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Amazon’s Mr. & Mrs. Smith review: a layered and thorny spy thriller


While Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s inability to stop smoldering at each other was why most people enjoyed watching the original Mr. & Mrs. Smith, the film’s story about a married couple realizing they’ve both been hiding secret lives as spies was an intriguing example of how well the romcom and action genres could complement one another.

The movie only spent a bit of time fleshing out its vision of strained domestic bliss before it became more focused on blowing things up. But in the Smith’s relationship, with all of its explosive twists, you could see the film seeding some interesting ideas about how marriage can change people and the way we all end up wearing disguises of one kind or another, even in our most intimate relationships.

There are enough major differences between the 2006 movie and Amazon’s new Mr. & Mrs. Smith series from executive producers Francesca Sloane and Donald Glover that viewers might have trouble discerning the throughline between them at first. But it’s because of its stylistic and narrative updates that Amazon’s show is able to take those seedling ideas from the original film and cultivate them into a compelling story that works surprisingly well, save for a few rough patches.

Rather than dropping us into the lives of John (Glover) and Jane (Maya Erskine) Smith years into their marriage like the film, the new Mr. & Mrs. Smith switches things up by introducing its eponymous couple soon after they’ve begun working for an espionage agency known simply as The Company. As two of The Company’s most promising new recruits, both John — a self-assured mama’s boy who can’t lose an argument — and Jane — a cat lover with an aversion to open-mouth chewers — are confident they’re ready to take on high-risk assignments eliminating targets as the series begins.

Image: David Lee / Prime Video

But as much as The Company provides its agents in the way of resources and opportunities to kill people for vast sums of money, it’s careful about doling out more intel than it needs. And because John and Jane sign up assuming they’ll be carrying out their assignments individually, the duo aren’t sure what to make of their situation when their handler — an unseen presence whose secure text-based messages almost always open with “Hihi” — informs the pair that they’ve been tasked with working together as partners in the field.

Like the film, the new Mr. & Mrs. Smith defines its leads by contrasting their differences long before it properly explores what actually makes John and Jane tick. This John’s still something of a charmer who feels his way through missions, while Jane, the more clinical of the pair, prefers to game hers out. But for all of its immediately obvious similarities to the movie, the way Amazon’s Mr. & Mrs. Smith reworks the Smith’s personal and professional lives turns its story into a far more intricate and thoughtful reflection on what it means to be a married couple.

Though the show’s premiere — directed by Glover’s longtime collaborator Hiro Murai — is a slickly shot origin story that presents its eponymous couple as the centerpieces of a classic spy thriller, Mr. & Mrs. Smith’s eight-episode-long first season quickly establishes how its narrative is always working through a number of ideas about the material realities of being in a committed relationship.

On one level, the series works as a kind of morbid romcom about a couple of murderous singles unexpectedly meeting their matches in the last place they ever considered looking for romance. On another, it’s more of a John Wick-like action-fantasy set in a world that’s filled with a surprising number of professional assassins who hide in plain sight in glamorous locations around the world while pretending to be ordinary people. But because John and Jane must thoroughly commit to their cover story seriously, Mr. & Mrs. Smith also often feels like a semi-serious drama about an interracial couple unsteadily figuring out who they are as a unit, what they mean to each other, and how they’re perceived by the outside world.

Image: David Lee / Prime Video

Instead of leaning into the idea of spies having to repeatedly assume and shed new identities the way most people change outfits, Mr. & Mrs. Smith tries to illustrate the complexity of its characters by deftly shifting gears between its disparate genres. It’s when the series hits those hard pivots from comedy to action to drama and then back that you can see why this telling of the Mr. & Mrs. Smith story is built around two actors best known for their abilities to make you laugh.

The deeper you get into the series, the more it becomes clear how much energy Sloane, Glover, and other writers like Stephen Glover, Yvonne Hana Yi, and Adamma and Adanne Ebo put into taking the 2006 film — which was very much a product of its time — and fashioning its quintessential elements into a story geared toward a modern audience. Erskine’s Jane is every bit the cool, calculated overachiever that her cinematic counterpart was, and things like John’s insecurities about being outshined during missions and his fondness for the trappings of married life are pulled directly from the film.

But by playing John and Jane with a bit more subtlety, and always keeping their respective personality quirks in plain view, Glover and Erskine are able to make these characters their own. And because the series as a whole does such a solid job of walking the line between being a straight-on remake and a drastic reimagining, it has a very interesting way of playing almost like one chapter from a larger anthology about the ways in which all relationships, but especially marriages, can feel like battles when the people involved aren’t exactly on the same page.

Image: David Lee / Prime Video

Like John and Jane’s relationship, Mr. & Mrs. Smith has its fair share of hiccups. These tend to flare up in the season’s more complex, layered episodes that simultaneously try to make light of and highlight the seriousness of the very real tensions that can develop between romantic partners who come from different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds.

It’s not always clear who the show is speaking to when it’s spelling out the thorniness of how things like casual racism and sexism factor into people’s interpersonal social dynamics. And in moments where John and Jane are forced to talk about how those things make them feel, the show sometimes veers into a territory so dark that it feels almost (but not quite) out of place.

But beats like that are relatively few and far between, and what little air they suck out of the room is more than made up for by Mr. & Mrs. Smith’s commitment to surprising you with the appearances of its small but very effective cast of guest stars like Parker Posey, Michaela Coel, and Ron Perlman.

Watching Mr. & Mrs. Smith’s first season, you can get a sense of how expensive the series must have been to produce, which, when coupled with the finale’s… finality, makes it feel like it could be a one-and-done sort of deal rather than the beginning of an ongoing thing. It’s rare for a streaming series to end on that note, and even rarer for it to feel as satisfying  as it does here, but that’s part of what makes Mr. & Mrs. Smith feel like a success even when its aim is a little off the mark.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith also stars Alexander Skarsgård, John Turturro, Eiza González, Sharon Horgan, and Paul Dano. All eight episodes of the show’s first season hit Amazon Prime on February 2nd.



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