Christian Movie Review
[Note: after you read my review for “Spy” below, if you’re a fan of C.S. Lewis, please check out my new blog Stabs of Joy or my podcast Aslan’s Paw. Both seek to crack open the surprising treasures of Christian belief — the things that Western society has forgotten, ignored, or never encountered — with the help of literature, film, music, and one very unsafe Lion.]
This review is intended for a Christian audience — mainly for Christians who like the concept and actors of the film but are on the fence about whether they want to see it because they’re not fans of graphic content that is often placed in R-rated films. In other words, this is a consumer product review so that readers can make a more informed buying decision. Please keep that in mind before stirring your inner troll to unleash wrath upon the comments section.
Jason Statham, who plays Rick Ford in “Spy” — a hilarious caricature and self-parody of all his action roles — looks at Melissa McCarthy, who plays the film’s protagonist, and, with a rogue, rebellious sparkle in his eyes, explains why he is defying the orders of the CIA: “I’ve always done things that people tell me not to do. I walked through fire. I waterskied while wearing a blindfold. I took up piano late in life.”
And that, my friends, captures the entire tone of the film: an enthusiastic, passionately zany, silly parody of every spy film, spy character stereotype, and spy plot twist to ever hit the big screen — all fueled by the impressive comedic range of Melissa McCarthy who is an eccentric, Midwestern stereotype of a cat lady in one scene and a rage-filled super killer in the next with a penchant for wickedly clever put-downs before she terminates her targets.
Clarification: that might sound like I’m agreeing with the majority of movie critics who are giving this film rave reviews. But, to be honest, I was disappointed by the way they executed the hilarious premise of the film. (And I’ll explain why in a moment.)
It also does have very graphic content — definitely not kid/youth friendly (they didn’t create the R-rating for nothing) — and I’ll cover that first:
Parental Guidance Issues at a Glance for this R-rated film…
Sexual Content/Nudity/Themes of Sexuality and Romance: While Melissa McCarthy’s character is going through pictures on the phone of a man that she just killed, she comes across pictures that he took of his penis. These pics appear very realistic — i.e. graphic, up-close pics of what appears to be real anatomy, though a commenter below says the pics are fake. Characters use graphic sexual terms in much of the dialogue and jokes. Melissa’s character keeps getting fondled against her will as a few of the male characters grope her during fight scenes. A man on the street is seen engaging in a sex act on a sidewalk with a woman (though no nudity).
Violence/Gore: The most gory scene involves a man who drinks poison, and the acid eats through his esophagus, and then through his neck and skin. We’re shown every graphic detail up-close. There are also some graphically detailed, realistic fatal knife stabbings and characters being impaled by sharp objects. There are several graphic gun shots to the head.
Language: Most characters in the film only know two words: the standard Hollywood-issued f-bomb, which appears in just about every other sentence, and “Jesus” used as a swear word. One especially annoying, non-humorous character says Jesus about every other word: “Jesus, that is, Jesus, a violation of, Jesus, CIA protocol, Jesus, and I, Jesus, am hungry, Jesus, for a sandwich, Jesus.” Many other swear words, of course, but, yeah, you get the idea…
Alcohol/Drug/Smoking Content: Characters drink wine and champagne at parties. One character smokes. Characters are drugged so they can be kidnapped.
(Review continues below)
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Entertainment Value and Film Craft
“Spy” takes nothing seriously except its action sequences, which mimic the level of intense action you’d see in most spy movies, and it revels in off-the-wall dialogue and exaggerations of every stereotype it can think of. As a spy parody, it is written with excellent wit. As a vehicle for advancing Melissa McCarthy’s character, it excels because it makes perfect use of every comedic strength she has. It’s the perfect movie for her, and if you’re a big fan of hers, it will be very hard to resist this film. As a mockery of testosterone-fueled spy/action films, it is ruthless and hilarious.
