When my friends decided on watching a film, I desperately tried to shift the choice from Spy to Gone Girl.
Spy is a better film than it has any right being. But does that make it a good film?
Spy succeeds because of its comedy. Melissa McCarthy and Miranda Hart are able to raise what would be a terrible film to something very watchable. But I can’t help but think I prefer when McCarthy plays a relatable and down-to-earth American woman (see The Heat (2014) and Ghostbusters (2016)), rather than as this fish-out-of-water character, complete with an endless supply of cat t-shirts. When Miranda Hart’s character, Nancy, speaks to Susan, I can’t help but imagine the alternative reality where she is playing off of Stevie in Miranda (2009-15). Miranda Hart plays Miranda Hart – not anyone else.
Feig continues his defining trope of sticking a middle finger up to the patriarchy, as one of the feminist masters of the film industry. Jason Statham’s name on the poster sells tickets – but he spends the entire film being inept compared to Susan, who, whilst also inept, manages to rescue him out of bad situations. (Traces of Statham’s character can be found in Chris Hemsworth’s revolutionary role as Kevin in Ghostbusters.) Rick cannot comprehend a woman like her being sent out in the field. Like many women in the workplace, she has found herself forced into a lesser position than she could be capable of, dissuaded from being an active spy.
But Feig then throws everything out the window with a needless postscript scene, where Susan wakes up in bed besides Rick. Because drunk sex is only a joke, and the fact she has spent the entire film pushing away Aldo’s awful advances is irrelevant.
The film’s cinematography and production design is what most lets it down. We travel across Europe from city to city, but none of these countries have their own identity. They are merely setpieces, pulled together only by stock establishing shots. Even Washington DC, where the film holds its core, feels like the set of a TV show, complete with workmanlike camera angles. Despite some moments of brilliance, the film’s visual style rarely communicates the sense of a post-Bourne (2002), post-Casino Royale (2006) spy movie, bathed in bright colours and some truly bizarre, GoPro-esque camera angles during every car chase. The soundtrack is peppered with needless songs that add nothing to the film. The film should embrace the style of the genre, rather than reject it except on a superficial level.
Spy never reaches the same levels of enjoyment as The Heat and Ghostbusters, but it’s still worth a watch – with friends, or with alcohol, or in the middle of the night when you can’t sleep. But it is not a film to go out of your way for.