PG-13 for obscured nudity. Okay, not just that. But I've been writing these Mission: Impossible MPAA warnings for a few days now and I just needed to separate Rogue Nation from the other movies that all have mild swearing, some violence, and actiony-goodness. There's a little bit of obscured nudity. If that's the thing that sets you off, there you go. You know it is in this movie. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Christopher McQuarrie
What is Christopher McQuarrie's relationship to Tom Cruise? I was going to go on my repetitive rant about the fact that Christopher McQuarrie is the first director in the Mission: Impossible franchise to direct more than one of the movies in the franchise. But then I realized that I knew him from nothing else specifically. I mean, I recognized his name, but I couldn't put a project to his name. Apparently, he's very good at writing Tom Cruise style dialogue because he has done it a lot. I've never really seen an actor attached to a writer before. I know that directors and actors form relationships, but I haven't really seen a writer do the same thing. Every time I think I'm cool with Tom Cruise, I learn something else about his process that is weird. Today, I think I learned that Tom Cruise made Christopher McQuarrie successful. (What if they are the same dude?)
This one is going to be tough. In my last review, I stressed that Ghost Protocol and Rogue Nation kind of bleed together. It was a little easier remembering some of the events of Ghost Protocol because the story is in the title. Rogue Nation is a poor name for this movie. They say the words "Rogue Nation" at one point to describe the Syndicate. I don't really get that term "rogue nation", so I am going to plow through that and see what I can glean out of this review that hasn't been talked about in my other reviews. I normally love the evil version of the good guy, especially if it isn't in the first story. My favorite Quantum Leap episodes were the ones with the Evil Leaper. Moriarty is always the best villain. It's the character that is equally skilled at the job and is equally committed to the job, but is fundamentally philosophically opposed to what the hero stands for. Rogue Nation, after being teased in Ghost Protocol, deals with a new villain organization known as the Syndicate. It's Hydra for S.H.I.E.L.D. It's also SPECTRE for Bond. This isn't a new concept, but I do find it interesting that this organization has been around for a while in the Mission: Impossible universe. I just did some Googling and apparently The Syndicate was in the television show. Now, canonically, my brain is breaking open. I should ask Derek what he thinks about this because he would know more, but the first Mission: Impossible movie is meant to be a continuation of the television series. Jim Phelps was in that one, implying that the first movie was the TV character's last hurrah. Jim Phelps would have gone against the Syndicate, so why is it this big secret in the film universe. Ethan's major problem in terms of getting support is that no one believes that the Syndicate exists. Is this a break in the continuity, implying that the Jim Phelps from the first movie is not the Jim Phelps from the TV show? Man, I love canon so much and this is just letting me down. Don't worry. Bond's relationship with Spectre is even more confusing because a lot of those aren't even functional pre-Casino Royale reboot. But back to my initial statement. I normally love the evil version of the good guys, but The Syndicate kind of feels boring. I wish there were teases beforehand. There really is nothing to make The Syndicate anything more than the bad guy of the week in this one. Ghost Protocol only said the name "The Syndicate" at the end of the movie, so why should I care? On top of that, The Syndicate teases that every missing or disavowed agent works for the Syndicate, but there were no ties to the protagonists. We didn't see people that we thought were dead show up. We just had a bad case of the movie telling us that the bad guys were bad instead of showing us.
Okay, those were my beefs with the movie. Rogue Nation's worst thing is that some parts of the movie are wildly forgettable. But it is a fun Mission: Impossible movie while you are watching it. Tom Cruise once again grabbed attention for the movie by doing one of the most absurd stunts ever. I watch that stunt with the plane at the beginning and I can't believe he's pulling that card. A lot of it is because he can get away with it. There are other ways to film that shot, but McQuarrie is lucky to have a guy like Cruise on set. Yeah, I'd be nervous having to direct Tom Cruise in an insanely intense stunt like that. But Cruise is kind of right to do that sequence. It is 100% effective to have Tom Cruise getting these insane closeups. Perk: it is actually scary watching the real actor do the stunts. It is suspenseful as any action scene could be. Con: It kind of pulls you out of the movie because Ethan Hunt isn't doing the stunt. It is Tom Cruise and all you can think is that that Tom Cruise has a death wish. That's a bit weird. Rogue Nation, however, does have some of the most fun action scenes of the series. That doesn't make it a great movie, but it does make it a fun time. The action sequences in this one are epic. That underwater one, while being kind of a cop out because it feels slightly fake for some reason, is actually pretty great. I don't think it is a perfect sequence and it is absolutely absurd how hard the Mission: Impossible franchise is working to outdo the original Langley break-in. I don't know why hard drives would be kept underwater, but it is cool. Also, I have to give points to McQuarrie for making this work. Having Benji doing his thing simultaneously to Ethan's no oxygen swim is great. I don't know why it works, but it is just the right feel to an action sequence. I feel like Benji is the everyman that we place as our avatar. Ethan Hunt is the unrelatable Mary Sue Superspy. But Benji is how we would act if we were sent on missions with the IMF. That back and forth works really well. The motorcycles and car stuff in this movie does hit some ugly buttons with me. (I'm really tired and words don't work so good right now.) SPOILER: Ethan is legally dead for a few seconds. The movie establishes that his hand-eye coordination is down the tubes at this point. While I like the idea that Ethan has to chase down another vehicle without all of his senses functioning properly, he flips the car. A lot. Way too many times for anyone to survive. But then both Ethan and Benji come out of the car unscathed. This started in Ghost Protocol. Ethan launched his car off the top of a parking structure and just survives like it is fine. I hate this. There need to be some rules about what can and can't kill Ethan Hunt. It's all so arbitrary. Action movies all lose their punch when the protagonist can't be killed by anything. It's not impressive when Ethan just walks away from a car flipping because he shouldn't be able to do that. McQuarrie sacrificed weight in exchange for fun. It is avoidable.
I think I'm torn about Ilsa Faust. Let's first establish that her name is way too on the nose and I want to file a formal complaint about that. A character who is constantly selling her soul for something that she deems is for the greater good? Boo. Boo, Christopher McQuarrie. Benji's last name isn't "Everyman." You can't name a character "Faust." Also, is Ilsa a British name because c'mon. I don't buy it. Ilsa is meant to be the new love interest for Ethan, but the series plays fast and loose with relationships for Ethan. I mean, I got invested in Julia as Ethan's one true love. I don't know if it is my obsession with marriage or just the potential imbued to Julia, but Ilsa being introduced rubs me the wrong way. On top of that, Ilsa is just an archetype. She's a trope and a weak one at that. Which side is Ilsa on? She seems to be on Ethan's side, but she keeps doing evil things. The problem is that Ilsa is clearly in a moral grey area. Other versions of Ilsa have been done so much better. Is it weird that I'm about to cite The Dark Knight Rises as a version of Ilsa that is better? I'm talking about how Ilsa is just a Catwoman. From Ilsa's introduction, she makes the movie easier to complete. Ethan should be dead. Let's put that out there. I love the opening of the movie at the record store. The introduction to Solomon Lane, although ridiculous, is extremely effective. (It's borderline stupid that the head of a terrorist organization would get anywhere near Ethan Hunt. Why provoke him besides the fact that he wants him to work for him?) Ilsa's motivation doesn't really make sense when the big revelation happens. SPOILER: The reason that Ethan is alive and kicking in this movie is because Solomon Lane wants Ethan to get him the Syndicate's money and he needs Ethan's unique skills to complete that task. But that means that Solomon Lane needed Ilsa to betray him just the right amount of times to make the story continue. Regardless, Ilsa isn't as interesting as Julia. Julia could have been great. She could have been growing every moment. But by making Ilsa the relationship, you start with a character who already has all of the skills she needs. If anything, she is nerfed as a character as the franchise continues. She can only become a nicer person the less things that are being held over her head. Unless she is chosen to lead the franchise instead of Tom Cruise, which I don't see happening, she's going to be a liability for Ethan. It's either she is going to get kidnapped or injured or fridged and that's awkward as anything. With Julia, she could only get stronger by discovering Ethan's secret life, but that doesn't really happen, now does it?
I griped a lot about this movie. It's really not that bad. It's a fun time and I really enjoyed it both times I saw it. It's just that the movie is marvelously forgettable, especially when binged next to Ghost Protocol. I don't like that the movies are becoming intertwined because the mythology doesn't always check out like it needs to. It's a problem when the Mission: Impossible movies just become a good time instead of extremely well crafted. This is a good action movie with a few fun twists. Nothing will blow your mind with the exception of Tom Cruise hanging out of a plane, but it is still worth watching.
PG-13 for actiony mayhem. I mean, if I said that The Incredibles was PG-13 for actiony-mayhem, you'd look at me like I was a crazy person. Brad Bird directed both movies and both are the same kind of actiony-mayhem. Okay, there's some innuendo, I think. People straight up die on camera in this one versus being sucked into a jet engine off-camera. I'm sure that Bird and company were shooting for a PG-13, so they threw some mild language in there.
DIRECTOR: Brad Bird
When I heard that Brad Bird was directing a Mission: Impossible movie, I nearly lost my mind. This was his first live-action film, guys. Bird crushes animated action better than anyone I know, so I wanted to see what he could do with live-action. When I first saw this back in 2011, I was really impressed. It was absolutely what I wanted with a Mission: Impossible movie. It was fun and complex. The story was pretty decent. The cast keeps on improving while carrying on with some old and new favorites. Okay, Luther is barely in the movie. But still, the movie works so well. There is one thing that does hold it up though since 2011. This movie was not meant to be binged.
