the way to its thrilling and hilarious conclusion, Spy is one of the best action comedies ever and the funniest movie of 2015.