Will Smith’s New Feel Good Movie, “Spies In Disguise”
First things first, “Spies in Disguise” is a great family film. I would like to see…hear Will Smith’s voice in more animated roles because his jovial, effervescent personality transcends age and race.
The film opens with a snazzy, jazzy fight sequence where we get to see our debonair hero, Lance Sterling (Smith) in action doing what he does best, securing assets and saving the world without a wrinkle in his suit. We then meet Tom Holland’s character, Walter, the polar opposite of Lance. Walter is an immature, socially awkward young scientist who has a strange affinity for pigeons and even has one as a pet. In their initial meeting, Lance scolds Walter for replacing his usual spy gadgets. The naive inventor tries to sell Lance on his new innovative, violence free gismos that look like kids toys but Lance isn’t having it and promptly fires Walter.
Next on Lance’s docket is bragging about his latest win. As he’s going through his highlight reel, he’s shown on video stealing from a government agency. The subsequent question and dilemma becomes how could Lance be in two places at one time? His colleagues now become his captures. Per the executive orders of chief agent Joyless voiced by Reba McEntire, insert Rashida Jones as Marcy, the field agent tasked to bring Lance to justice, if only she can catch up to him.
In search of a way to become invisible to elude captivity, Walter becomes Lance’s saving grace. Lance wants a potion that will render him invisible. However, he accidentally drinks a concoction that turns him into a pigeon! Even as a bird, Lance initially lacks humility. He’s adamant about the fact that he works alone. But now as a pigeon, he becomes reliant on Walter. Lance has to learn to embrace his new normal as well as learn to work with a new team, a band of misfit pigeons to save the day.
I appreciate that Lance was a pigeon for just the right amount of time. Following the release of the trailer, there were some social media trepidation. There was a mashup of photos from Disney’s “Princess and the Frog” and “Spies” with captions that eluded to the fact that when it’s a “black film” we don’t get to be ‘humans’. I.e. in “Princess and the Frog”, Tiana is trapped as the frog for more than half of the film. So I was pleasantly surprised as well as grateful that “Spies” was a good balance of Lance being part human, part pigeon. And once the antidote was discovered Lance learned that being a hero can come in any form. Looks aren’t everything and being the pigeon allowed him to do something he couldn’t do as a human, which is fly. Lance is used to being flashy and braggadocios. So out of all the animals, even all of the birds in the world, it’s truly humbling for him to be a pigeon. There are many takeaways from the film including that there’s strength in being inconspicuous and don’t underestimate the power of the underdog or the under pigeon..(lol) in this case.
The villain in “Spies”, Ben Mendelsohn, as Killian was great and quite scary. While the “…You don’t remember me? You took everything from me now I’m going to take everything from you…” storyline isn’t necessarily innovative, it works to provide enough action and suspense fitting for a young audience to follow because now the viewer has several conflicts to keep us on the edge of our seats. *Spoiler Alert* Killian who has the ability to shape shift, clones himself into the mirror image of Lance so we have a scene where Lance is literally face to face with himself…*Insert the plot for “Gemini Man” but a better, kid friendly version!*
In terms of supporting roles that help round out the cast of characters, DJ Khaled aptly plays, “Ears”. He’s perfectly cast in a role where’s he’s essentially playing the animated version of himself who inserts funny one liners at random moments. Having watched Reba McEntire’s sitcom, “Reba” growing up, I wanted more dialogue from her—I wanted to hear that country twang! Not sure if it was intentionally suppressed or if her lines were so minimal, that I didn’t really get to appreciate her as a voice actor in this film, thus the role was somewhat nondescript and could have been any actress.
Following the visually stunning Oscar Award winning “Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse” there were some aspects of “Spies” that was subpar and underwhelming. There was seemingly more attention to detail for the exterior landscapes, even the blades of grass, for example, were remarkably realistic but the syncing of the mouths with the dialogues seemed off. It seemed in efforts to make Will Smith’s character overtly the suave, dapper, uber confident, handsome hero, the execution of the design (his facial features including his nose and lips were too small and feminine) Whereas the supporting characters had more “normal” bodies. The unproportional design of Lance was distracting and he didn’t look as progressive. Art imitates life and in seeing “Spies” at a screening with press as well as a plethora of young impressionable viewers, there was a great opportunity missed to see a more accurately drawn powerful black man whose features matched the leading role.
I hope we can continue to be so progressive with major studio releases that Tom Holland’s character could have also been a young nerdy African American male, graduate of MIT who’s a social outcast but earns his big break when his idol, the man that made him want to pursue a degree in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) gets into a bind. I think that configuration of “super black man” and a young man that needs the tutelage is necessary viewing as well. Overall “Spies” was quite diverse and well cast, there’s even a subtle same-sex relationship nod with two of the minor characters that work at the agency. Very progressive of the screenwriters!
There were several references to “Scooby Doo” in ‘Spies’ which was a drastically different era in tv & film where good old detective work was the draw not the gore or violence. Even in the end when Killian “falls to his death” he doesn’t die as to reiterate once again that you don’t need guns and violence to be a hero. The mind of the introverted, quirky nerd saved the day and his ingenuity was rewarded professionally and with a new friendship from the one person he admired most.
In referencing the beauty of the animation and cinematography of “Spiderverse” the storyline was more serious and there was more violence as well as a death scene in what was at the end of the day still a cartoon. I appreciated the wholesomeness of ‘Spies’ which was a much needed relieve for the intensity of current events within our world today. ‘Spies’ didn’t try to or need to input too much “real world” or overly mature commentary in the dialogue for it to still be fresh and current. It was a feel good and happy film that I would watch it again and recommend.
“Spies In Disguise”, quick, cute, lighthearted. B+