Mr. & Mrs. Smith review: Donald Glover has the Midas touch

I always think it’s a good sign when I leave a piece of TV or film thinking “I really hope they had fun making that.” It’s a simple but effective barometer, when you enjoy watching something so much the only thing that could possibly detract from that experience is finding out that the people on set didn’t have a nice time making it. It would be too incongruous, feel too much like you had been lied to, even though acting is exactly that.

This is how I felt about Mr. & Mrs. Smith, the new Amazon Prime reboot of the 2005 film starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, which is itself a reboot of the 1996 TV series of the same name. Most people have forgotten about the TV series, and the only lasting cultural impact of the film is that it broke up Brad Pitt and Jennifer Anniston. And for what? For nought, that’s what. Brad and Ange are dead in the water.

The 1996 series and 2005 film both followed a relatively simple plot: two spies hide behind their married identities. In the Brangelina iteration, they're working for rival companies who later hire them to kill each other. They’re also both really hot, and that carries a lot of the movie.

Its remake, now in TV series form, thankfully has a lot more meat on its bones. That’s to be expected - it now has eight episodes, all roughly 30 minutes long, to work with as opposed to a meager two hours and six minutes. But it’s not so much the added time that brings the new Mr. & Mrs. Smith into its own, it’s the Midas touch of Donald Glover: the brains behind hit FX series Atlanta and Amazon limited series Swarm, and the mouth behind rap icon Childish Gambino. Glover, in collaboration with co-creator Francesca Sloane (whose previous credits include writing and producing on Fargo, as well as Atlanta), creates something that is completely new and deeply watchable.

Donald Glover and Maya Erskine as John and Jane Smith in Mr. & Mrs. Smith (Amazon Prime)
Donald Glover and Maya Erskine as John and Jane Smith in Mr. & Mrs. Smith (Amazon Prime)

The plot is unrecognisable from the off: while Brad and Ange’s John and and Jane Smith were unaware of their other halves’ spy status until mid-film, these new Smiths (played by Glover and Maya Erskine, known for Pen15 and Man Seeking Woman) know it from the start. They’re purposefully matched by their mysterious employer to pose as a fake couple, so as to better blend in to the real world while on missions. Only it’s quickly revealed that more is expected of them: real love, it appears, is the best cover of all.

This makes for a very fertile ground for humour, as John and Jane navigate their new relationship via kidnappings and killings instead of dates in low-lit wine bars and small plates dinners. The best of this comes when they have to kidnap a surly, cocaine-comedown ailing Ron Perlman - one of many, many big guest stars - and he becomes their de facto child, making the pair question whether they’re cut out for parenthood. Or when they go on their first double date with another pair of Smiths (Wagner Moura and Parker Posey, who play smug assassins phenomenally well), and the usual humble-brag competitions of couplehood come into play. Except this time it’s all about how many people they’ve killed and how they killed them, instead of judging each others’ kitchen sizes and comparing how often they have sex (though there is a bit of that too).

It’s also deliciously swish: the interior décor of John and Jane’s New York brownstone spy pad looks like something straight out of Architectural Digest, and the pair’s many outfits are easy on the eye without being too unrealistic. All of the calmer scenes that aren’t laced with bloodshed are prime moodboard fodder.

And the bloodshed! Glover and Sloane keep the guts and gore so grounded that it’s almost unbearable at times. There’s not much of it, but when it comes to the grisly bits (i.e breaking a target’s legs in the bathtub so they can fit his dead body in the composter) there’s no skimping out, and plenty of humour comes from the Smiths being uncomfortable with it too. In the aforementioned bathtub scene, they both have to steel themselves to stop from throwing up.

 (David Lee/Prime Video)
(David Lee/Prime Video)

That said, it's not perfect. There are times where it’s a bit more clunky and awkward than the original, which is also swish but with no substance. But maybe that's because the movie is so one dimensional, like the start of a relationship, when you haven’t seen someone pee or drop food down their top while eating. This has substance and chemistry, it’s just a little less sexy.

You will laugh, you will cry, you will Google clothing items and lampshades and bite your nails down to the quick. I immediately wanted to, and will, rewatch it. The new Mr. & Mrs. Smith is a total delight. I hope they had a good time making it.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith is streaming on Prime Video from February 2