Spies In Disguise

Directed By Nick Bruno and Troy Quane

Starring – Will Smith, Tom Holland, Karen Gillan

The Plot – Super spy Lance Sterling (Smith) and scientist Walter Beckett (Holland) are almost exact opposites. Lance is smooth, suave and debonair. Walter is…not. But when events take an unexpected turn, this unlikely duo is forced to team up for the ultimate mission that will require an almost impossible disguise – transforming Lance into the brave, fierce, majestic…pigeon. Walter and Lance suddenly have to work as a team, or the whole world is in peril.

Rated PG for action, violence, and rude humor

POSITIVES

– Improved animation. Blue Sky Studios have previously only illustrated average animation at best in their film, leaving much to be desire with the luster of details that they often undervalue in the presentations of their films. That all changes with “Spies In Disguise”, however, as the combination of enhanced landscape and character detail, as well as the clean polish of color coordination, makes this easily their most artistic offering to date. What’s truly attention stealing is the vibrancy in geographic landscapes that the film’s narrative takes us through, offering an intoxicating absorbing of foreign cultures and historical landmarks, that are every bit faithful in depiction as they are educational to youths with a wondrous eye for travel. As for the personality of the presentation in the foreground, there’s plenty of endearing qualities to a film that exudes the sleek compositions of the spy genre, but sprinkled with enhanced beauty when presented under the dreamy focus of an animated rendering.

– Spy spoof. Bruno and Quane have definitely done their homework of the subgenre, balancing an array of time-honored tropes that work positively because this is a satire that is made for kid majority audiences. The ratio gimmicks, like screenshots cut into three’s while depicting the same fluid motion of the character, or the swinging musical score by composer Theodore Shapiro, that seems to ramp up during key moments during Lance’s fighting movements, all feel rich in authenticity with the James Bond or Mission Impossible series’ that have established a precedent for articulating the cool atmosphere the emits from such. Those things fail in comparison, however, to a transfixing opening credits sequence which show Lance in action, and establish his capabilities with unabashed focus. It overall pays homage to the predecessors, while carving out its own identity with blossoming personality, that proves such a hybrid can exist effectively in family catered cinema.

– Consistency in humor. Not only did I laugh quite frequently during “Spies In Disguise”, but I applauded the film’s intelligence for crafting a wide range of visual and audible gags that require a bit more time after the punchline to sell their impact. This is not only shaped by how the talented cast’s rapid delivered energy enhances the indulgence of each punchline, but also the maintaining of class for material that respects kids more than a majority of other animated comedies do in 2019. It helps that there are no vulgar jokes, like poo or farting, but more than that it’s how the comedy works in the favor of the diverse personalities between Lance and Walter, proving that the screenwriters really immersed themselves in the heat of their characters towards drawing out deliveries that feel faithful to them. As far as kid comedies go, it’s easily one of the most delightful of the year, and offers plenty of crossover appeal for parents who are forced to endure typically loud, undercooked humor for the satisfaction of their youths.

– Characterization. Another exceptional aspect of the film’s advantageous screenplay is the time devoted to its two male leads that goes miles in establishing why they choose certain intentions. For Lance, everything is by the book with punishing his adversaries. He’s coldly calculated because he’s never been forced to care about people at any point in his life, rendering them as nothing more than a statistic in a greater peaceful resolve. For Walter, not only is it a surprise that he shares the same amount of screen-time as Lance, but also that he’s a complete moral shift in his conflict resolution. Because Walter shared such a close relationship with his cop mother growing up, it’s helped balance out the affectionate side of his demeanor, which in turn have inspired him to create gadgets that safely capture. Opposites definitely attract, and other than the impeccable chemistry by Smith and Holland, it’s the absorbing of ideals that help make them the perfect team, and allow the film to sift through some pretty mature themes dealing with judicial law.