I really think there was a discussion with J.J. Abrams and Skydance Entertainment to make Mission: Impossible with some mythology. Bond and Bourne were both doing it, so it is not surprising that there was probably some kind of edict saying that what Ethan Hunt does in one movie should be carried over into future films. There seems to be a plan forming with Ghost Protocol that I didn't notice with the other movies. I mean, Mission: Impossible III had Julia and that thread start there, but this movie actively begins a film trilogy that ultimately (I think!) concludes in Mission: Impossible -Fallout. I'm not saying that the plots for these three movies were planned out at this imaginary conference I think happened. We've seen how both Lost and Alias ended. We know that J.J. Abrams and crew are not fantastic planners. But Ghost Protocol is amazing by itself, but weirdly forgettable when binged. I watched Ghost Protocol and Rogue Nation on the same day and I'm really having a hard time telling which movie was which at times. That doesn't sound crazy when binging something. But the thing is, I had no problem with the other movies I binged in the franchise. I could tell you exactly what happens in the first three movies and when. The reason is that they are tonally different. I loved that the Mission: Impossible movies had different directors who had remarkably different visions for how these movies should look and feel. They all have the core character involved, but they were more than just sequels. They almost became experiments with what someone could do with similar source material. It's kind of the reason that I don't completely rag on Quantum of Solace, because it feels different from the other Daniel Craig Bond movies. I mean, I'm going to rewatch that one someday and I might completely 180 on that, but as of right now, I have fond thoughts about that movie. The mission statement (pun kind of intended) changed for the franchise and I don't know if it works to make the movie timeless. When mythology gets that closely tied, it does feel just like an episode of a TV show rather than its own thing. It causes me to review the franchise as a whole rather than simply a movie that can stand on its own two feet. I'm not upset about that, but I do want to point it out. After all, I also love television and the benefit of binging a bunch of movies is that it takes me a while to write about them. It gives me time to catch up on some much neglected TV.
But that aside, the movie (as far as my shoddy memory about a movie I watched this week) works. Brad Bird likes action, but he likes his action fun. There's some really dark things that happen in Ghost Protocol. A lady gets kicked out a window at the top of the Burj Khalifa. I mean, that's not rainbows and sunshine, but Bird somehow makes stuff like this seem playful. I think Bird's goal is to make your jaw drop that a scene like what you saw, happened. I'm going to give it to Bird for inspiring Cruise to do insane things. I'm sure that he was doing insane things for a long time before this. But I think that this is the point in Cruise's career that he started pushing himself to do absolutely insane public stunts that would make news headlines. When people think of Ghost Protocol, they think of Dubai. I was exercising while watching Ghost Protocol. (Thank you! No, it's fine. It feels good.) As part of that, I was watching the clock for how long the Dubai scene was going on. I had about fifteen minutes left on the bike and I thought that I'll just finish the Dubai stuff before shutting it off. That sequence is a tank. I got off the bike and felt bad because I kept on watching. Like, it keeps going. We associate the Dubai scene with Tom Cruise Spider-Manning his way across the Burj Khalifa. That scene rocks. I like the reminder of the original movie with the "Red light, green light" / "Hasta lasagna, don't get any on ya" callback. The "Blue is glue; red is dead" element works so darned well. Like that scene is intense. I know that Ethan Hunt doesn't fall to his death. I've seen the movie more than once now. Also, that would be a heck of an ending of the franchise if Ethan just died by falling off a building. But that scene is suspenseful as getout. It is such a simple concept. He's on one of the tallest buildings in the world. The scenery should be what you are watching because it is this epic epic epic shot. But what are you looking for? Is the light on his hand blue or red? That's a great misdirect. And Benji teases it. You know that the glove is going to go red at one point because the movie pointed it out. When it does, it gets even more insane. Tom Cruise might be a crazy person in more than one way. (I still want to meet him. He seems very nice.) But that sequence is the action suspense version of the end of Safety Last. I know that Safety Last is a bit of a trick, but there's something about one of the world's most valuable action stars subjecting himself to a near death experience that is absolutely compelling.
I feel bad for Jeremy Renner. I heard on Harmontown that Renner was only in the movie to be set up to replace Ethan Hunt. I mean, it makes a bit of sense. While I don't think that Tom Cruise really ages that poorly, Fallout started having me look at him as an older man. I mean, that older man could wreck me at my best, but I don't know how many Mission: Impossible movies are possible. I like Jeremy Renner a lot. I think he's a talented actor who can pull off a solid action movie. I haven't seen The Bourne Legacy, but the impression that I got was that he was going to take over the franchise for Matt Damon. That didn't happen. He keeps getting the shaft (pun intended) in The Avengers movies, but he's always pretty good in these movies. I don't know what he's doing in Ghost Protocol and Rogue Nation. He's just another Ethan Hunt who is pretending to not be Ethan Hunt. Like, Brandt is way too good at his job. Are all IMF agents as good as Ethan? Okay, that's not fair. Ethan is clearly the most impressive IMF agent because they go out of their way to get him to do jobs. In the last one, they pull him out of retirement. In this one, they break him out of a Russian prison. (I'm not sure I still understand the timeline and how that plays out with Julia. Why is he in prison? Is it so Julia can be free? Does he want to be there?) But Brandt does some crazy stuff really well. What I kind of like about Brandt over Ethan sometimes is that he's not comfortable with doing absolutely insane things. Ethan Hunt comes up with these almost suicidal plans for getting into buildings so he can avoid conflict. Brandt agrees philosophically with the conflict avoidance, but is also scared about jumping off of things. While not as compelling as Ethan's trip outside of the tallest building in the world, his leap of faith is still a pretty fun time. The dynamic that they have is also pretty great. They aren't exactly friends and I like that. I don't know if Renner sells the guilt that he carries as well as he should, but there is this sparring that works. Yes, Ethan Hunt could beat up Brandt, but it would leave both of them pretty wrecked. That's a fun situation.
You know what scene I keep forgetting is in this movie? The Kremlin scene! How is that forgettable? In The Sum of All Fears, Boston (I think) is nuked. The fact that I'm citing The Sum of All Fears right now shows that one scene can make a movie memorable. SPOILER: How did I forget about the destruction of the Kremlin? The entire scene is pitch perfect. While I love a good facemask gag, I almost appreciate it more when I see the actor's face. Facemasks are cool, but they are also a bit of a cop-out. The twist can come out of anywhere. When we know that there are no facemasks in play, it forces you to look in other directions for where the twist is going to happen. The projector screen gag is absolutely priceless. I know that Bird didn't write this, but he executes it really well. The visuals coupled with the jokes in that sequence are top notch and I slow clap some of those moments. Honestly, I could just show you the projector screen bit and you could understand the tone of Bird's movie. It's playful while compelling. It just works really well. That leads into Ethan on the lam (once again). I kind of want Ethan to have a good long time in IMF before being disavowed again. They keep doing that to him. Yeah, it's the premise of the movie. I mean, they named it Ghost Protocol. They told us it was going to happen (if the title made any sense to anyone who hasn't seen the movie. Oops. I've gone cross-eyed). But him on the run from the Russians is charming in the same way it was in Ant-Man and the Wasp. I think it works better in Ghost Protocol than it did in Ant-Man and the Wasp, but that's probably due to expert planning.
As much as I fawn over Bird's direction, there's something very weak about Ghost Protocol and that's the villain. I know a lot of movies can be good despite a weak villain. It doesn't happen very often, but it happens here. The villain has extremely weak motives in this one, which is oddly paralleled in the new movie Fallout. (I just had this epiphany. It's the same rationale.) Also, I know that there needs to be a big fight sequence between the hero and the villain at the end of the movie. I know that. But I don't buy this fight. Ethan should not be having such a hard time with that fight at the end. He's gone up against way more impressive bruisers not only in previous movies, but in this movie as well. The only reason that Hendricks is tough is because he's the primary antagonist. The car park adds so much to the fight to make it compelling, but I call shannigans that it even would have gotten that far. Also, Ghost Protocol may be the first in the series to commit a movie sin for me. There are moments in films where action characters do something that should kill them. It is meant to be scary because it seems like an act of desperation, but then they get out and walk away. SPOILER: Ethan, to take a shortcut to the ground level, drives his car off the top level of a car park to get to the bottom level. The airbag saves him. Nope. Nope nope nope. There's suspension of disbelief and then there's lazy writing. It gets worse in Rogue Nation and Fallout, but this is the beginning of something absolutely silly that I can't stand in movies. The protagonist should follow the rules. The rules are allowed to bend, but they aren't allowed to break. The car launching off the top floor is breaking the rules. Ethan is allowed to take more damage than the average person, but he still has to be killable.
Regardless, I like Ghost Protocol a lot. I'm not alone in that opinion, so I know I'm not crazy. It's just that the rewatch of the movie didn't hold my attention nearly as closely as the previous watch. It's solid, but I wish it didn't bleed into the background as much as it did.
You know why this gets a PG-13? Yeah, yeah. Action smacktion. All action movies are PG-13. You know why, for real, this movie gets and deserves the PG-13? I'm actually going to SPOIL something in the MPAA section: Keri Russell's death is the coolest and grossest death and it is so ridiculously mundane. It is so gross. Yeah, there's some swearing and torture. That's something you should consider. But Keri Russell's death is the absolute most perfect death I've ever seen and I'm having a little bit of a gag response just thinking about it. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: J.J. Abrams
This is the movie that made me realize that the entire Mission: Impossible franchise had legs. Okay, it isn't the most amazing movie in the world. But it also might be the most watchable movie in the franchise. I kind of enjoy watching this one more than the first one, which I acknowledge is a better movie. I don't know what it is. But I suppose this stream of consciousness review might get the juices flowing to help me explain to myself why I like it. I know. It's partially because something just resonates with me when it doesn't with other people. There are lots of movies like that. But there seems like there is a solid foundation with this movie and I absolutely dig that.
I think it is very cool to hate on J.J. Abrams. Okay, it's not cool with me. He has made quite a bit of entertainment that I've enjoyed. Yeah, he over lens-flares. He doesn't really do it in Mission: Impossible 3. But he does do that. Star Trek is just a mess of lens flares. I still like that movie for the most part, but it is a ridiculous film. J.J. Abrams really hits a lot of the same buttons that M. Night Shyamalan hits. They are both really good with, but overdependent on, the misdirect. Mission: Impossible works best when it is all about the misdirect. I think that this is the big difference between James Bond and Ethan Hunt. Bond is all about action and cool and skill. Ethan Hunt seems to have a lot of the same skills, but he prefers to have an ornate plan that leaves the audience out of the loop until the last second. I love the trickery of the whole thing. Mission: Impossible II doesn't exactly do it in spades. The few times that the second movie really does it, it involves facemasks. But Mission: Impossible III is a return to form when it comes to actual trickery. There's some honest-to-goodness storytelling going on. Now, Abrams has been known for not really giving answers which often feels like a cop out. I have been the first to attack him when his questions don't really have answers. SPOILER: The big question in this movie is never answered. Abrams has this Macguffin in this movie. I've seen this trick pulled a few times in film and normally, I hate this as an answer. The Macguffin in Mission: Impossible III is known as "The Rabbit's Foot." Everyone is trying to get their hands on this device, but Ethan Hunt and his team don't know what it does. I absolutely hate this normally, but it works in this one and I think it is for a reason. First of all, Benji, played by Simon Pegg (whose appearance in this franchise is the best thing to happen to it) has this long diatribe with his theory about "The Rabbit's Foot". It is so gloriously meta that it shows that Abrams never intended to give you an answer. I'm less okay with an entire movie being about solving something that doesn't have solution. Abrams teases early on in the movie that there might not be an answer and that makes a lot of the difference. Secondly, it provides a marvelous sense of misdirect. That's what Mission: Impossible is all about. Ethan Hunt goes on this...well, impossible mission to secure the Rabbit's Foot and it isn't even the right thing. C'mon. That's great. He stole the wrong thing because he doesn't really know what he's looking for. That's pretty unique. I haven't seen that twist before.
