Mr. & Mrs. Smith is an adaptation in name only.
Though it echoes Doug Liman’s 2005 film and even shouts out the film with a vague “inspired by characters created by Simon Kinberg” card deep into the credits, it’s far greater than just a remake of the Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt vehicle. What started as a flimsy premise to get a married assassin couple to shoot at each other has now evolved into a meditation on relationships as a whole — nestled within a spy thriller, of course.
Mr. & Mrs. Smith, premiering Feb. 2 on Prime Video, was supposed to look a lot different. In February 2021, it was announced Donald Glover and Phoebe Waller-Bridge would create and star in the reboot, but in September of that year, Waller-Bridge left the project, citing creative differences. The show re-cast her role with Pen15’s Maya Erskine, and it more than paid off: Erskine has crackling chemistry with Glover every time they share the screen, whether they’re taking out a target or arguing over dishes in the sink. Their romance is slow but assured — as they fall in love, the viewer grows to love this spy couple too, culminating in a finale that includes an action sequence that could redefine the standard for streaming action as we know it.
In Prime Video’s Mr. & Mrs. Smith, John (Glover) and Jane (Erskine) start as hesitant roommates posing as a married couple as cover for their many spy missions, each communicated to them through anonymous messages. They chat about their pasts, what allowed them to throw away their lives for this new job, and how they’ll approach their missions. Before you know it, John and Jane are romantic, and quickly their missions get more and more risky while also bringing out important questions in their relationships.
Usually, shows like these rely on a slow-burn romance to truly build up the tension between the two, but with John and Jane constantly risking their lives, this isn’t needed. This underlines the series’ secret weapon: bringing back the episodic spy/romance thriller, a genre that dominated the 2010s but is increasingly rare in the streaming age. Drawing from previous shows like The Americans, Killing Eve, and even Homeland, every episode poses two huge threats: one, a mission they are assigned; and two, a disagreement about their relationship.
Maybe it’s a mission where they have to escort a whiny billionaire to safety bringing up the question of kids, or a therapy session exposing their issues with conflict after a “work disagreement.” The balance is deftly handled: No episode is too romance-heavy or too action-heavy, because the two are usually happening at the same time.
With the revivification of the spy romance, the story is allowed to breathe and develop these characters as two broken people who happen to be really, really good at killing. It’s heightened by Glover and Erskine, who slide from their spy personas to their married couple alter egos to their true selves as effortlessly as taking a breath. While the extended cast boasts Paul Dano, Ron Perlman, Michaela Coel, and Parker Posey, each playing roles perfectly suited to their talents, John and Jane are the twin stars caught in each other’s orbit — drawing us in too.
All this tension builds to the finale, where all the simmering issues John and Jane have finally boil over into a rollicking final fight that proves how character work can heighten action to the point where it’s essentially dialogue. It’s the most high-stakes the show gets, but it’s almost cathartic because everything unsaid finally comes to the surface.
They say arguing is important to any relationship and helps it grow and develop, and Mr. & Mrs. Smith is proof this works, at least narratively. With the move to television and a tone that calls back to the past decade’s best spy shows, the white-hot romance and thrilling action are given the attention they need to build and show the life cycle of a relationship — and a deep-cover operation — from beginning to end.