Rated PG. Now, I'm all for the PG rating. After all, it is an action oriented kids' movie. But I almost want to aggressively fight for the G rating on this one. If anything, the movie has a strong nonviolent stance in it, which as the family's pacifist, I kind of ABSOLUTELY DUG! But there are scaryish bad guys. There are moments of intense peril, so I'm not going to get all in arms about a G rating in the fact of bigger evils. Regardless, it is a PG film that can be enjoyed with the family.
DIRECTORS: Nick Bruno and Tony Quane
Dear Lord, grant me the willpower and Internet to get through a blog about Spies in Disguise, a perfectly fine movie that probably deserves more attention than I'm willing to give it at the end of a long work day. It's one of those movies that just doesn't get you excited to write. Really, most of the movies that my kids pick for family movie night fit that description. But if I only wrote about movies that excited me to write, I wouldn't have any kind of challenge or obligation to write. So here goes...
I don't know why I was low-key excited to watch this movie on HBO Max. I really don't. I remember seeing the trailer and thought, "What an absurd concept." I mean, seeing that this film had both Will Smith and Tom Holland was even more confusing. Part of me wonders if Will Smith plays the game so hard that he doesn't really get passionate about any of his film choices anymore. (Again, I'm sorry to Mr. Smith. I don't know you, sir. I can just reflect on the fact that I see safer choices down the line.) On the other end is Tom Holland, who is probably just looking for non Peter Parker roles. I mean, the movie ended up being pretty charming. I can't complain one single bit about the quality of the movie because it did exactly what it was supposed to do. It was meant to be an entertaining kids movie that grabs attention all the way through. It safely did that and I'm pretty happy with it.
But can I preach for a moment? After all, I abandoned any hope of hiding my personal politics while writing my daily blog. After all, this is my own private hideaway on the Internet. I adore how this movie is an open-booked film advocating pacifism. It wasn't the pigeon thing that threw me when I saw the preview. It was the lazy James Bond knock off stuff that turned me off from the movie initially. Lance, walking around in his tuxedo, regardless of contextual situation, just felt like a spy's uniform is the tuxedo. He was using lasers and kung-fu against spy-fi villains and I think I'm just a little tired of it all. It's kind of like taking a shot at Star Wars. We get that Star Wars and James Bond are both cultural touchstones and people like poking at the conventions contained within. (Not like a sci-fi convention where you can buy bootleg DVDs, but the other kind.) The action spy genre is so much more than James Bond. James Bond is more than gadgets and tuxedos. But the movie started off with a stylized opening credit sequence that made me happy and then Tom Holland talks a lot about how violence isn't the answer.
While it is absurd to try to tell an action spy story without violence, the movie also has the protagonist turn into a pigeon for the majority of the film. The even concept of formula playing an active part in this movie is absurd. So with that in mind, the James Bond background kind of works. Yeah, it's lazy. But the laziness serves another function. Because Bond has been spoofed so many times, what the result is involves a kind of shorthand to the universe. The "Death for Breakfast" attitude that Bond style movies have had on hand allows the movie to critique if the violence of Bond and his ilk is doing more good for the world or creating the very monsters that they hope to destroy. Walter places the role of the Quartermaster in a place of responsibility. Choosing to build weapons that are non-lethal is an overt statement about the nature of violence, and, with a meta-textual element involved, a commentary on the nature of children's access to violence.
Because the movie isn't boring. At no time does it get boring. A bit easy and lazy, sure. But the movie still provides thrills and action without having these characters kill the bad guys. But is that enough? Like, I'm going to preach how much I like the counter-culture message of the film. But really, Walter's weapons incapacitate in ways that are more effective than lethal weaponry. The real world probably doesn't work like that. As much as Walter preaches of a better world with his lovable goofballs experiments, these weapons are the world of spy-fi. It actually makes everyone else come across as a huge bully. Walter's weapons definitely work better than a traditional gun or a grenade, so why wouldn't people use them? It's not like spies are itching to kill folks. They are there to take out threats. Heck, while I'm not exactly a spy or something (EXACTLY WHAT A SPY WOULD SAY!), I'm sure that capturing enemy hostiles alive would be an asset. There's interrogation. There's the moral high ground. There are just a lot of wins doing it Walter's way. Why would Lance disregard these options when they are so darned effective?
Part of what this world offers is a wealth of pride. Lance is this character who does the right thing, not because it belongs to the objective good. Instead, his ego is inflated with every mission he completes. He is a James Bond fan who just happens to be James Bond. He knows how Lance should do things. So when Lance does things the way that they are supposed to be done, there's a mental dopamine celebration that gets him jazzed. (This is all kind of going some place...I think.) So when Walter's weapon creates adorable kittens, it's not that it is actually more effective than a grenade. It's just that he knows that James Bond wouldn't do things that way. I'm actually kind of surprised that the film didn't even drop the name James Bond because Lance almost seems self-aware of what character he is parodying.
I don't quite get the pigeon thing. Like, it's very funny and I enjoy a lot of the jokes involving the pigeon. But...why? There's some kind of disconnect. The central conceit of the film, Will Smith being turned into a pigeon, doesn't really have a message. I mean, we get the buddy comedy of the over-the-top expert in his field coupled with a naive nerd thing that we've dealt with a dozen times. The pigeon thing makes him dependent. But my specific question is...why the pigeon? Do pigeons make people laugh or something? It's just so specific and I can't really tell why things are the way they are. Maybe the artist was just good at rendering pigeons, so they adapted a movie out of this. (Oh that's right. This full length feature film is adapted from a short, I believe, named "Pigeon: Impossible," which is a way better name for this movie that probably opened the door to a lawsuit from Tom Cruise.)
But the movie is fine. I love that it is about nonviolence and solving problems other ways, even if it does so in the laziest fashion ever. It's entertaining for a kids movie, even if it doesn't offer as much substance as I would have liked.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.