But Abrams also has a thing about characterization. The first movie by De Palma does a foundational run at characterization. Really, he's the hero archetype. He has a respect for life. He's good at solving puzzles. He is good at hanging from ceilings. That's about as far as the character is developed. That's fine. That is all that the first movie really needs. I mean, if you really analyzed every choice, you could probably glean a few more traits, but that's really all there is to work with. Mission: Impossible II kind of backpedals a lot of those choices. Ethan Hunt doesn't make a lick of sense compared to his choices in the first movie. He's what the plot and tone need him to be, so I consider it a bit of a fluke in the series. It seems like none of the other movies even reference the second film, so it is up to Abrams in the third film to really flesh him out. And Abrams does the thing he's good at. He likes weaving the mundane into the fantastic. I like writers who do that. Think about Star Trek. Kirk listens to classic rock and Beastie Boys. There's Budweiser (I'm back and forth on that one). He eats an apple while doing the Kobiyashi Maru. These are such human moments. Fringe has a mad scientist mess up everyone's name. He likes taking care of a pet cow. It's these details that give a character his or her humanity. Mission: Impossible III also does this. Ethan is engaged not to a spy, but to a nurse. He has a boring home life that he absolutely loves. People find him attractive but dull. He tells dumb jokes and I love that about him. He's not Ethan Hunt, IMF Agent all of the time. This gives Ethan something to really fight for. SPOILER: When Michelle Monaghan gets kidnapped (which I'm not a fan of the damsel in distress element again), it gives him a real moral crisis that the other movies haven't really given him. He is endangering his wife. SPOILER FOR LATER MOVIES: Given the fact that I've now seen the entire franchise recently, I'm a little bummed that Luther's warning played out in this one. But it is a real problem for Ethan. People keep making Ethan angry, but these are professional slights. When Kittridge goes after Ethan, it is a misunderstanding. When Nyah is poisoned, he is angry because he likes her. In this one, it is partially his fault that stuff happens to Julia. He was warned by both friend and foe that this was going to happen and he ignored that. It becomes this theme that runs throughout the series to the most recent one.
Can I tell you how much I miss Philip Seymour Hoffman? Like, there's a handful of actors that are extremely perfect in everything. I thought that Hopkins was one of those. I suppose that he kind of is. But Philip Seymour Hoffman is there to play and I love that. He probably knows that he doesn't have to be doing the third Mission: Impossible movie, especially after how ridiculous the second one was. But he always commits. I don't think I've seen him phone it in. I know that he was in that one movie that I didn't like him in. (He played basketball and it was a comedy. Along Came Polly? That sounds about right.) But he never does a bad job. He works really hard and he makes an absolutely perfect villain. It's weird to see him kick the living daylights out of Tom Cruise at times, but he's absolutely terrifying. The opening to this movie is my favorite out of the entire franchise. I love how Abrams drops you right into the middle of action. And Hoffman is the reason that it works. He's instantly scary. Yeah, it is very confusing with what is going on, but it doesn't really matter. You know that he's very scary, despite the fact that nothing makes sense. I'm sorry to word it this way, but he knows he's kind of a dumpy guy. He's made a career off of the fact that he's a dumpy guy. But he's still very scary and I love it. It has to be investment. I mentioned Hopkins in this and I still really like Hopkins. But I feel that Hopkins has been turning in the same performance time after time. He's starting to get typecast and maybe that's not his fault. But Philip Seymour Hopkins is all over the board with characters that are unlikable. (I have to place that caveat on the whole thing. He's often not likable.) But the villany is great in this one. On top of that, I've seen this movie a few times. The twist still gets me. (I don't watch the movie that often guys. I just happen to like it.) Having that character work for Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman, for those who are bad at context clues) is a pretty solid choice.
Yeah, a lot of people will find Mission: Impossible III forgetable. I mean, I forgot who the traitor was and I like the movie. But it is one of the biggest steps in the right direction for the franchise. If I had to sit down and rewatch one right now, it would probably be this one. Just putting that out there.
When I was an angsty teenager, I used to write reviews with all kinds of foul language. I haven't been tempted to break out the foul language more than writing the review for Mission: Impossible II. I was a junior in high school when this movie came out and I probably thought I was so cool. Maybe I was in my early 20s, who knows? Regardless, this movie is trying so hard to be rebellious. It's PG-13 for just all the gunplay and sexual frustration in the world. There's some language, because this isn't your dad's Mission: Impossible. Wait a minute! My graduating seniors were born in 2000! It literally is your dad's Mission: Impossible. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: John Woo
I'm stealing Jeff Davis's gag. Every time I see John Woo's name on screen, I'm going to hoot "Woo!" It made this movie more fun. It's so funny to think how much movies like The Matrix, Dark City, and Equilibrium affected pop culture. Thank God we didn't stay in this angsty period of film. Can you imagine if every movie was filled with guys with long hair who wore sunglasses and all black. They would just slow-mo every action sequence. Every line delivered would just be saturated with all of the drama. Think about Avengers: Infinity War, but everyone was gun-fuing everything and everything was super duper serious? Man alive, Mission: Impossible II just brought me back guys. While I never really cared for Mission: Impossible II, those other movies seemed to be absolutely genius. I don't even really love the first Matrix movie anymore. But Mission: Impossible II may have caused us all to wake up and smell the teen spirit. There's just too much crap going on in this series. Like, I'm genuinely surprised that there are other movies in this franchise after this garbage.
Okay, I've seen way worse movies. I've even seen way worse movies this year. But as a sequel to a very nuanced spy thriller, Mission: Impossible II just doesn't make a lick of sense. The one thing it gets right --and the only thing that makes this true is a bit of distance --is that it is a wise choice to bring in new directors for each film. My biggest criticisms of Ghost Protocol and Rogue Nation is that Christopher McQuarrie copies Brad Bird's direction style too closely. I like that the individual movies in the franchise all seem to stand out with the exception of those two. But John Woo is just way into himself in this movie. Okay, there's a lot that I'm going to complain about and a lot of this begins and ends with John Woo. But I have theories about why this movie ended up the way it did. John Woo is known for his Hong Kong gun-fu films. I've never been insanely into his stuff, but I don't mind The Killer and that kind of stuff. It isn't great, but it is pretty fun. What's really noticeable is that it is remarkably violent. Like, that's the entertaining part. The movies get to be so violent that they blow your mind with how insane these choices really are. Porting Woo to American films, especially film franchises, is silly. Remember, 2000 isn't exactly the era of artistic integrity. This is the height of the contemporary studio system. Indie films were relegated to Miramax and Paramount wanted none of that niche stuff unless it was going to win them an Oscar. John Woo ain't winnin' anyone an Oscar, folks. So they reined him in. They tried to make super-R rated, ultraviolence John Woo appeal to families. They shot for a PG-13 movie when John Woo only kind of works when he's allowed to do whatever he wants to do. Honestly, I was watching the movie and I kept on seeing him trying to copy himself. That's a bummer. It felt like he had nothing original to add because this wasn't his movie. I know that people give John Woo nonsense about doves and fire and slow-mo. He totally does. That is what he does. But the firs two thirds of the movie are an attempt to make a movie that works. The last act is just constant doves and fire. It's such a problem when it comes to balance. I'm going to talk about the first two-thirds of the movie, but completely tonally changing the last act is weird. It's not unique for a movie to pull out all of the stops in the third act, but the third act also feels like these are totally different characters with totally different abilities than have been advertised, with the exception of Ethan Hunt suicidal rock climbing. There is totally a motorcycle doing wire-fu at one point. I watched that shot twice in the third act. The motorcycle floats when it should be flying. There are so many moments where I just kept saying that it was ridiculous. The weird thing is that I don't mind that kind of action sometimes. But the first parts of the movie make Ethan Hunt kind of fallible. The first movie establishes how much he can actually do. But then the final third of the movie makes him a Mary Sue. He can't be touched except by his double. That's ridiculous. SPOILER: Ethan Hunt beats the bad guy by kicking a gun lying in sand. It flies into his hand and he spins around and shoots the bad guy, who just misses because. How am I supposed to root for that? That isn't supposed to work. It can't work. Why would I say that is satisfying? Establish that physics and action don't play by normal rules in the first act and I could kind of get behind it.
