Five years ago today, this sexy spy series should've been the James Bond for adults only
The movie is available to watch at home right now, and definitely deserves a (re)visit.
In the last decade or so, when it became abundantly clear that the folks making the decisions about the future of James Bond would never let the role be played by a female, Hollywood became infatuated with the idea of creating their own gender-flipped spy movie franchise.
So we got 2010's Salt and 2017's Atomic Blonde, featuring two of the biggest stars in the world throwing themselves the genre, the former given off Jason Bourne vibes, and the latter clearly copying John Wick's homework. But in the mix, while also standing out on its own - thanks in large part to its realistic and explicit depictions of sex and violence - was Red Sparrow.
Released on cinemas on 2 March 2018, the movie was dunked on by critics (45% on Rotten Tomatoes), while 20th Century Fox released it in the aftermath of the global phenomenon of Black Panther. So the $69 million production made only $17 million in its opening weekend, as everyone was still going to watch or rewatch the latest Marvel behemoth. Eventually, Red Sparrow would bank $151 million worldwide, meaning it just about scraped by a profit after publicity and advertising had been accounted for.
Which is a massive shame, as had the movie been given a fair shake, we might by now be up to the third or fourth entry in this sexy spy thriller series which was aimed exclusively at adults.
Red Sparrow on world of "sexpionage"
The pay-attention-because-this-gets-complicated plot revolves around the idea that Russia was training their most physically appealing agents in the world of "sexpionage". The most talented of these agents is Dominika (Jennifer Lawrence), a former ballerina who was drafted into the spy world by her uncle Ivan (Matthias Schoenaerts), who also happens to be the deputy director of Russia's intelligence agency.
Dominika crosses paths with CIA operative Nate (Joel Edgerton), who attempts to convince her to defect, while she still receives direct orders to discover the identity of Nate's double agent already working within Russia's intelligence agency.
It is a complicated, intelligent story that might call to mind Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but mixed in with some attention-grabbing scenes filled with explicit sex or violence, really leaning into the psychological and physical brutality that this job must involve. The entire thing is directed with cold, hard precision by Francis Lawrence (unrelated to Jennifer, but who did direct the actress in the last three Hunger Games movies), who is assisted by some very layered, microexpression-filled performances by his cast.
However, some critics mistook that coldness for dourness, and the necessary sexual nature of the plot as being unnecessarily overt. Others say the movie for what it was, an attempt to pump some new life into the New Cold War subgenre:
San Francisco Chronicle - "Red Sparrow is a thoroughly entertaining movie that stays fresh and interesting for all of its two-hours-plus running time. But what kicks it into a higher level is that it’s a terrific vehicle for Jennifer Lawrence, one of the few movie stars who deserves one, who is a film star in the classic sense."
Variety - "Lawrence, in this movie, shows you what true screen stardom is all about. She cues each scene to a different mood, leaving the audience in a dangling state of discovery. We’re on her side, but more than that we’re in her head. Even when (of course) we’re being played."
Daily News - "People who crave a movie about a secret agent with her own sexual agency — and a mission to give male predators exactly what they deserve — are going to want front-row seats. And a sequel."
There was initially talk of a sequel, as director Lawrence and co-star Edgerton discussed the potential plans to adapt the other books in the Red Sparrow series, but the damp reception to this movie put an end to that.
Even afterwards, Hollywood has still tried to bottle this particular lightning. Which is probably why we got the Black Widow movie after she had been written out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We also got all-female action spy thriller The 355, but it was awful, while pre-existing franchises added powerful female characters into their latest entries, played by Ana De Armas and Lashana Lynch in No Time To Die, or Rebecca Ferguson in the fourth, fifth and sixth Mission: Impossible movies.
But we're still actually waiting for that one properly great standalone female spy movie. And because we all dismissed and/or ignored Jennifer Lawrence's attempt, we'll likely be left waiting for another while yet.
Red Sparrow is available to watch at home right now on Disney+.
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