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Mr & Mrs Smith, Prime review: domestic blitz

Maya Erskine and Donald Glover star in a gripping, hilarious and thoughtful reinvention of the 2005 film.
Donald Glover as Mr Smith (wearing a leather jacket) and Maya Erskine as Mrs Smith (wearing a tweed jacket) sit on a park bench in New York.

In the original Mr & Mrs Smith (2005), a bored married couple – played by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie – are surprised to learn that they are both assassins who have been hired by competing agencies to kill each other. Lots of shooting and flirting ensues, Brangelina becomes a thing, you know the rest.

In the new series adaptation on Prime, helmed by Donald Glover and Francis Sloane, two lonely and bored people are ‘matched’ by a mysterious company that employs them to act as a married couple while taking on increasingly dangerous spy missions. They are both told to shed all prior connections, and to start life anew in a massive and mysterious New York townhouse.

Thus, ‘John’ (Glover) and ‘Jane’ (Maya Erskine) Smith skip the meet cute entirely, and are forced to navigate married life with a stranger – while trying not to get blown up.

Read: All of Us Strangers review: a beautiful, haunting lullaby of a film

Neither of the characters are particularly skilled assassins – John is ex military, and Jane is a total mystery with ‘antisocial tendencies’. John is broke, and Jane is bored, which drives them to turn to espionage jobs. There’s a strong focus on the innate humour and absurdity of such a situation, and it crackles with pitch-perfect delivery from the leads in nearly every scene.

It’s such a good twist on the old story, and the strangers-to-assassins-to-lovers trajectory means it ups the ante, with it a lot of nerve-wracking challenges and interesting emotional stakes added in. As we witness John and Jane learning to trust each other, and maybe even learning to love each other, we are also fearing for their lives as they narrowly avoid death in the jungle, in the alps, in lakehouses, in helicopters, and beyond.

Move over, Brangelina

The chemistry between Glover and Erskine (who replaced Phoebe Waller-Bridge in the role of Jane in 2022) is incredible. The ‘will-they, won’t they’ sexual tension works so well in the early episodes as a narrative companion to the ‘will they/won’t they fuck up this spy mission?’ series arc. We get to see a relationship form in real time as these two self-described ‘losers’ become pro spies and start kicking some serious butt.

Both actors are seasoned comedians, Glover coming from Community and Atlanta, and Erskine from teen cringe-comedy PEN15, and here they show off their enviable ability to keep the laughs coming even as some truly devastating things are happening on screen.

Their comedic instincts also keep the characters grounded and relatable. If you strip away all the high-risk espionage stuff, you’ll find Jane and John to be, at their core, a really authentic modern couple. They watch TV, go to the farmer’s market, have awkward conversations about the future, fight, make-up, and (eventually) share their deepest secrets with each other.

The whole series is a truly entertaining and binge-worthy achievement, but it’s at its best when it’s exploring the deep similarities between modern marriages and navigating a mysterious career with limited instructions and no manual. I mean, no one actually knows what they are doing, do they? You just sort of go by instinct and hope for the best.

Read: Anyone But You review: a rom-com with good laughs

Kick ass

When the show’s not being a slice-of-life marriage dramedy, it’s showcasing it’s commendably high-octane and slick action sequences, helmed by a number of noteworthy directors like Karena Evans, who directed episodes of Dead Ringers, and Hiro Murai, who directed eps of Atlanta and Childish Gambino’s This is America video clip, plus episodes of Bill Hader’s Barry – to which Mr & Mrs Smith (2024) bears a strong tonal resemblance.

They’re certainly not short of money at Prime, and unlike in bungled spy-romance series Citadel, the moula is used well in Mr & Mrs Smith, making for a ever-so-slightly futuristic set design that nails its changes from grimy New York subways to posh European ski resorts and back. The location sequences feel real, and not overly polished, which brought to mind the rough-and-tumble feel of the original Jason Bourne films.

Read: Masters of the Air, Apple TV+ review: mind-blowing battles

Then there’s the guest stars, ranging from Paul Dano to Ron Perlman and Sarah Paulsen. Each are used to pad out the strange world of risky missions and mysterious figures in such delightful ways. I can’t wait for viewers to discover more about their characters.

It’s rare that I can genuinely say a series will make you laugh, scream, and cry, but I think Mr & Mrs Smith does all three. It’s following in the footsteps of both a blockbuster movie, and literal decades’ worth of other prestige spy shows, and yet it manages to blow them all out of the water.

Your next mission: to add it to your watchlist.

Mr & Mrs Smith premieres on Prime Video from 2 February.

Silvi Vann-Wall is a journalist, podcaster, and filmmaker. They joined ScreenHub as Film Content Lead in 2022. Twitter: @SilviReports