The first two thirds of the movie are an okay Mission: Impossible movie. They are still the worst of the group. I can't stress that enough. The plot for the movie is pretty threadbare. When I saw who did the story (not the script), I was disappointed. Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga did the script. Moore was the Battlestar Galactica guy, but when he was working with Braga, it was on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. That's one of my favorite shows of all time. I think it took my liking of Star Trek to a love of Star Trek. I do have to blame the screenplay a bit because the dialogue is just atrocious at times. Everything said is the most dramatic thing that could be said. There's nothing fun about this movie because it takes a goofy serious nature to everything. I like that there's comic relief in the other movies. I guess Luther was more comedic in the first one. Well, Luther still has jokes. Those jokes are okay, but they don't contextually fit or even give a bit of background. I know that Luther has money in this one, but his running gag is that he's wearing expensive clothing that gets ruined. Okay, that's mildly funny. But Ethan Hunt is marvelously intense for a lot of this film. There is a hint that this movie could have gotten the tone right and that's right at the beginning when he meets Thandie Newton. There's this playful (but slightly antiquated) section when he's testing out her skills that I enjoyed. For a very small part of this movie, I thought I just misremembered it. Maybe I thought I thought that I confused angstiness for style, because the movie definitely has that late '90s feel to action movies. It has dramatic transitions and that over the top lighting. You know the thing that we make fun of Michael Bay for? Not the explosions or the nearly naked ladies, although it does have that. I'm talking about the tinting of the film. Those bright oranges and deep greens over everything. (Man, The Matrix really did a number on our culture, didn't it?) I suppose that I could handle a decent spy movie with that stylizing. I mean, I like The Rock and that movie has all that nonsense over it. But I want to redirect to why this stylization doesn't work more than normal. You know when a comedy parodies a spy movie? I'm talking about the Austin Powers movies. I'm talking about Johnny English movies. There are so many examples. I forget the name of the Sacha Baron Cohen movie, but that's the one I'm thinking about right now. The actual villain's threat is always really kind of lame. It doesn't need to be deep or nuanced because it ultimately doesn't matter. The plot is a vehicle to tell jokes. Mission: Impossible II's plot is one of these plots. A disease by the name of Chimera is about to be released somewhere in the world and Ethan Hunt is the man to stop it. There are a few monkey wrenches in the plot. There's an antidote. Someone can survive with it for 20 hours. Someone wants to sell it. Okay, but this is pretty standard stuff. This isn't Mission: Impossible. I'm thinking about how contained the first movie's plot is. The result of Ethan failing the first movie is the death of IMF agents. While terrible, it is cemented within the world of Mission: Impossible. The other movies sometimes ignore what Mission: Impossible is about with its main plan, but then come back to it. This could honestly just be a Bond movie. Ethan Hunt is just a stand in for an action spy hero.
There's also the relationship between Hunt and Hall. The first movie only really teases a relationship between Claire and Ethan. It's fine, but you find out that they are sussing each other out for loyalty. It's really interesting what is going on in the first movie. Hunt and Hall fall for each other head over heels (alliteration!) for ultimately no reason outside of sexual attraction. This is James Bond, not Ethan Hunt. It's kind of why I love the third movie. The relationship seems human and honest. This feels like sexuality and violence combined. There's a scene in GoldenEye where Bond races Xenia Onatopp (Onatopp? Onatopp.) that is remarkably dangerous. It's that flirting with violence element that makes absolutely no sense outside of the action movie. Look at Ethan in Part III and how he's not about meeting his match. He's about what they add to each other. Ethan and Nyah are forced into this relationship so he has stakes to deal with when her life is threatened. It takes this powerful, self-actualized, deep character and makes her a princess to be rescued. That's a bad decision. Nyah Hall is super cool. She makes this sacrificial choice, but she is ultimately taken off the board as a character in the third act so Ethan can save her. She could have been this cool character. Honestly, Ilsa Faust (groan!) is the character, only done better. I wanted to like that relationship because I really like Thandie Newton post-Westworld. (Anthony Hopkins in this movie is ultimately a cameo.) I don't know. It just doesn't work.
Did I hate watching it though? No, but it definitely became really groan-worthy. It is a very cringy movie to watch. This is an awful thing to watch, but you really should be able to laugh at this movie. It's still got some action movie chops, but the movie really begs you to just sit back and enjoy. If you use your brain for a half-second, it becomes ruined. Probably the worst thing I could have done was to go into this movie with a critical eye because there's just too much that is wrong. John Woo kind of works because he makes the ultimate popcorn flick for the action addict. He's a talented filmmaker, but Mission: Impossible is supposed to be about smart action. Every time this movie needed to be smart, it just used another facemask. There are so many facemasks in this movie that the following films had to establish new rules that it is actually quite hard to make a facemask, especially in the field. I wouldn't even hate watching this movie again, but there needs to be a social occasion where everyone has low stakes. Regardless, I now own this. Sorry, Lauren. But I got paid for it!
I tried telling my classmate that Jaws was PG. She shouldn't be scared of a PG movie. What I failed to mention is that this movie starts off with a naked lady swimming. You could argue that the nudity is obscured. It may have been obscured before the invention of Blu-Ray because that's straight up nudity. Also, the movie is about a man-eating shark. It shows some pretty gross stuff. But I'm going to ride the high and say that I'm reviewing a PG movie that isn't for kids! PG...technically.
DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg
My theory about the modern classic is, unfortunately, coming true. There were movies that were considered absolutely essential to our culture. I'm talking about The Godfather Parts I and II, Easy Rider, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Jaws. These were movies that everyone had seen. They were part of our vernacular. But these movies aren't going to be as important coming up. Now, I'm not the guy who will stand on a soapbox and say that my generation's movies are more important than your generation's movies. I don't believe that for a second. But the idea that people actually go back to watch movies that could change their lives is odd to me. Jaws isn't an inspirational tale (but what if it was!), but there's a lot to take away from Jaws. I constantly forget how good this movie really is, especially in an era that has "Shark Week".
I was wondering why no one makes Jaws sequels anymore. Sure, I've never seen ANY of the Jaws sequels. I hear that they are terrible. But CGI may have killed the shark film. I mean, I'm not against seeing The Meg. That movie looks playful as heck. But Jaws (I'm just going to call the shark "Jaws". Everyone else does.) is huge, but not unimaginably huge. Okay, he's very very big. I only get how big he is when he's attacking the boat, but that's how big sharks are in my head. When I was a kid, I failed my YMCA swimming test because I thought that Jaws might have been in the pool when I was doing the backstroke. That's how much this movie impacted me. But the creepiest thing about this movie is that it has a practical shark. I know. There is a running commentary on how fake the shark looks in Jaws. There are times when Jaws doesn't look up to snuff. But you know what else is true. There are times that he looks more real than any uncanny valley nonsense you'll see today. CG has its place. I actually love digital effects when used effectively. But when the shark is swimming around the boat, obscured by water, it is scary and realistic. Most of the movie has the most intense practical effects I've ever seen. Like, I'm more alarmed by Jaws than I am for a lot of Jurassic Park, and I think Jurassic Park is one of the greatest blockbuster films ever. There is something marvelously unsettling about seeing the monster, but not quite getting a good look at it. I know that practically every other monster / horror movie has played with this trope. You have to show the creature eventually, but it is never scarier than when it is out of sight. What I love about Jaws is that it is one of the originators of this trope, but it did it best in sunlight. There's two scary night scenes in Jaws. The shark doesn't appear in either one of these scenes. You can only really see the shark in the daylight sequences just below the surface. And holy crap, does that thing move. It's disturbing. But Spielberg doesn't just make an effective shark. I don't care if people think that thing looks fake because I disagree mostly. He plays up the gore pretty intensely. The first corpse isn't necessarily bloody, but it is gross. (Also, does Jaws hunt for sport because, for a shark that size, shouldn't he be eating the whole body?) Similarly, I remembered that a lot of grossness was played off camera. That's not necessarily true. The movie does get really gory. The hole in the boat scene got me really good this time.
Character-wise, the movie cements some of these tropes hard. Chief Brody might be a bit extra for me. I know, it adds to the drama to have a character trait that must be overcome to complete the task. But a police chief who lives on an island, but is afraid of water? That's a bit much. Dreyfuss's character even calls him out on it. He has a clever answer that doesn't really answer the question, but Spielberg had to be aware that it was kind of malarky. I've never read the Peter Benchley novel, but this feels like it was part of the novel and had to be woven into the movie. I might be reading that wrong (pun intended). But Roy Scheider just crushes it. For those not aware of Roy Scheider because you've steered clear of his waters (pun intended), he's really the prototypical actor to fill these kinds of roles. He does loving dad who has an intense side to him. Yeah, he's extra, but that's also super charming. I mean, look at him on the boat. He's completely overwhelmed with everything (I avoided the pun here). Brody's real character arc comes in conflict with the mayor of the town. Murray Hamilton's Larry Vaughn is a bit over the top for me. I mean, he wears a sport coat adorned with little anchors. C'mon, that's a bit much. Also, there's the fine line between financially responsible and just offering chum to the shark. For the scenes with Vaughn, I couldn't stop thinking about Ibsen's An Enemy of the People, only way more absurd. Vaughn does have a point. His little island is dependent on tourist dollars. I mean, everyone on the island would die (financially) if people are afraid of sharks. But then it just gets absurd. If a director decided to dress his mayor character in An Enemy of the People like Larry Vaughn, it would lose all credibility. (But if it also dressed up its scientist character like Chief Brody, I'd watch the heck out of that.) I have to establish that this movie is full of bros and is far from woke, but I really like the relationships in this shark horror movie. Richard Dreyfuss is on the list of gross people today. But man alive, he's charming as a young dude. Hopefully he wasn't gross back then. I guess I can only respond to what I watch in this movie. I love how much backstory that Spielberg attaches to his script with Matt Hooper. There's no need to give that much backstory, movie. Matt Hooper gets grilled about being this rich kid who is obsessed with the ocean. The more I think about it, the more silly it is that they take the Orca at the end instead of Matt's boat, but whatever. I get the logic of the film, so I'm going to keep going. But there's this weird stray thread where Hooper is criticized for being a rich kid who doesn't get his hands dirty. What makes it really weird is that it makes the dynamic between the three male leads work. Adding Quint, played by the flawless Robert Shaw, as a juxtaposition to Hooper's rich boy background makes their bickering so amazing. Quint is also super extra. Man, I swear this movie is great and everyone should watch it, but I'm also aware that almost every character is a disaster movie archetype. But these archetypes work so well. There are these little moments where a character just narrates their backstories. I know that the message is always "show, don't tell." But the telling in this movie almost works better. These characters have these histories that Spielberg is weaving into the story, but because we don't get flashbacks or convoluted excuses to show off their backgrounds, we're always on the shark hunt in this movie. But we also get to enjoy that they are relationships on this boat. Sometimes, we are going to need a bigger boat...to hold all the love. I just hope that if I ever go on a shark hunt, I'd love to be mismatched enough to make friends.
