Melissa McCarthy and Spy kick the spy film genre in its misogynistic face
We’re less than half a year removed from the latest instalment of the James Bond franchise – and with the impending arrival of Bond’s 24th adventure it’s only fitting that we’re experiencing somewhat of a renaissance in the spy genre in 2015. First Matthew Vaughn’s outrageous, hyper-violent Kingsman: The Secret Service hit theatres in February, and August brings a reimagining of 1970s spy property The Man from U.N.C.L.E. And right now we can enjoy Spy – director Paul Feig and star Melissa McCarthy’s crack at reinventing the genre by way of a hilarious globe-hopping action comedy.
Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) got top marks in her CIA training, but now she’s a desk-bound agent and the brains behind superstar spy Bradley Fine (Jude Law). But when Raina Boyanov (Rose Byrne) – a multi-millionaire arms dealer in possession of a potent nuclear weapon – learns the identities of the CIA's roster of top agents, Susan must venture out into the field and save the world from mortal peril.
Feig (Bridesmaids, The Heat) puts his stamp on an iteration of the spy film as it’s never been seen before. Gleefully blending his trademark foul-mouthed humour with action sequences that wouldn't have been too out of place in Vaughn's Kingsman, it follows that film as a breath of fresh air into the classic genre. Spy shamelessly plays on the conventions of the James Bond franchise from its opening frames, and is never more obviously a fond homage than through its gleefully stylised title sequence. Jude Law’s Bradley Fine is the epitome of the suave secret agent in the vein of Bond – but it becomes obvious fairly early on that (thankfully) this is not his story.
Spy is dominated by its female characters: Melissa McCarthy’s heroine, Rose Byrne’s villain, Allison Janney’s CIA head honcho and Miranda Hart’s supportive best friend. It’s delightful to witness this in a genre where women have a storied history as sidekicks, victims and femmes fatale but rarely as protagonists or antagonists. The cast is universally solid, with Jason Statham the film’s surprising MVP – demonstrating a knack for side splittingly deadpan wit that you would never have dreamed the action star possessed.
Ultimately, it gets a little too long winded in its third act, and it’s unlikely to be remembered as a spy genre classic – but there’s enough greatness within Spy to make for a winning trip to the movies. The film marks a stunning collaboration for Feig and McCarthy, and I can’t wait to see what they’ll deliver next.