The title of Susanna Fogel’s second feature may be a play on James Bond, but unlike The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), the women of the story aren’t simply playthings – they’re at the forefront. The Spy Who Dumped Me is next on the growing list of female spy movies, and while it’s a fun summer popcorn movie, it doesn’t transcend the genre’s typical conventions.
The film follows best friends Audrey (Mila Kunis) and Morgan (Kate McKinnon) in the aftermath of discovering that Audrey’s ex, Drew (Justin Theroux), is a spy for the CIA. They soon find themselves sucked into an international espionage adventure that takes them from their quiet lives in Los Angeles to running for their lives around Europe. At its core, the film is about the strength of women and female friendships, but the buddy comedy fails to find the right balance of action to complement the film’s light-hearted vibe.
More often than not, the role of a villain in the espionage genre, who is as witty as they are terrifying, has been reserved for men. To find a spy thriller that includes not only a female hero but also a female villain that our protagonist must face off against is incredibly rare. It is typical for such features to centre around one man hunting down another – engaging in a game of cat-and-mouse until one finally surrenders to the other. It’s there in Skyfall, in which the plot revolves around James Bond pursuing the fascinating Raoul Silva, who repeatedly leaves the former looking like a fool, and it is present in almost every entry in the Mission Impossible and the Bourne franchises. We think nothing of two men working tirelessly to track the other down in such films, yet we constantly struggle to cast more than one woman in similar features. While there has indeed been a steady rise in the number of fictional female spies, from Lorraine Broughton in the recent, massively stylistic Atomic Blonde, to Dominika Egorova of Red Sparrow, there is still a significant lack of compelling female villains for such characters to stand off against. Granted, in Red Sparrow this is arguably because the film wants to tackle the issue of men in power and the way in which women are so often abused and tossed aside in the male pursuit of dominance within espionage; however, in Atomic Blonde, we easily could have had a female antagonist to serve as Broughton’s foil. Perhaps it is exactly this – the need for a captivating, villainous woman in stories of intelligence webs and assassinations – that has made BBC America’s Killing Eve such a runaway success.