Spies in Disguise (2019) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): Your average spy action comedy animation film


“Spies in Disguise” is your average spy action comedy animation film, and that is all. Although it is occasionally amusing as diligently throwing gags and jokes, the film does not feel particularly fresh while doing lots of predictable things inside its genre territory, and, despite having some good laughs during my viewing, I do not feel much urge to watch it again as already ready to move onto better ones.

The film opens with the latest mission of Lance Sterling (voiced by Will Smith), who is your typical super spy not so far from, yes, James Bond as shown from his slick and impeccable appearance. As ordered by his direct superior, he sneaks into a remote spot somewhere in Japan for retrieving a certain secret weapon from a notorious arms dealer, and, in spite of his direct superior’s firm instruction, he promptly gets into his action mode as surrounded by a bunch of Japanese thugs. As watching Sterling doing lots of actions on the screen, I somehow felt nostalgic for the certain action sequence in Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill: Volume 1” (2003), but, of course, what I and other audiences around me got was quite milder and tamer compared to that exhilaratingly violent moment in Tarantino’s movie.

Anyway, it seems Sterling gets his mission accomplished as usual in the end, but, not so surprisingly, he finds himself in a big trouble not long after he returns to the headquarters of his agency. He belatedly comes to realize that he did not succeed in retrieving that secret weapon, and he is also accused of treason because of some shady villain who is about to embark on a nefarious plan involved with that secret weapon.


As being chased by Marcy Kappel (voiced by Rashida Jones), a security forces agent quite determined to arrest Sterling as quickly as possible, and a bunch of agents under her command, Sterling looks for anyone to help him, and that person turns out to be Walter Beckett (voiced by Tom Holland), a socially inept scientific genius boy who has been stuck somewhere in the agency for a while without much recognition. Because he has aspired to help Sterling with his various goofy gadgets, Beckett is certainly excited when Sterling comes to him for help, but, unfortunately, Sterling inadvertently becomes the first human test case for Beckett’s latest invention, which, through a process of preposterous genetic changes which will definitely make my biologist colleagues roll their eyes, turns Sterling into…. a pigeon.

Sterling is understandably quite upset by this drastic change of his physical condition, but he has no choice but to deal with this circumstance as he and Beckett hop around several different spots around the world for stopping their opponent, and it is not much of a spoiler to tell you that the main source of comedy comes from how Sterling struggles with his changed physical condition. While he still can talk, he cannot help but driven by his acquired animal nature at times, and he also finds himself getting associated more with several pigeons including Beckett’s pet pigeon.

And you will not be surprised by the accompanying changes in the relationship between Sterling and Beckett. While still preferring to do the job alone, Sterling reluctantly comes to accept Beckett as his partner, and he also discovers that his fellow pigeons are more useful and dependable than expected. In case of Beckett, he is exuberated with joy and excitement as going through a series of adventurous moments he never imagined before, and he is certainly glad for receiving some recognition from Sterling.


During the last act, the story becomes more predictable than before. There is a big moment when Sterling finally confronts his opponent who has been waiting for him, and, yes, his opponent kindly shows and tells what he is soon going to commit besides revealing his old personal grudge against Sterling. I wish the movie showed more humor during this clichéd moment, but it continues to stick to its auto-pilot mode as before, and the following climactic part feels uninspired and pedestrian despite lots of bangs and crashes on the screen.

Nevertheless, the film does not lose its sense of fun and entertainment entirely even during that part, mainly thanks to the lively voice performances from its two lead actors. Effortlessly handling his character’s slick and confident aspects, Will Smith has lots of fun with a number of silly comic moments in the film, and Tom Holland complements his co-performer well as reprising his familiar nerdy persona which was previously demonstrated well in recent Spider-Man movies. In case of other notable cast members including Rashida Jones, Rachel Brosnahan, Karen Gillan, and Ben Mendelsohn, they are sadly under-utilized in comparison, and Mendelsohn is particularly wasted in his thankless villain role, which feels merely sour and vicious without much naughty fun.

On the whole, “Spies in Disguise”, which is based on the 2009 animation short film “Pigeon Impossible” by Lucas Martell, is a competent product which will not waste your money and time probably if you just want to kill your spare time, but it is deficient in terms of style and personality, and it is also less entertaining compared to “Ice Age” (2002) and other notable animation films from Blue Sky Studios. Although 2019 is another weak year for animation films in my trivial opinion, we got several fairly excellent works such as “Toy Story 4” (2019) and “Missing Link” (2019) at least, and I recommend you to watch them instead of this marginally enjoyable piece of work.


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