If I had to have a criticism, it's the third act. Jaws has the most minor third act problem, but it is there. The first two thirds of the film are breakneck pace. Honestly, the movie starts off with a death, which is not that weird. It establishes the tone pretty quickly. But usually, there's a little meandering that happens after this in most movies. There's the fake outs and the protagonist is usually embarrassed by his belief that there is a threat. Forget that. Jaws goes from one death to an even more intense kid death. Then there's people trying to attack the shark and just failing miserably. Chief Brody gets accused of allowing a kid to die and he just takes it. Then there are shark fakeouts only to be trumped by shark attacks. This movie gets bananas. But then there's the actual almost second movie that is the final act. Also, the final act of the movie is a bit long. I was waxing poetic about how good the protagonists are in this movie. They are great and that's why the third act works despite having structural problems. But the last act, the hunting of the shark, is way slower than the rest of the movie. That last act almost belongs in a different movie because that stuff is really good, but it is really weird that the movie just slows way down for the part that actually should be ramping up. Really, it is only the victim of how tight the first two thirds of the movie really are. I mean, there's a lot of stuff that happens in the first part of the movie. The stuff in Amity is just a kill fest and then it's a bunch of drunk guys on a boat waiting for the shark to attack them. The confrontation is actually pretty intense though. I know. I don't want to see the shark either. It's not as powerful as under-the-water shark, but it is still effective. What's funny is that one of the worst special effects actually scares me. Jaws coming through the window looks ridiculous in retrospect, but I still kind of jump.
How are people not watching Jaws? I mean, it started the summer blockbuster movie craze. While Jaws might not be one of the most important movies to watch, it was part of our cultural literacy. It holds up and is still a super good time. Honestly, if a movie of that caliber came out during the year, it might still be the movie that people really talk about. Just do me a favor: keep film alive. Is that so much to ask?
Not rated, but this one gets pretty darned violent for a movie from 1954. There's gun violence, but a dude gets crushed. Marlon Brando puts his hand through a pane glass window and oozes all of the chocolate syrup he can. There's also a really rapey vibe that the protagonist gives off. It's that old time ideology where taking a woman by force is just allowing her to express her true repressed feelings for you. It's icky by today's standards and should have been icky then.
DIRECTOR: Elia Kazan
I didn't appreciate this movie when I first saw it. I just knew it from "I coulda been a contenda." I mean, that's something, I suppose. I mean, it was a solid movie the first time I saw it. I don't know why people lost their minds about it. It has strong performances and it is well shot. I loved all of Elia Kazan's movies up to that point in time, so it just seemed like another of his strong movies. Man alive, now that I know the story, there's just so much to dissect. Now, I know that I'm going to make some people mad. I guess all political conversation gets under someone's skin. I watched this movie a long time ago and since then, I've been mildly obsessed with McCarthyism and Hollywood blacklisting. Honestly, the Cold War is fascinating to me and this is such a piece of history when viewed in context of what was going on.
I'll tell you right now that I've always fell on The Crucible side of the great debate rather than On the Waterfront. It's so weird because, as I mentioned, I've always been a huge Kazan fan. I don't know if there is a Kazan movie that I dislike. But I also love Arthur Miller. See, the great Hollywood blacklisting? I think it probably affected me than anyone else. I'm the real victim here. The one thing that On the Waterfront really does is that it actually kind of garners sympathy for Kazan. I may be jumping ahead of myself. If you didn't know why On the Waterfront kind of matters outside of its story and presentation, it is an allegory for something real going on with Elia Kazan. I highly encourage people to study McCarthyism and the HUAC hearings that were going on in the '50s. It's really interesting / disturbing. I didn't know that people still sympathized with Joseph McCarthy. I think he's scum. You could argue that there were spies in America. Fine. But he destroyed lots of innocent lives in the process of self-promotion. Anyway, everyone who has even been remotely famous or connected to someone famous was dragged in front of HUAC and asked if they have ever been a communist or if they know anyone who was a communist. Some people played extremely coy. Some people gave as little as they possibly could to get HUAC off their backs. Some people, like the Hollywood 10, embarrassed their accusers and shamed them publicly. Then there's the story of Elia Kazan. My old perspective was that Kazan was a coward and pointed to as many people as he possibly could because he was afraid. It wasn't as simple as that. From a reading of Kazan's statement to the media in conjunction with his message in On the Waterfront, Kazan honestly believed Communism to be an evil threat and wanted to squash it out. Apparently, Kazan had joined a communist organization as a young man, was mortified by the message that they spread, and was convinced that the world was going to be destroyed by these people. Fine, that's his right. I'm no big fan of communism either. But this is where my thoughts on the movie kind of go all over the place.
Arthur Miller criticized McCarthy and HUAC with The Crucible. Kazan responded by making On the Waterfront an allegory for his actions in front of the the committee. It's actually a pretty compelling argument. It's just that it doesn't work as well as The Crucible. The Crucible mirrored a real historic event, tailored it to mirror the events of the Hollywood Blacklisting and really changes lives. On the Waterfront tells a great story about standing up to criminal organizations. From Kazan's perspective, he saw people who were sympathetic to Communism as criminals. Mind you, and I should stress this, people who were punished by HUAC weren't necessarily communists. They just thought that the entire process of putting people on trial for their beliefs was unconstitutional. Remember all of this as I break down the On the Waterfront allegory. On the Waterfront follows Terry Malloy, the brother of a local union mobster, as he starts to realize that he's on the wrong side of justice. He accidentally assists in the death of one of his co-workers and falls in loves with the guy's sister. It becomes this rallying cry for the importance of allowing justice to be dispensed in the proper method. I'm a guy who loves rules. If On the Waterfront wasn't an allegory, I'd think it was this great message that puts the Catholic Church in the proper light. But Kazan kind of messes with the important details, making himself out to be this martyr. First of all, Terry / Kazan is fighting against gangsters in the mob. These are people who kill their opposition. When Terry rats on the mob, he no longer has a job or friends. It might be accurate that Kazan lost a lot of his friends in the process of testifying. I imagine that he was alone in his decision to trust the government over his peers and that has to be a lonely place. But notice that this movie exists. Kazan can't say that he couldn't get work because he definitely could get work because of his choice. It was the people who stood up to the government who couldn't get work. It's already pretty flawed there. Also, as far as I understand it, I don't think that Dalton Trumbo was threatening to murder Elia Kazan or his family. They simply vocalized that what he was doing was wrong and immoral. There is a wide gap between people not liking you for your decision and people actually doing something evil and threatening you. There's a scene where Terry's brother, the original antagonist, makes the choice to back Terry despite the fact that it would have gotten him killed. No one killed Kazan's brother. He wasn't taking this risk. Kazan paints himself out to be a saint. It's also a little different with Miller. Miller fought HUAC tooth and nail, but he was hardly the martyr of the Hollywood Ten. Miller was writing about his solidarity with others. When Kazan makes a movie about his own heroism, it's a little bit weird. I do like that Terry isn't a perfect character. Terry is a guy who makes mistake after mistake and that's at least something interesting. But the important details in On the Waterfront is what takes me from agreeing to only sympathetic to a guy who really wanted to be right.
But as a movie, what can I say? I mentioned that this movie didn't have the impact on me that I thought it would the first time I watched it. I thought it was actually one of Kazan's weaker films. As a movie, the movie is way better. I was treating it as a checklist movie last time. It is so odd to see Marlon Brando in his heyday. This entire commentary is just going to be backstories about things that should be observed before watching this movie. Brando kind of became a crazy person because of his fame. It's like Elvis and Fat Elvis. There's Brando and Fat Brando. Young Brando was this method actor who gave his all. Fat Brando wanted Jor-El to look like a jelly doughnut. This is Young Brando in his prime. He gives this amazing performance that almost rivals A Streetcar Named Desire. He's so good in this. Okay, there's one moment that rings kind of false and I've seen it in a lot of other movie, especially when it comes to boxing movies. Sure, I don't know a lot of boxers. I can safely say that I know zero boxers. But there's a time where someone is asking him about this fight that he threw back in the day. (After all, "He coulda been a contenda.") Every time a boxer in a film is asked what happened back then, they are suddenly transported back to the fight and they start shadow boxing the story as they tell it. It's an odd choice because I imagine, at best, the boxer would mime these motions just to get the story across. Brando has Terry become a method actor as well and gets fully engrossed in the story he's telling. He's huffing and puffing the story all the way through. But the rest of the movie is just perfect for Brando. I'm not spoiling the end, but the final confrontation with Johnny Friendly is awesome. I'm not even on Kazan's side, but I can appreciate a good "stick it to the man" ending. I don't know if I quite get the message at the end. I thought it would just make a bigger deal to Johnny Friendly if everyone just up and left, but maybe that would read as people running away from their problems. Karl Malden as Fr. Barry might be my favorite part of the movie though. He's so good. Like, he's the Catholic character we want in all of our Catholic movies. He's so intense. I have to stress that I'm in the world of the story. If Blacklisting went the way that Kazan implied it did, Fr. Barry is the guy you want on your side. There's this awesome scene with Fr. Barry at the docks. Let's establish that Malden gets a lot of good speeches in this movie, but his scene at the docks immediately after someone is killed is just perfection. If you watch this movie for no other reason except for the docks scene, you are doing yourself a service. He's just perfect casting and I absolutely love it. I sympathize with Eva Marie Saint's performance. Her character is a bit over the place. She's great. Don't get me wrong. She really crushes what she is given. But Edie has this major conflict that is almost impossible to play. She is in love with a man who helped murder her brother. Like, on a dime she is in love with him. Oddly, she seems to suspect this the whole movie, but is then mortified when she gets this confirmed. There's too much there. She's this force of nature when dealing with gangsters and then cowers in the corner during much smaller conflicts. It's a bit odd.
I love this movie. I do. I know that I'm not winning any new friends standing against Kazan and company, but On the Waterfront is problematic only when it is viewed as the allegory it is meant to be. As a movie on its own, it is brilliant. But when it is an excuse for behavior that is untoward, the best it can do is illicit a little sympathy.