– Riveting action. This film’s sharpest dagger is in its rumbling action sequences and fluid fight choreography, that never undercut the meaning of the film’s established central conflict. The camera angles are wide enough to fruitfully capture everything in frame, no matter how fast or rampant the devastation manufactures before us. Likewise, the immersion of stimulating sound design and a reserved editing device gives us just enough patience in letting it play out, so as not to revel too much in the style over the substance. For an animated property, it’s more than a little surprising that all of the action feels grounded in reality, instead of fantastical in its enveloping. It’s a realistic approach to physical filmmaking that practically breaks the fourth wall of pre-conceived violent ideals in animated cinema, and was valued every bit as much as its characters, if only to show Lance in his element.

– Consequences. Without spoiling anything, I will say that it’s comforting to see a spy or children’s movie that preserves weight in there being a reaction for every action. Aside from Sterling working for our own intelligence, he is a protector at the end of the day, and one who holds the lives of millions in his hands…or wings that sometimes slip away. This brought forth an exposition deposit in the film’s closing minutes, that while not fully effective because of a last minute swing, does prove that not even a spy tasked with saving the world is safe from his very dangerous methods that put everyone in danger. It overrides one of the more alarming and hard to believe cliches within film, and earns one of the film’s biggest laughs because of its brutal honesty that instills weight in permanence.

– Big names everywhere. A lot of people had faith in this film. That ideal is none more prominent than in the talented cast of A-listers that help make this one of the more infectious experiences with kids cinema that I have had in 2019. Will Smith and Tom Holland are electric, supplanting endless energy to their characters that made it impossible to say they didn’t have fun on the picture. Their animated vocal capacities served complimentary to the film’s expressive animation, and even though they lack the transformation needed to diminish their vocal familiarities, they really do become these characters whole, and make it difficult to imagine anyone else emoting them. This is especially the case with Smith, where his hip swagger of personality is cast in the perfect light creatively to show off his talents. Aside from them, I also enjoyed turns from Rashida Jones as a dim-witted officer chasing Lance, as well as the Gary Oldman of our generation, Ben Mendelsohn commanding another evil antagonist brilliantly with a calm demeanor that makes you hang on to his every word.

NEGATIVES

– Dialogue faults. This is the case in the unfortunate use of puns that plague yet another kids movie. I understand that puns are used for a corny creativity on the film’s plot, but they are anything but clever when they lean on them so heavily that it grows old by the fourth time, at around forty minutes into the film. Bird puns like “I’ll be your wing man” or “Don’t ruffle your feathers” produced many groans from within me, and only established a sense of laziness within the dialogue where this low-hanging fruit wasn’t necessary in adding to an already impressive comedic consistency. On top of this, the film’s soundtrack doesn’t waste a single solitary second to produce a couple of bird rendered tracks to include into its production. It doubles down too much in the areas where it isn’t necessary, and it’s made even more flimsy because of my next point.

– Unnecessary gimmick. When I saw the trailers for this movie, I felt that the bird subplot felt tacked-on to what was an already interesting gimmick of Will Smith virtually playing a James Bond character. This is made even more apparent during the film, as the conflict resolution doesn’t even require him to use any of the traits that the film so heavily deposited during its exposition. In fact, he’s not even a bird during these closing moments, making the heavy focus of the transformation feel as inconsequential to the overall direction of the movie. For my money, the solution to turn Lance back and forth from a human to a pigeon is a plot device that comes at the wrong times, and takes away from what intel and measures could’ve been gained from this unique angle of spy intelligence that Smith never realizes as a blessing in disguise.

– Predictable. Sadly, there are no surprises or originality in the film’s screenplay to keep it from ever feeling like it’s lifting its material from other spy humor films before it. One such subplot that could’ve better fleshed out some much needed heart for the narrative centers around Walter’s mother, who is hinted at for being passed away during his adult years, but not much clarity is added to fully flesh it out in the way it requires. If she were killed in action, it would’ve been a compelling angle to Walter’s no-killing policy. But the film almost feels restrained by its brief 93 minute run time, and would rather stick to the by-the-numbers beats that render its creativity claustrophobic.

My Grade: 7/10 or B-

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