Spy Movie Review: An Uninspiring Rehash Of Old Espionage Tropes
Director: Garry BH
Writer: K.Rajashekhar Reddy
Cast: Nikhil Siddartha, Iswarya Menon, Abhinav Gomatam, Jisshu Sengupta
‘This Akhil Akkineni-Surender Reddy is an unbearable collation of spy cliches’ was the headline of my review of Agent. This befits the review of Spy too, but unlike filmmakers, I don’t have the liberty to rehash and churn the same text every time. Spy is an incredibly unoriginal film in which every idea, both micro and macro, predates the independence era, a timeframe the story connects to its main conflict.
There’s a dreaded terrorist on a destruction spree, missions in multiple countries to be thwarted, a nuclear attack to be averted, lives to be saved, a mole within the team to be ratted out, a hero who disobeys his chief’s orders and is labeled a ‘rogue’, phones that need to be hacked, so on and so forth. We have seen it ALL. There isn’t an ounce of novelty here, apart from the connection to real-life history featuring the covert operations of Subhash Chandra Bose, but the way it is executed lacks the gravitas or thrill to compensate for Spy’s creative shortcomings.
The problem with Spy is that every plot point feels derivative of a million spy films we have seen in the past. A RAW agent named Subhash (Aryan Rajesh) is killed in action right after capturing and terminating a terrorist named Kadhir Khan. Five years later, Subhash’s brother Jai (Nikhil Siddartha) becomes a powerful RAW agent, having completed 15 missions. When Kadhir Khan rises back from hell, Jai is tasked with terminating the terrorist and unearthing the real truth of his brother’s death. This might sound interesting as a one-liner, but the way it has been developed into a feature-length screenplay, makes its 135-minute runtime feel like a lifetime.
For a film that thinks it's intelligent, Spy lacks the intellect to not just convince us, but even engage us on a surface level. For instance, RAW agents gun down a mole, their only connection to the terrorist they are chasing, and leave the scene without even realising they can seize his phone until the hero says he has already done it. Abinav Gomatam, the only respite in this tedious film, as a RAW agent (a more evolved version of the ‘hero’s friend’) who keeps asking the most basic questions, makes you wonder how he became an agent in the first place. Jai’s backstory featuring a terrible love story that feels like a parody — they way it’s connected to his recruitment at RAW is likely to make the agency launch a lawsuit against the film for its laughable portrayal. Lack of accuracy isn’t the problem; lack of creativity is. We barely feel any threat, even though concepts like nuclear distraction and geopolitics are thrown in. We don't even know the hero to root for him and his journey. When the top government and RAW officials are introduced in a scene early in the film, their names and designations are displayed on the screen as it happens in a documentary. We never see them in the film again. Spy aims to be rich in detail but there's only so much detail in the screenplay can do when the skeleton of the narrative is tiring.
Does the film make up for the flaws in writing with visual finesse and moments that give a high? I really wish. Sequences that are supposed to create an adrenaline rush barely make a mark, although shaky hand-held camera moments and fast-paced editing are used to maximum effect to instigate a rush. I’m willing to let go of a few patchy VFX shots and even low-resolution drown footage in some key scenes, but master shots missing focus in key scenes is just... sad. I guess shots without focus are a metaphor for a screenplay without focus. And let’s not even get into visual novelty. There’s little to say when the RAW headquarters look like the Government hospital in regular Telugu films and Sri Lanka looks like Ramoji Film City. My eyes would have never nit-picked these logistics had the film kept my brain engaged to a basic extent.
There’s exactly one interesting idea in the entirety of Spy, when these agents, while navigating the forests of Kohima, recollect Subhas Chandra Bose’s brave Azad Hind Fauj trudging and fighting on the same grounds decades ago. But even this idea isn’t executed well, with the visuals looking like an amateur street play while Sricharan Pakala’s fairly inspiring ‘Azaadi’ does the heavy lifting. It is during such ambitious sequences we feel that Spy is perhaps the victim of the dearth of resources to realise the filmmaker’s vision. But minutes later, we see a terrorist, dressed in a suit and dubbed by Aziz Naser (who dubs for every other Telugu villain when they aren't dubbed by Ravi Shankar), provoke the fallen hero by saying that he killed his weak brother too. You know what happens next. The dearth of inventiveness in writing might just be Spy’s biggest villain.