I know that I talk a lot of smack about how superhero movies are all rated PG-13. Um...after rewatching this one, this one kind of deserves the PG-13 rating. It's not even close to an R, but this movie was directed by Sam Raimi. I remember when the movie first came out that he used some of his horror film background to make this one. Yeah, those scenes are disturbing. I thought I was just going to let Henry watch the first part, but I constantly told him to cover his eyes and the audio is even creepy. Despite the fact that this was part of my adolescence and I remember every kid watching this at the time, it's pretty intense. Well-earned PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Sam Raimi
It is weird where these movies have fallen into our public consciousness. When I was in college, the first Spider-Man movie came out. People lost their minds. Admittedly, the only major Marvel property that we had were the first two X-Men films. This is the birth of the Golden Age of Superhero films. I think I saw it thirteen times in theaters. (All of the lines came back to me as the movie was going on. It was still a fresh watch because I only remembered the line immediately before it was said, but it's odd how ingrained this movie is in my head.) Publicly, I lauded this movie to everyone. I'm a huge Spider-Man fan. I've read every issue and I still get the books bi-weekly. But there was part of me that didn't adore this film. I was a little disappointed the first time I walked out of it. I mean, overall, I loved it. But there was something that didn't quite gel with this movie and I think I'm now removed enough from it to actually comment on it. (I will say, I thought that Spider-Man 2 was the perfect superhero film. I really don't want to be disappointed by that.)
We've actually taken a lot of steps forward and a lot of steps backward when it comes to making superhero movies. All of this should be taken with a grain of salt because Spider-Man still kind of holds up. It's not perfect in light of all of the superhero films we've seen, but it is an amazing piece of summer blockbuster action that really hits a lot of the right notes, especially mythology wise. It has a sense of scale and scope that many of the MCU movies don't. (I suppose that I have to give points to the DCEU for this as well.) If you haven't guessed from the fact that I've praised almost every MCU movie relentlessly, I'm a big fan of what Kevin Feige is doing. But Feige's stuff works because he's almost serialized each MCU movie. Honestly, and this is being critical of something I love, the MCU movies work because they are the best big budget TV show ever. I commented that Black Panther was just Game of Thrones. Really, the whole MCU is Game of Thrones. Characters are having separate epic adventures until they eventually meet up for the standoff that everyone has been waiting for. That's television, but on the big screen and top notch casting. The fact that they are referred to as "phases" should just be substituted with the word "seasons". Spider-Man doesn't have that. Yes, this feels like the beginning of a franchise, but the cinematic nature of this movie is right there on the screen. I'm pretty sure that Spider-Man is shot on film and it gives it something epic behind it. I won't fight digital. Digital just looks pretty, but it doesn't carry the same weight. Really, I'm giving the vinyl argument right now, so I'm not going to delve too deeply into this arena. But instead of going wide, like the MCU does, Spider-Man makes his little world pretty big. There are teases to future movies. The whole Harry Osborn story is wonderfully laid out here. It's so amazing to think that the Norman Osborn / Harry Osborn storyline was so well known in the comics that you really can't tell a story without setting these characters up. Raimi hits all the right notes with this storyline. It's a little sad that Raimi had to rush the ending of this epic story with Spider-Man 3. I can't believe that the New Goblin was the direction that Raimi wanted to go in when he created the first movie. This movie is so well crafted in terms of setting up that mythology that sticking Harry as a third string villain in the last movie is just a mistake. But I'm not critiquing Spider-Man 3 yet, am I?
There are a couple of missteps that Spider-Man is taking, but these can be chalked up to people figuring out how to make a decent superhero film. The action is pretty rough, overall. There's a couple of exceptions where it actually is gutsy. SPOILER: Pete takes a goblin bomb to the fact and just gets wrecked in the finale of the film. This sequence is difficult to watch because it is so intense and grounded (pun intended...kinda). Sure, it's a Power Ranger beating up a guy in a Spider-Man costume, but it seems really violent and those guys actually look like they got beat up. In Winter Soldier, Cap takes bullet wounds and just gets back up. Not so much with the end of this film. This film knows that blood exists and isn't afraid to use it. I'm talking about pretty much all of the other Spider-Man / Green Goblin fights. From moment one, I knew that the Green Goblin looked stupid. We all called him a Power Ranger and it didn't get better when we actually saw the movie. Applause for Willem Dafoe for making the Green Goblin not completely laughable. But when those two characters start punching at each other, it's pretty cringy. Part of it is that the movie was only starting to get CG people kind of okay. There's a scene where post-wrestling Pete is chasing down the mugger and climbing a building at night to do it. It is completely CG and you'd see better rendering in a PS3 video game cutscene. It's rough. The idea that an entire fight sequence could happen in constraining suits is laughable. Watch those early Batman movies. Keaton can't even turn his head. Batman's fighting style is having people run into his fists and sidekicks. Spider-Man and the Green Goblin have a lot of that stuff going on. They look like two action figures just being smashed together. The thing about these two characters is that their powers involve being limber enough to do aerial acrobatics. Two action figures butting heads does not a good action movie make.
I guess we have to talk about it. Everyone always discusses who my favorite Spider-Man was. I love Tom Holland. He's perfect for the part. You put Tom Holland in this movie and you have a nearly perfect Spider-Man movie. Tobey Maguire is perfect as Peter Parker. I care so much about every Peter Parker scene and my brain shuts off for the Spider-Man stuff. Maguire gets what makes Peter tick. Peter Parker is always down on his luck and Spider-Man is his escape. He's burdened with responsibility and can't always make ends meet. The odd thing is that his Peter Parker stuff if pitiable and funny. It's great. I mean, it's not always funny. But that's the story I love. Maguire might be perfect for the emotional depth that he gives this movie. The reason that the original trilogy was the romantic one is because Maguire really throws himself into the humanity of Spider-Man. He also nails the origin story of Spider-Man. But he does not, unfortunately, get Spider-Man. Spider-Man is almost the opposite of Peter Parker. It's that Clark Kent / Superman thing. One is bumbling, the other is perfect. Spider-Man tells dumb jokes well. That's what Andrew Garfield and Tom Holland understand. He's delivering the kind of dad jokes that make you blow milk out of your nose. I can't blame it all on Tobey Maguire. Spider-Man's jokes aren't that funny in this. (One of them is a little dated, playing on some homophobic ideas.) But he delivers them terribly. I mean, when he refers to Green Goblin as "Gobby", it should have worked. It's in the comics and it never raised a red flag then. Why is it so cringy now? But both other Spider-Men knew how to tell jokes because I kept laughing at those guys. The rest of the cast is also pretty good. I preached Kirsten Dunst when I watched Marie Antoinette. She's not exactly Mary Jane Watson here, but she's a pretty solid character regardless. I do like that the movie focuses on MJ, the slight failure. The comics always played up the confidence angle on Mary Jane Watson, but giving her some of her traumatic background as the forefront of the movie was a smart movie. James Franco doesn't really sell Harry to me. It's so funny that I like James Franco's performances in a lot of other movies, but this movie is early for him. He's not great as Harry. Some of his deliveries are pretty blah. Part of it is that Harry isn't a really well developed character. This entire movie is his origin story, so how do you play something when he has almost no background. There's a few lines where he defends a clearly guilty Norman Osborn that are great, but there's not much beyond that. Willem Dafoe is nearly perfect casting, besides a younger Tommy Lee Jones. (Check out Mike Deodado's art during his run on Thunderbolts to see how this would play out.) But there are two moments of absolutely perfect casting that I'll never see in a movie again:
Rosemary Harris and J.K. Simmons. J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson is pretty revered. Pretty much, he is unanimously the best part of all the Spider-Man movies. There is a man who understands comic timing and just embracing the heck out of something. Honestly, I wait for his scenes in every Spider-Man movie. I could gush about him forever, but I'm not the first guy to mention this. The person who gets overlooked is Rosemary Harris. I know that there is a trend to make Aunt May younger and younger. This is probably inspired by the Ultimate Spider-Man comic book, but there's just something absolutely perfect with Rosemary Harris as Aunt May. She is this fragile, God-fearing woman who absolutely loves and dotes on her nephew. Yet, there's one thing that could have easily been portrayed by someone who didn't put the time and effort into the character. You can't walk over Aunt May and when she is upset with Peter, she lets him know it. She has the best speeches in every movie. It's so good. Aunt May in these movies does something that I'm floored by in the films. Rosemary Harris plays her as a person that makes you question whether or not she outright knows that Peter is Spider-Man. That's great. It's the Lucius Fox thing, only way more understated. I don't mind the other actresses playing Aunt May, but Rosemary Harris is just perfect. Every. Single. Shot. Perfect. I also love her paired up with Cliff Robertson, but Uncle Ben is not in the movies as much as Harris is. Uncle Ben might be an easier character to play, so I tend not to give him as much cred as Harris.
I love the first Spider-Man movie. I really do. It's hard to watch something you loved at the time seem a little dated. It isn't perfect by today's standards, but it is still a great look into the Spider-Man mythology. I can almost smell Sony's frustration with not being able to get it as right as this first film. This movie was a beautiful love letter to Spider-Man that works more than it doesn't. I'm actually really jazzed to find an excuse to watch Spider-Man 2 now.
Honestly, this might be the most innocent of the Marvel movies. I really want to take my kids to go see this, but I know that Henry is going to get all wibbly about the bad guy, Ghost. Like, if there was going to be a superhero movie without a bad guy, he would totally be down for that. His favorite superhero movie would just be Ant-Man shrinking to a not scary size and then getting really big. Just for an hour and a half, he would watch that. Honestly, I would probably watch it too. But there's some mild cursing in this movie, I think. Also, divorce is a pretty heavy topic if you want to broach that subject with your kids. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Peyton Reed
Man alive, it is getting hard to write two reviews for the same movie. If you want the one that had a lot of thought and care put into it, read my CNA one here. It's fairly spoiler free and I write in publication-talk. This is all stream of consciousness and, since I wrote the other one, I'm probably going to go pretty heavy into SPOILERS in this one. I just want to get this out of the way because I probably only have about twenty minutes to write this before I get in trouble for staying up too late to write something that doesn't really need to be written.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe can't always be really intense. It's weird to think that. Kevin Feige has to go up to some of those directors and say, "Yours is just going to be the fun little popcorn movie. Everyone's going to be talking about this other movie, but you aren't allowed to make that movie because people are going to get overloaded with bummerness." That's got to be a conversation at whatever big MCU retreat that Feige has to organize. I get it. It's why every episode of a TV show can't be the 100th episode or the season finale. There has to be a bit of filler to cleanse everyone's palates and that movie is once again an Ant-Man movie. But I want Ant-Man to be awesome! Captain America is always going to get these intense, world changing movies and Ant-Man is always going to be kind of the same thing over and over again. I mean, look at how good Ant-Man was in Civil War! He's got the potential to be this amazing thing for the universe, but that's always going to go to other characters. The odd thing is, Spider-Man: Homecoming's mission was to be the smaller movie in the MCU. It was supposed to be about a superhero stopping street-level crime, but that movie was completely amazing. (Spectacular? Web of...?) Ant-Man and the Wasp just seems like such a low stakes movie and I still want it to make all of the money. I need to slow down with my thoughts. Ant-Man and the Wasp is kind of a boring movie that's a little bit funny. It's got good parts and, honestly, is kind of a good movie. I had a pretty good time at it. If I had seen Tim Burton's original Batman and then immediately went into Ant-Man and the Wasp, I'd probably be a cinema trailer and say that I liked Ant-Man and the Wasp a little bit more. Sure, Batman probably had more artistic merit, but Ant-Man and the Wasp is a pretty good time. I read from a pretty unreliable source that Ant-Man and the Wasp isn't doing great financially. I mean, I could easily look this up, but I'm going to take it with a grain of salt and complain about that happening. I don't like that Ant-Man and the Wasp might be a stain on Marvel's reputation. I mean, the reviews are pretty good for that movie. I don't agree that the movie is as amazing as all of the reviewers are making it out to be, but I still want it to succeed. But it is also a pretty boring movie compared to what it could be.
