While Spooks (known as MI5 in the US) ended on British TV in 2012, it’s now been resurrected for the big screen with Spooks: The Greater Good. It’s certainly not necessary to have seen the show though, especially as it’s largely about new characters, with the main holdovers being the Secret Service setting and the presence of Peter Firth as counter-terrorism chief Harry Pearce.
Harry’s career comes crashing down around him after he makes the call to free dangerous terrorist Qasim (Elyes Gabel), after his prisoner transport is held up by armed men, which makes many people in MI5 feel he needs to be removed. He also becomes convinced that Qasim couldn’t have escaped without help from inside MI5, and so decides to disappear and go into hiding, in order to investigate.
He also calls Will Holloway (Kit Harington), a young agent Harry previously decommissioned, in order to get his help. While Will isn’t sure about this, he gets drawn into the investigation which leads them to believe Qasim is planning a major terrorist attack on London.
Normally when a TV show gets turned a feature film, the makers decide to up the ante in terms of plot and scale. However, Spooks was always rather hyperbolic on TV, with the team constantly thwarting major attacks of various types. Therefore, while The Greater Good makes use of more locations, flitting from London to Berlin and Moscow, in many respects it’s not as big a jump from TV as you might expect – especially in an age of mega-budget spy thrills such as Bourne and Skyfall.
That’s not to say it’s bad though, just that there’s an old-fashioned edge to it, of spies running around in a mire of moral grey areas, unable to trust anyone and constantly attempting to outfox both the bad guys and one another. They moral grey areas are its particular fascination, exploring Harry’s belief that in order to get the outcome you need, it’s not about doing good things, it’s about doing the least bad thing.
The film has pace, drive and an interesting villain in the charismatic Qasim, but it’s difficult to escape the feeling that the The Greater Good is like a good, extended episode of the TV show, rather than something inherently cinematic, at least now that it’s reached DVD. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, especially as the film is entertaining. It’ll certainly satisfy Spooks fans, while those who didn’t watch the show should also have a decent time, even if it’s unlikely to join anyone’s list of spy film greats.
Peter Firth is as dependable as always as Harry, a man who always seems weary of his job but nevertheless believes in what he’s doing, no matter how others might view it. Kit Harington isn’t quite as successful, given a relatively bland role that he doesn’t really add a huge amount to. He’s quite good at the action scenes, and certainly does a lot of running around in the movie, but beyond that’s he’s relatively forgettable.
If those behind the film were hoping that this might be the beginning of a big screen franchise, they may not get their wish. It’s fairly fun and entertaining in a John le Carré-lite way, but it’s unlikely to leave many people screaming for more.
Overall Verdict: An entertaining if not particularly memorable extension of the Spooks franchise. It’s nice to see Harry Pearce back, although I’m not sure The Greater Good is enough to ensure we’ll see more of him.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac