Spies in Disguise should be one of the worst movies ever made based entirely on its concept alone. A spy getting turned into a pigeon to fight the forces of evil is quite possibly the stupidest movie premise I have ever heard, and that’s including the Garbage Pale Kids, The Room, and the show Mr. Meaty. Nothing about this movie should have worked and it should have flopped harder than Justice League.
So why doesn’t it?
It’s rather odd as Spies in Disguise is one of the most pleasantly charming movies that I’ve seen in a while. Maybe it was because my expectations were low but I left Spies in Disguise with a smile on my face. It’s weird, right? I should hate everything about this movie: forced celebrity voices, pop culture references, the dumb premise, and a soundtrack that consists mainly of pop songs. Everything about this movie should be hated and detested, but by the end I found myself laughing and enjoying the journey its two main characters experience.
The movie follows Will Smith’s Lance Sterling, an overqualified, snarky, charming secret agent as he teams up with Tom Holland’s Walter Beckett, a lonely, weird, smart scientist as they try to defeat Ben Mendelsohn’s Killian. And the voice acting is pretty top-notch. Sure, Tom Holland plays Tom Holland and Will Smith plays Will Smith, but their voice acting isn’t at all bad. No one’s performance is. From the main lead to the smallest side character, everyone appears to bring their A-game here, which is odd given this premise seems tailor-made for lazy voice acting.
The chemistry between Lance and Walter is perfect. Tom and Will play off each other so well, proving that the trailers did a large disservice to the actual plot humor and ignored some surprisingly compelling arcs with a lot of heart and depth. It actually caught me off-guard at the lengths Spies in Disguise’s filmmakers went to make us care about these two. Even the villain plays into Lance Sterling’s backstory in a way that’s very dark and has a lot to say about morality. In a movie where a spy is turned into… let me remind you, a pigeon.
Yes, when Lance turns into a pigeon the movie even gets funnier. The jokes are laugh out loud funny and I found myself constantly chuckling the whole second act, which is how long he stays a pigeon. I thought that when he turned into a pigeon the movie would drop in quality, but instead, it rises. Even the third act is actually quite spectacular for how it brings in new and creative ideas that I hadn’t seen before. It’s not as good as the previous act, but to say that it isn’t creative would be a lie.
Still, while Lance’s arc is interesting, it does become predicable at times. There are several moments where I found myself rolling my eyes and wondering “Did they really think this would surprise us?” Walter is downright unbearable near the beginning of the movie and I kept wishing he would go away and the film would focus more on Lance. What sucks is that the first ten minutes are compelling and would make for a really amazing spy movie. But once Walter is introduced it really makes you wish you were back at the beginning.
The best part of the movie is Lance being turned into a pigeon, but how they go about it is forced and out of nowhere. Not only that, but it happens totally by accident. There’s no build up or hints to this, just “Hey, you’re a pigeon now.” Plus, the transformation scene is neither funny nor appropriate for kids.
The side characters don’t really add much either to this film, despite getting big names like DJ Khalad, Karren Gillan, Rashida Jones, and even Ben Mendelsohn. While the villain has interesting elements to him, there’s nothing that you’ll really care about. The only interesting side characters are the pigeons that follow our heroes on their journey, with one being a jealous, homicidal lady pigeon who keeps on trying to kill Rashida’s character, Marcy.
There are also a lot of pacing issues that make Spies in Disguise feel like it’s going by too quickly. No joke, Lance only stays a pigeon for one act of the film, which makes the whole premise feel kind of cheap once you take a step back and look at it from that perspective. Yeah, the whole pigeon arc is resolved by the time the third act rolls around, not really compelling or interesting filmmaking there. It also features a lot of cop out moments where you think the film is going to take a much more mature path, but instead pulls back because it’s a kid’s movie. That part I understand, but why set those moments up if you’re not going to pay them off? It’s really unfortunate, as I believe those aspects could have improved the film’s quality heavily.
Verdict: 3 out of 5 Stars
I know I’m going to get a lot of flack for this, but somehow Spies in Disguise works better than Frozen II. There’s charm and uniqueness here to the film, as it doesn’t take itself too seriously and shows a lot of unexpected heart. It’s dumb and you’ll probably won’t remember it a week after you saw it, but it’s a damn fun time in the theaters and I do recommend you see it once. There have been a few moments where I’m glad my expectations of a movie were proven wrong and this is definitely one of those times.