Paul Rudd is too good for a mediocre movie, is what I'm getting at. He might be one of my favorite casting choices in the MCU. He's just perfect for that role. Okay, yeah, he's playing Paul Rudd. But that's not the worst thing in my book. Paul Rudd makes you kind of believe that if Paul Rudd was given superpowers, Paul Rudd would actually be a reluctant superhero. (I'm ashamed of how many times I wrote the name "Paul Rudd" in that previous sentence. I DID IT AGAIN!) He seems like he would be an excellent dad and that he'd be the guy who always tried to do the right thing, despite the fact that it rarely worked out for him the way he wanted it to. That's great. At the center of the character is a guy who really seems to like the role and plays it spot on. He delivers jokes like nobody's business. And, hey!, guess what? Michael Peña and his team are in it. They're great too! How is this movie not amazing? Those guys get comedic timing...even T.I.! They have this great little schtick about how these inept ex-cons are trying to be the best superhero team that can be, despite the fact that they suck at it. HOW IS THIS MOVIE NOT AMAZING? These elements are great. You know what kills it, though? I mean, I don't want to call anyone out, but the story and the other supporting cast just aren't doing it. In my review for Ant-Man, I griped about Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly. They sucked really hard in that movie. Michael Douglas looked like he could not care for a hot second about being in that movie. I always got the vibe that he thought he was a bigger superstar than Ant-Man. Well, he's in this movie too and he's better now. But he's a long way from matching the intensity and the enthusiasm of Paul Rudd. Lauren pointed out that Michael Douglas has no sense of comic timing and I wholeheartedly agree with that assessment. Evangeline Lilly is also better in this one, but I don't get any sparks between the two of them. I have to give props to Lauren for the following theory. I wish I included this in my actual review, but I'm going to have to bury it in this practically unseen review. A lot of times, the dynamic is comic guy, straight man. Comic guy and straight man argue throughout a movie, earning each others ultimate respect. Both characters change for the better after going through trials and tribulations. Ant-Man / Ant-Man and the Wasp has one comic guy and two straight men / woman. Michael Douglas as Hank Pym and Evangeline Lilly as Hope Van Dyne both yell at comic Scott Lang / Paul Rudd. This creates a whole different dynamic. There is a bullying element to the whole thing. So when Scott Lang doesn't screw up and actually manages to save the day, it comes across as "Well, you didn't screw up for once." There's not a whole lot of respect thrown around. That might be a bit of a comedy killer.
Hank Pym also kind of deserves more. I'm a big fan of comics. Hank Pym is now Ultron. I won't explain how he got there, but it happened. In fact, I'm not entirely sure I get how Hank Pym became Ant-Man. But Hank Pym is one of the more tragic heroes of the Marvel Comics. He's not even a hero a lot of the time. But then he's also one of the founding Avengers. He's on the cover of issue one. I like that Feige pointed out that all of the original Avengers are now on screen because we have the Wasp, both in Hope and in Janet Van Dyne. That's pretty exciting, but back to Hank. Hank Pym only teases that he had kind of a crappy life in this one. Bill Foster at least gives us a clue that Hank isn't the superhero we want him to be. But this seems so watered down to this rich history that the character has. Maybe I'm being nostalgic for this character with undue obsession. Reading those comics, the biggest problem that the character has is with consistency, so it is probably just poor writing that Hank Pym is always crapped on when a story needed a guy to screw up. This fluffy movie franchise is never going to give us Hank Pym: Accidental Spousal Abuser. That's far too bleak. But I don't quite get that the Ant-Man movies have to be the most straight-up action-comedies in the franchise. There are lots of other movies in the MCU that are absolutely hilarious, but I would define as action or sci-fi, but not action-comedies or sci-fi comedies. Just because Paul Rudd can tell a joke doesn't mean that we could get to into some really deep stuff. Before I completely lose the thread, I do want to talk about the treatment of Bill Foster in this movie. I am still settling about the Bill Foster reveal. I knew that he was in the movie. He's in the trailer talking about his alter ego, Goliath. I got excited. I don't know why I get excited when I recognize a bit of a deep cut to the comics in the movies, but I do. But Bill Foster kind of turns out to be a bad guy. He's not the big bad guy in this movie. But how cool would it have been to have Laurence Fishburn as this other giant superhero in the movie? I'm really bummed that I didn't get that.
This movie does have another villain problem. Ant-Man had a criminal villain problem (pun intended). Ant-Man and the Wasp doesn't really have that. But it does have too many villains and not much to do with any of them. I mentioned that Bill Foster was a villain in this one. He, oddly enough, has the most character development without a wealth of exposition. Through his interaction with Hank Pym, we get a lot of what happened to him and I like that a lot. But he's not the film's main villain. Ghost is the main villain. Ghost also has a compelling reason for being a villain, so I like that, but she seems more like a reactionary villain rather than one who shows any initiative. If there's another movie with Ghost, she's not going to be a major threat. Hela, Loki, and Thanos...those guys cause you to quake in your boots. Heck, Vulture was a small time villain in both the movie and in the comics, but he was absolutely terrifying in the film. Ghost just seemed to be a pain in the butt for the protagonists. She kept on showing up when the team was trying to ignore her. Considering that the protagonists knew about the antagonist, their primary mission in the film was to ignore her and hope that she didn't show up at a bad time. (Spoiler: She always did.) Then there's the step too far villain. Sonny Burch is the character that doesn't belong in the movie. He's a nice addition to the chaos that this movie needed. Because he was such a low stakes villain, he kept showing up when no one was expecting him because everyone forgot about him. So there are three villains and none of them add up to a credible threat. I guess you could also consider Jimmy Woo and his team of FBI agents villains, but they are more set dressing and might be considered part of the setting. Okay. I can forgive them.
After Infinity War, I suppose we needed something lighter. But I don't see why lighter doesn't let me invest in it as much. I constantly felt like this was a throwaway movie to remind audiences that Marvel movies aren't just one thing. But I want the tone to be closer to Spider-Man: Homecoming than to the first Ant-Man. This might be a gross oversimplification, but I feel like a lot of responsibility lies on Peyton Reed's shoulders. Ironically, his scale is all screwed up. I want him to make the Ant-Man franchise the movies that people need to see not for plot, but for character. Ant-Man and the Wasp is a fun and good movie, but it doesn't have that specialness that the other Marvel movies have. It's good for a Disney superhero live action, but not a great Marvel movie. (And I know, they are technically the same thing now.)
PG-13, for stuff. None of it is outright inappropriate. It is kind of what a teenager thinks is risque. Like, we're introduced to the characters who are making out in a kind of holodeck, I guess. There's a lot of really bad innuendo, but ultimately it doesn't account to much. It's all pretty harmless. There's sci-fi violence, but it's also uncanny valley violence. I'm going to keep comparing this to The Fifth Element. Everything in Valerian is a toned down version of The Fifth Element. And if you haven't seen The Fifth Element to compare this to? You should see that movie first. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Luc Besson
I've never read the Valérian and Laureline comic book. It's a little weird that Laureline doesn't get billing in the title considering that she's a huge part of the story. Really, I'm behind on my French comic books. As a kid, I was raised on Asterix and Obelix and The Adventures of Tintin. I've read the first volumes of Lucky Luke and Snowpiercer, but I've never really touched Valérian and Laureline. But I saw this trailer and got really excited that Luc Besson was going to tonally make a sequel to The Fifth Element. (It, in no way, is related to The Fifth Element, but it just looked like I was going to get the same feels as The Fifth Element.) I love The Fifth Element. I know, it is a flawed film that looks dated on every version of Blu-Ray I watch it on. But then the reviews of the movie kept preaching that this movie wasn't very good. It looked so pretty! How could it be bad? I mean, people didn't love The Fifth Element, so maybe it was just another case of that. Heck, the hipster part of me was glad for the bad reviews. That means I can be the sole worshiper at the temple of Luc Besson once more. Um...no. This one kind of sucks.
I should have known that it wasn't a good movie that wasn't going to turn around when it took me forever to get through the movie. After I built the new theater garage, my wife said she wanted to watch something that I hadn't seen before. Valerian was the new disc from Netflix, so we gave it a whirl. After all, I knew that this was going to be a very pretty movie and I should be watching it under ideal conditions. She was right. This was the ideal version to watch this movie. The best thing I can say about the movie is that it is absolutely gorgeous. Caveat: It is digitally gorgeous because the whole thing just lives in the uncanny valley, but that's unsurprising when you watch the trailer. Valerian is just an excuse for Luc Besson to make pretty things. If that is the goal that the director gave himself, mission completed. It is one of the prettier digital dreams I've seen for a while. Honestly, the movie looks absolutely phenomenal. A lot of that comes from the color schemes, but the other end of that is that everything is also marvelously detailed. There's a scene in the movie where Valerian is chasing a bad guy through the titular city. To make the action something interesting, Valerian bursts through walls rather than navigate the city through the city streets. This chase is epic and long. Considering that the chase goes through many of these "planets", Valerian's nontraditional way of chasing bad guys means that almost every second is littered with a completely different environment that is absolutely mindboggling. From a designer's and an art director's perspective, it's super duper fun. As much as I didn't like the movie as a whole, I will never say that I hate this movie because this kind of stuff is super nifty. It also all, oddly enough, all feels like Luc Besson. He's got this very specific aesthetic, especially when it comes to his sci-fi, that just screams him. So these worlds are all flying by with each world having its own rules and they all feel like they both belong in the movie and in a Luc Besson film. The hard part was completed, but the basic part of the movie was left kind of vapid.
