Spies in Disguise

 

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An Incredibles-style James Bond spoof from Blue Sky Studios proves to be considerably funnier than expected.

 

Spies in Disguise

 

Just what the world needs: another James Bond spoof. However, this animated satire has two aces up its sleeve. One, Bond has a teenage partner; and, two, 007 is a pigeon. Yet far from being a secret agent variant on Valiant (2005) – in which Ewan McGregor voiced a war pigeon – it’s an Incredibles-style comic express ride of startling ingenuity. And, in an ironic riposte to the Will Smith flop Gemini Man, we get two Will Smiths for the price of one. Who would have thought that, just one week before the close of 2019, Will Smith would present us with a third digital version of himself, in a film superior to both Aladdin and Gemini Man? A little bit of explanation may be in order.

 

Will Smith is the voice of Lance Sterling, dubbed “the world’s greatest spy”, a vainglorious secret agent who believes that he can save the world single-handed. However, he meets his match when he double-crosses the egomaniacal Killian (Ben Mendelsohn), a criminal mastermind armed with a robotic hand and a homicidal agenda. Killian, drawing on his technological genius, outwits Sterling and steals his facial likeness, immediately condemning Sterling to the status of expendable outlaw. But Sterling has one last hope: the teenage wunderkind Walter Beckett (Tom Holland) that he had fired from the agency for tampering with the controls of his suit. Walter was editing human genomes in middle school and, when his mother Wendy was killed in the line of duty, he resolved to make the world a safer place. His pacifist take on global hostilities at first gets Sterling’s goat, as does Walter’s weird arsenal of non-militaristic weapons, such as kitty glitter and gluten-free breadcrumbs, both of which prove to have their uses. But with nowhere else to run, Sterling turns to Walter for help, and finds himself on the wrong side of a genetic experiment that is still in its theoretical stage: and thus he is metamorphosed into a pigeon.

 

As to be expected from the company that brought us the Ice Age and Rio films, the animation is of the highest order, but the script is the thing. Besides an audacious plot that draws on elements from Men in Black and a treasure chest of espionage material, the repartee positively crackles. At the public screening I attended, children were howling with hilarity at the inventive slapstick, but the dialogue is every bit as clever. A case in point is when Walter, realising that he is about to become active in the field, renames himself, “Bond, Hydrogen Bond.” And the script is not above using a word like cloaca, which Sterling discovers is an avian orifice with a dual purpose. But then, as Walter explains, Sterling is getting “in touch with his latent avian instincts.” Not all the one-liners will fly over younger viewers’ heads, as much of the dialogue was improvised, with the actors’ teamwork encouraged as an essential element of the film. So, when Sterling finds himself in an unsavoury situation with a Japanese arms dealer, Will Smith quips, “I don’t think that subtitle was in my favour.” Yes, the cartoon even has subtitles! But it’s the spontaneous banter between Smith and Holland that is so engaging, with Holland giving as good as he gets.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Voices of  Will Smith, Tom Holland, Rashida Jones, Ben Mendelsohn, Reba McEntire, Rachel Brosnahan, Karen Gillan, DJ Khaled, Masi Oka.

 

Dir Troy Quane and Nick Bruno, Pro Peter Chernin, Jenno Topping and Michael J. Travers, Ex Pro Chris Wedge, Screenplay Brad Copeland and Lloyd Taylor, from a story by Cindy Davis, based on the short Pigeon: Impossible, Ph Renato Falcão, Ed Randy Trager and Christopher Campbell, Music Theodore Shapiro, Sound Randy Thom, Fur lead David Barksdale.

 

Blue Sky Studios/20th Century Fox Animation/Chernin Entertainment-20th Century Fox.

101 mins. USA. 2019. Rel: 26 December 2019. Cert. PG.