Spies In Disguise marks Will Smith’s first return to voicing an animated character since the poorly received Shark Tale. Considering his most recent run of releases have failed to set the box office or critics alight I held my breath that this release, which showed a lot of promise in the oft-repeated trailer, would be any good. The breath remained held as the movie got put back several times, ending up being released a full year later than planned (never a good sign). Thankfully, it’s not only a success but an utter blast!
Lance Sterling (Smith) is the world’s best secret agent, and he knows it. Always winning, and winning with style, he needs no support and accepts no help. Yet among the many boffins beavering away to make the nifty gadgets that Lance deploys in service of his missions is Walter Beckett (Tom Holland). Beckett is considered an oddball by everyone due to his non-lethal and bizarre inventions, like glitter kitten cannons and exploding hugs. Yet when Lance is framed for stealing a dangerously advanced drone, Beckett’s experiments with DNA manipulation suddenly become impossible to ignore.
Let’s get straight down to the big sell, shall we? Lance gets turned into a pigeon. This simple plot device is a stroke of genius. Ok, the angle of a confident character humbled and a freaky outsider finding acceptance is standard, but by not only mentally but physically humbling Lance by trapping him in the body of a diminutive Columba livia domestica, Spies In Disguise hits a comedy jackpot. Pigeons are just funny. It was the pigeons in movies like Bolt that got me howling. Something about animating the daft head bobs and otherwise look of perpetual confusion is a constant winner.
I appreciate I went off a bit about my tastes there, but Spies In Disguise plays like all the best Bond pastiches but with added birdy banter. There is a lovely, and frankly, unusual thread of non-violence running through the movie. Walter’s pacifist inventions are varied and hilarious – I’m thinking specifically of one used to belly laugh effect against a larger antagonist – but also drive the narrative. Lance’s no-nonsense ‘lone wolf’ affectation is at odds with Walter’s optimism, a matter exacerbated by Lance needing to rely on Walter once he is stuck in feathered form.
Plot-wise things are rather generic, with the age-old issue of the movie almost forgetting to tell us why we should care. Villain Killian (clever, well done) apes the rather vague plotting of Spyfall in that he wants a list of all the secret agents’ real identities and locations. And that’s bad. We never really linger on it, just accept that it is bad. And that Killian stole a super special drone in order to enact this plan. This is also bad, but really it’s an excuse for set pieces and kinetic energy to be thrown at the screen.
No, Spies In Disguise is only really interested in the dynamic between Lance and Walter. There are enough touching moments in there and enough ‘push you pull me’ bickering to form a central core for everything else to cling on to. It’s throwaway and easy stuff, but with a smattering of really fun gags to elevate into a good night in for the family.
Words by Mike Record