It's great as:
A spoof of Bond movies that makes such good fun of the formula that it's a better Bond movie than those that slip into self-parody.
A suitably badass vehicle for Melissa McCarthy, and other women.
A workplace satire.
It's very good as:
A comedy that throws a lot out there and hopes it sticks.
"Spy" follows the Bond formula starring Jude Law as the field operative, with Melissa McCarthy as his intelligence and "radar sense" (in the Daredevil way). They're an ass-kicking team of home and field agents, who spend so much time in each other's heads that she's in love with him. They remind us of Moneypenny and Bond (I read that the McCarthy character is Chloe in "24". Speaking of Law as a fantastic hero, how I wished for "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" to be as good as "Spy".)
Law's cover gets blown, along with the covers of the agency's other top agents, so McCarthy is sent afield for the first time to do reconaissance on the big bad.
It's darn near a classic. "Spy" is the most recent movie in the class of "I saw it twice on opening weekend" — before "Spy", it was "The Incredibles", which *is* a classic. "Spy" falls just short because some of the jokes needed work, and some were just so bad that they didn't belong. Also, the gory violence was unnecessary.
Here's where "Spy" excels, and here's where I spoil everything, so go see it, then come back.
The best thing about "Spy" is its rapid yet subtle character development. In a good spy thriller, no one is who they seem — good guys were actually bad, bad guys were actually big bad, big bads were actually dumbasses, and so on. Look at what "Spy" did with every important character.
Especially Jude Law. Law was my main reason for going back for a second look, to confirm that he's the big bad who got away. After he faked his own death, he was set to disappear with Rose Byrne and a fortune in diamonds. But when McCarthy saved the world, he changed sides again.
Rose Byrne kept me guessing throughout. After McCarthy saved her life for the second time, maybe she does a heel-face turn plus a "Grace Kelly in 'High Noon'" moment, because we know there's good in there somewhere; she's the bad guy we want to like. Which is the opposite of her character in "Bridesmaids," who was the good guy we wanted to hate.
Jason Statham is supposedly a superagent for his incredible feats in the line of duty, but he's revealed gradually as a complete dumbass who's survived through dumb luck. If the movie were about Statham's character, it would be a different kind of comedy — it would be the "Baby Herman unwittingly avoids one demise after another" kind. Part of "Spy's" brilliance is in its portrayal of some co-workers as morons. Statham spends the whole movie blustering like a supercop while he's really fucking things up. And consider Morena Baccarin. When she's talking to the other women, we can't tell if she's a humblebragging bitch, or stupidly guileless. If she is just another dumbass at the office, does she get the Natasha Romanov assignments because she's superhot, enabling her to fool every horny bad guy? (Note that Jude Law killed Morena Baccarin ambiguously — as the good guy, he killed the double agent because she was about to kill McCarthy; as the bad guy, he killed her to cover his tracks.)
Peter Serafinowicz as the Italian is a giant boner, but when should we realize that he's putting us on? He drives the Alfa Romeo like a superspy but unnecessarily, which is funny while maintaining the appearance of giant boner. In the dungeon, it is he who recognizes Agent Cooper as a skillful agent, not Agent Fine. But a minute later, he's gropey Aldo again with his face in her pants (but his idea worked, so hmmm). When we see he's piloting 50 Cent's helicopter, that's when we should realize he's really good, and then he instantly turns himself into Patrick Macnee. Wasn't the lighting in that scene the best, backlighting him to enhance the transformation from swarthy Italian to fair Englishman.
At last, a starring role worthy of Melissa McCarthy. "Bridesmaids" was Kristen Wiig's movie (I saw Wiig's "Welcome to Me" two weeks ago — I thought it was very good, but I identified because I also behave oddly without brain meds; "Silver Linings Playbook" was kinda the same way — the jokes about depression meds were funny depending on your own experience with the shit.), "The Heat" was split with Sandra Bullock, "Identity Thief" just effing cheated her at the end.
"Spy" gave McCarthy every chance to shine. When the clueless Jude Law (the women kick all the butt in "Spy", while the men are just, you know, *men*, getting good jobs and the credit through nice faces and penis privilege [Law], and despite witlessly dangerous machismo [Statham] or groping hands [Serafinowicz]) presents her with the stupid cupcake, every woman knows that pain. When the Q analog outfits her with the demeaning spy kit, when Statham calls her a lunch lady, when the everyday co-workers don't remember or appreciate her, women in the workplace know that, too. When the Italian horndogs don't catcall from the car, when Rose Byrne insults her clothes. Agent Cooper just *deals* with it in unassumingly, and then in order to save herself, she reinvents her cover as Byrne's bodyguard, unleashing the Hulk.
"Spy" would've been a huge disappointment had it gone the traditional route for secret agents in the field for the first time, when luck and chance follow them around (I like those movies, especially when the hero is an "unwitting spy", like Mater in "Cars 2"). McCarthy was a superagent all along, and the story gave her the chance to be super. Similarly, Miranda Hart's character was the same kind of badass-stuck-at-a-desk-job — how resourceful was she at critical moments!
Make it a franchise. They're already set up for Spy #2 and Spy #3, because Allison Janney said so, and because they didn't kill Jude Law. It's off to a better start than the Bourne series, far ahead of the Missions: Impossible, and considering how Bond went more navelgazing than asskicking, Melissa McCarthy's spy capers should be the best ones going.