Susan is, in other words, the woman many woman struggle against becoming: unsatisfied, accommodating to a fault, in love in a way that is literally hopeless. She is very much not, we are meant to understand, Living Her Best Life. All of this, however, belies the most salient fact about Susan Cooper, CIA agent: She is extremely good at her job. She is smart and resourceful and patient and steady in a crisis. When people tell her they couldn’t do it without her, they mean it. So when Fine is taken out of commission by the Bulgarian arms dealer Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne, doing a passable Australian person's version of a British accent)—and when Rayna reveals that she’s in possession of a nuclear bomb that she has hidden in Europe—Susan volunteers to take Fine’s place in the field. Partly because of the hopelessly-in-love thing, but partly, too, out of the conviction that she’d be just as good away from the desk as behind it.
The CIA’s head spy, Elaine Crocker (the wonderfully deadpan Allison Janney), approves the scheme. Since Rayna has figured out who their current field agents are, they conclude that they need someone “invisible” to track her to the bomb. And Susan, Crocker informs her, dead-panningly, is the most invisible person they can think of.
Much of the comedy in the first half of Spy comes from the insults casually lobbed at Susan—about her appearance, about her demeanor, about her gender. CIA engineers, preparing her for the field, give her new identities, all of them in the “cat lady” vein (one of them: a divorced housewife from Iowa who sells Mary Kay makeup and collects porcelain dolls; another: a single mother of four who is excessively fond of sweatshirts). They provide her not with the tools typical of Hollywood secret-agent badassery—lipstick daggers, collapsible guns—but rather with the stuff of supposedly sad single womanhood: a blow-dart in the guise of a rape whistle, chloroform in the guise of hemorrhoid wipes, poison antidote in the guise of stool softener. The engineers of Langley also give her a night-vision scope housed in a Beaches watch, and a hairstyle reminiscent of the one Vicki Lawrence wore in Mama's Family. This is the stuff of Miss Congeniality, basically, only Susan’s makeover swaps a bandage dress for a sweatshirt festooned with cats. “I look like someone's homophobic aunt!” Cooper complains, legitimately.
So it’s pleasantly jarring when Spy’s real transformation takes place, and when it becomes clear that the change will have very little to do with Susan’s appearance. She uses her time in the field to come into her own—as an agent, but also as a more basic badass. She’s fast with a gun and even faster with a quip. She’ll find a way, if the situation calls for it, to weaponize a cast-iron skillet.
Susan’s job in the field—a traipse around Europe that includes stops in mansions and casinos and nightclubs in Paris, Rome, and Budapest—is to “track and report,” gleaning intel about Rayna but not interacting with her. When things go predictably awry, Susan ends up interacting not just with Rayna, but also with a menagerie of murderers who are working both with and against the arms dealer. She does so with the help of her friend Nancy (Miranda Hart), who takes over as Langley’s designated earpiece whisperer, and of Aldo (“like the shoe store found in American malls!”), an aggressively amorous Italian agent (Peter Serafinowicz). She does so, also, in spite of the appearance and reappearance of Rick Ford (the several-scene-stealing Jason Statham)—a rogue agent who has endured, and survived, pretty much every type of torture (bombs, gun shots, dips into tubs of acid) that the James Bondian canon has to offer, and who, like pretty much everyone else in this fictional CIA, is a fan of insult comedy.