But, strangely enough — despite it being so cleverly written and well-acted — the film fell a little flat in more than a few places, in my opinion. This happened mostly with the way some of the supporting characters were written. They also really laid into the low self-esteem, middle-aged, single white woman stereotype. Occasionally their relentless mockery of that stereotype came across as unfunny, excessively harsh, and perhaps even cruel.
That being said, they also create a very sympathetic character in Melissa McCarthy in the first act of the film — a very down-to-earth woman with whom millions of women will likely find hilariously relatable.
As far as the entertainment value, I felt the film dove too quickly into the cliche of sending the analyst “into the field.” I thought the dynamic between her character and Jude Law’s character while she w
as on the headset speaking to him remotely was beyond hilarious. They could’ve stayed in that phase a little longer, showed more of her normal life and shaped her as a character, before jumping into the “on-the-field” action. But that’s just me.
Worldviews, Subtext, Symbolism, Themes of Redemption, Social Commentary, Etc.
You can’t think too deeply about a movie whose sole ambition is to mock, mock, mock and exaggerate any and every stereotype it can get its hands on. That being said, the film does drop a subtle dig at the millions of people in America who still believe in the traditional Judeo-Christian views about sexuality. It happens when Melissa McCarthy’s character — after she has been dressed in a hideously frumpy, unflattering disguise that exaggerates a certain middle-aged Midwestern white woman stereotype — says, “I look like somebody’s homophobic aunt.” It was a funny moment because of McCarthy’s delivery of the line and her hilarious appearance, but it was also a subtle mockery of anyone who does not embrace anti-traditional gender theories. It also quietly advances the strategic frame-the-debate tactic that is often employed with the term “homophobic.” I find the term misleading because, believe it or not, it is possible to disagree with the claims of someone’s gender beliefs/religious worldview, etc. without fearing or hating them. It’s sad that this is no longer as widely understood in our culture.
[And this is a major tangent, but I’ll explain why I’m mentioning this: calling someone who has a different worldview than you a “[your-view-of-sexuality]-phobic” implies, in this context, that a person would only embrace traditional views about sexuality because of a psychological phobia and never because they have arrived at a reasoned conviction about the issue after analyzing the truth claims of that particular gender theory. I’m just getting tired of these subtle bullying tactics. As I already mentioned, it is possible to disagree with the claims of someone’s gender beliefs/religious worldview, etc. without fearing or hating them. I do have honest disagreements with certain gender study claims about the purpose, origin, and nature of gender and marriage, but does that automatically mean I have a phobia of homosexuals? Ah, no, not at all. I’ve worked with homosexuals for many years and had great working relationships with those individuals — even with the ones who refused to listen to my differing view points — and I’ve shared in musical collaborations with homosexuals when I studied music at the university, and I had real friendships with them. I can have a calm, non-emotional discussion about these topics with a homosexual, and I have, believe it or not, had such conversations in which the two of us were listening respectfully to each other’s viewpoints, as strongly opposed as they were, without getting angry or calling each other names. The emotions of fear or hatred were not involved in the slightest. I’ve known people who had extremely opposite worldviews who, despite those disagreements, retained a genuine friendship with the other person throughout their entire lives. This kind of exchange that is committed (on both sides) to genuinely listening and considering the other person’s argument has become more rare.]
Okay, getting back to the review.
Melissa McCarthy’s character, throughout the movie, displayed a notable selflessness in the way that she risked her life for so many of her compatriots, and the film allows that earnest concern — as embodied by the wonderful acting of McCarthy — to give the movie a warmth that is often absent from the spy genre. It definitely had a lot going for it that many other spy movies do not have.
The graphic content felt, in my opinion, excessive and needless. Melissa McCarthy, however, does showcase her vast comedic talents, and it did have some genuine laugh-out-loud moments. I loved the premise of the film — absolutely brilliant — but I was disappointed by some of the ways they executed it.
[Note #2: this review was edited/revised on 8/23/15 and 10/10/15.]
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