Trailers for Spy hit two points over and over again: pedigree and premise. McCarthy has been one of the most bankable comedic leads of the last few years, and a bona fide box office good luck charm in supporting roles since Bridesmaids. But it’s the stars that rise the fastest that most often invite popular backlash.
Apathy caused by overexposure of the McCarthy brand is ameliorated once you throw Feig’s name into the mix. Ads have ensured that anyone who didn’t care for Tammy or Identity Thief knows right away that Spy comes from the team behind Bridesmaids and The Heat, McCarthy’s two most successful vehicles to date.
When selling Spy itself, the appeal is clear and simple: what if an inexperienced desk jockey is the only one the C.I.A. can trust to go out in the field and save the world? Seeing as a driver’s is the most dangerous license that the average audience member has, most viewers can more realistically identify with McCarthy’s Susan Cooper than they can 007 and Bourne.
All the more reason, then, for marketing to focus on how unqualified Cooper is, via a lot of pratfalls and embarrassing disguises. Serious spy movies let us fantasize about the ideal version of ourselves, but a comedy with this premise runs on a certain degree of schadenfreude. Getting butts in the seat by asking viewers to laugh at Cooper is cynical, but great comedy is often built out of subverted expectations – it’s once you’ve got an audience that you can start to surprise them.