Last month, I attended the first screening of Spies in Disguise to a non-employee audience as part of The Geekly Retreat (an exclusive, invite-only retreat for aspiring entertainment writers). Below is my spoiler-free review. This post uses affiliate links.
Spies in Disguise (out everywhere December 25, 2019) is exactly what I hoped it would be: funny, entertaining, and the perfect family movie. My kids will love it and I will enjoy re-watching it with them. The visuals are sleek and cool, the lines are hilarious and memorable, and the message is lovely and unexpected. I only have one minor quibble which I’ll save for the end of the review (it’s a slight spoiler despite it happening within the first five minutes of the movie).
About Spies in DIsguise
Super spy Lance Sterling (Will Smith) and geeky scientist Walter Beckett (Tom Holland) are polar opposites. Lance is cool, debonair, and lethal. Walter is not. Walter is awkward, kind, and sweet. And smart. Super smart. But weird. When a series of unfortunate (and hilarious) events occur, Walter and Lance suddenly have to work together to save the world.
On the surface, Spies in Disguise is a classic opposites attract plus buddy cop plus spy movie. There are fancy gadgets, suave leads, and the world definitely needs saving.
Truthfully, the movie creators could have left it at just that. It is so much more.
Spies in Disguise addresses what it means to save the world. I have always ascribed to the belief that if you’re going to fight someone, you make sure they cannot get back up. This is Lance’s worldview; it’s a merciless – but seemingly effective – response to the violence in the world and seems to protect those we love. In fact, the villain at one point says, “You hit me hard. I hit back harder.”
However, Walter – Walter believes that everyone is a person. Everyone deserves saving – even bad guys. His approach to saving the world is idealistic and the grown part of me scoffs at his ideas. But, is he wrong, really?
What I Loved
The above discussion about what it means to keep the world safe – and what it means to be a hero – is what I loved the most about Spies in Disguise. Yes, I also enjoyed the themes of being #TeamWeird and self-love and acceptance and the merits of teamwork, but I was astonished that a children’s movie approached the tension between the shoot ’em up bang bang kind of world-saving and the unicorn glitter all you need is love idealism.
I am excited at the caliber of thought in this movie. I appreciated Spies in Disguise treating its audience as if they were smart enough to parse out the nuances of these separate worldviews.
Another bonus: there is a lot of diversity in the movie. The people in the movie look a lot like the people in the world I inhabit (just funnier and with sexier jobs).
What I wished could have been DIfferent
Minor spoiler ahead so skip to the next section if you don’t want to be spoiled at all (although you literally find out within the first five minutes).
Why does Walter’s mother have to die?
I’m really sick of women – especially mothers, girlfriends, wives, daughters – being killed off or traumatized as some sort of jumping off point for MALE (or any sex, really) characters’ personality or story arcs.
It’s lazy storytelling. SUPER LAZY.
It makes women disposable and only important as an impetus for the male characters and frankly, it’s unnecessary. (Note: there are several female characters with agency in the movie so it’s not a question about representation in this case.)
Mothers can affect and change our children WHILE WE ARE STILL ALIVE. We can motivate them and guide them and move them forward while thriving in the perfect picture of health. A great many of us do this every day. We do not need to die in some tragic event in order to make an impact on our children.
In fact, I would argue that we make a greater impact when we are alive to do so. Keep mothers (and fathers) alive, please. I’m really sick of the orphan trope in fairy tales and young adult stories.
If you have small children
There are deaths of minor characters and collateral damage in this movie. While it is implied and not obvious, there is a high body count. There are also a few jokes that are definitely meant for adults – but most children will likely miss it entirely. My kids certainly will find the body transformation jokes and slapstick humor hilarious.
Spies in Disguise is an all-around great film for families – adults and children – to enjoy. The silly humor is spot-on, the messages are on point, and it’s visually exciting. I highly recommend the movie – especially if you talk to your children about the ideas presented afterward. But even if you don’t think about the big ideas in the movie, it will still be super entertaining.