The story is stupid. The story is criminally stupid. The movie establishes this very epic premise, but ignores the main storyline until the end. A world has been destroyed and Valerian receives this mental projection detailing the end of a civilization. That's amazing. He has to investigate what happened to these people and discover if there is anyone still alive? How super cool is that? Well, it would be awesome if everything Valerian did was somehow building to an investigation that led to the antagonist of the movie and his intentions behind his genocide. Nope. Most of the movie has only a tertiary relationship to the main quest. He's kind of investigating this crime, but most of his leads are dead-ends. Then he gets separated from Laureline and the movie really becomes hers. (Which is why I wonder why the movie was not named Valerian and Laureline: The City of a Thousand Planets. I bet a studio head, probably a dude, thought that the other name was catchier.) Most of the movie is just Valerian and Laureline making their way through the many odd cultures that live aboard this space station. I mean, about a third of the movie is devoted to Rihanna's Bubble (a character name, I swear!). She has nothing to do with the genocide, but is rather just a means to get out of a pickle that Valerian was in. This is a movie that lives or dies on plot. If that kind of premise was brought up, there needed to be some kind of tie to the main plot. I am now afraid to rewatch The Fifth Element just in case that story goes the same way. (I'm now going through it in my head and it may, in fact, be the same thing.) Clive Owen is the bad guy! But for the life of me, he doesn't seem very compelling because I have no real understanding of the character beyond the fact that he's just an intense general. That's really lame. The movie isn't short either. This movie is two hours and seventeen minutes! There's plenty of time to really build a solid story in this, but because much of the film was devoted to pretty images and worldbuilding, there's nothing else really to do.
And now an even bigger problem that makes me question my entire reality. This movie is extremely miscast. Like, I can't believe how poorly the casting job is in the movie. Okay, I thought I liked Dane DeHaan. I'm one of the few people who actually really enjoys The Amazing Spider-Man movies. I really liked his interpretation of Harry Osborn. I like James Franco, but I thought that Dane DeHaan crushed him. But Dane DeHaan apparently has one setting: grumbly. One thing that the movie really communicated about the comic book character is that he's a womanizer. This is a gross generalization about French comics, so please understand that I'm not an authority on this, but many of the characters seem to be very one-dimensional. If you had Han Solo turned up to 11 and wanted to keep him there without any real growth, you'd have Valerian. This is what I can glean from the script, but Dane DeHaan is not that. He's not devilishly handsome. Oddly enough, he has a little boy's haircut. I looked at the images of Valérian and he is not that character. Where's the pompadour? Also, that thing that Buzz Lightyear is commenting on? He's supposed to be that. But Dane DeHaan is reading these charming lines as just moody and withdrawn. He also kind of looks sickly throughout. I hate to be so superficial about how someone looks in a movie, but it really stands out to me. Cara Delevingne as Laureline is slightly more charming. I get the vibe that Luc Besson doesn't really get women. He always has a cool female character, but they are all emotionally stunted and weird in his movies. Laureline, in this, is all over the board with her intentions. She has last generation's attitude of smitten girl with a superficial tough warrior attitude. Imagine Wonder Woman if, in private, she got all wobbly in the knees. There is a way to have Laureline be this amazing warrior woman and have her love Valerian, but it is not this. Both of these parts of her personality actually seem like masks, making the film even more bizarre. I don't know. I just didn't seem to care about either character. I already mentioned that Clive Owen isn't developed. I kind of feel like he's doing this part as a favor. Then there's a really weird Ethan Hawke cameo. I don't know why Ethan Hawke is in this movie either. That part is fundamentally unimportant, yet Ethan Hawke is there. Could he only film one day and really wanted to do it? I hate to say, and I know that my wife would disagree with me, but Rihanna's Bubble is the most interesting character and she really doesn't need to be in the movie.
The movie is very pretty to look at. If I was having a party where people were drinking luminescent cocktails and wearing glow sticks, I might have this playing on my screens in the background as lasers lit up the dance floor. But as an actual movie, it is pretty terrible. I was bored stupid, despite the fact that a thousand planets were on display ahead of me. I've never seen such a lopsided movie before and I don't know why that wasn't addressed earlier. I guess I can still like The Fifth Element...unless I never noticed these problems in that movie before. Gah! Look what you did, movie! Look what you did!
PG-13. You know, for a movie where no one actually gets shot, I associate the first Mission: Impossible movie with blood. I mean, one of the main character rubs blood all over himself. Also, there's something oddly sexual about the movie. Yeah, nothing is actually shown, but there's, like, tumbling and stuff. It's weird. I saw the movie in 1996 and I was very impressionable. It's a fairly tame movie, unless you are a rat. Then it is just a horror movie. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Brian DePalma
I'm just going to frontload this: this is my friend Derek's favorite movie. Like, of ever. He's probably going to say that it is not just to highroad this review, but he's honestly obsessed with it. He walked around in high school with homemade red and green bubble gum, spouting, "Hasta lasagna, don't get any on ya," before miming an explosion with his hands. He's obsessed. Any criticism I have of this movie will be quickly extinguished under the swift justice of his law professorhood. He's a far more revered author than I ever plan to be, so all this is moot when it becomes discredited for not being positive enough, regardless of how much I praise it.
It's a pretty good movie. I've always been a Bond guy. In an era of Bonds, Bournes, Hunts, and...um...Englishes (?), I didn't realize that there is a contention. Yeah, I'll see most of those other franchises. (Okay, I'm really burned out on the Bourne movies, but you get it.) But people definitely have a preference. The odd thing is that I'm really excited about the Mission: Impossible movies. (Odd fun fact about Derek: he refuses to get excited about any sequels. The only one that counts is the first one. Yeah, he even didn't care about the Brad Bird one.) The first movie is actually super weird when I think about it. It doesn't feel like the beginning of a franchise. Think about about long they have been making Mission: Impossible movies. This movie came out in 1996. 22 years of Mission: Impossible films all starring the same guy. Yeah, he looks like kind of a baby in this one, but I really get the vibe Brian DePalma just wanted to make a spy-fy movie. I might get into spoilers later, but watching this movie doesn't feel like a world building thing. The tie to the original show, that I can recognize at least, is the IMF in general, Jim Phelps, and the whole "Your mission, should you choose to accept it" with the disintegrating tape. It also has the theme song. But this isn't a continuation in the traditional sense. I don't think the mythology on the original show was all that heavy, so it isn't shocking, but I can also say that this movie gets significantly darker than anything that the television program presented. LIGHT SPOILER: Most of the team are brutally killed within the first act of the movie. I mean, Emilio's death is pretty intense. Yeah, it doesn't show it, but it really didn't need to. It was gory enough in my head without any actual on camera murder. Tonally, this feels closer to DePalma's other work (despite the PG-13 rating) than it does the television program. This might be the smartest choice because this kind of establishes a precedent very quickly. Because the original Mission: Impossible is extremely hard to sequelize as is, the idea of the director establishing the tone makes each movie wholly unique. Eventually, that started to drop off because the character is required to do oh-so-many things to establish it as a Mission: Impossible movie. (Tom Cruise having to rappel off of things is getting a bit much.) But Mission: Impossible 2 aside, those movies are extremely fun to watch and feel kind of different from each other. Considering that I just reviewed The Man with the Golden Gun, it is refreshing to think that they made these movies to all be different. I think that's why Cruise keeps coming back for them, outside the fact that these movies always put him in the spotlight whenever he needs a career boost.
The original Mission: Impossible is also welcomingly complex. I like a good spy movie that really ties most of the story together. LIGHT TO HEAVY SPOILERS: 1996 is starting to look a little dated though. It is in the heavy 1996 version of the Internet where I don't necessarily understand everything that is going on in the movie. I mean, I get the loose idea of behind it. Criminal weapons dealer Max was dealing with a mercenary named Job in a Book of Job usenet group (a 1996 subreddit). But why is the CIA / IMF dropping the term "Job 314" to Ethan Hunt if they didn't know about the Usenet group or didn't want Ethan knowing about the usenet group. (Also, let's establish that it is a stretch to think that Ethan Hunt would find Max from that little hint.) Then Ethan wanted to meet the real Job? Also, the Bible telling Ethan if the goods were fake or tainted doesn't really scan. Was the CIA being cheeky when they hid the message of the goods being fake based on a Bible verse? Why would they give Max a clue that there was something wrong with the package? I don't get it. Also, how is Jean Reno involved in all of this? Maybe I don't understand everything in the movie. But the rest of the movie is pretty great. What's really odd about the plot is that the story is full of action. I mean, there's some amazing sequences. This rappelling sequence still works extremely well. Everyone was twitching and nervous in the group and that means that, even though that scene is now famous, there is a solid degree of anticipation built in. But the story is actually pretty slowly paced. Really, the movie allows quite a bit of actual spying to happen before it gets to its major action set pieces. It gives those moments a bit of leeway. Instead of action sequence after action sequences, making those moments mean less, the exposition and character development actually builds. Watching Ethan Hunt in the first scene to the last scene is actually interesting. While Tom Cruise might not be knocking it out of the park with this performance (I have nothing against the man and actually like him in a lot of things I see), Ethan is fundamentally a different person by the end of the movie. It's actually odd to see him slide into that leadership role for the future movies because he's kind of earned it. I feel like the first movie is actually a great origin picture. He knows that he has been trained to be an agent, but I feel like this story is the first mission that has forced him to improvise on the scale he has done. He has gone from the tool to the one who uses the tools. That's pretty great storytelling.
HEAVY SPOILER: The gutsiest thing I have seen a movie do is the Jim Phelps reveal. Paramount released this movie, playing up that they had acquired licensing to a quasi-beloved TV series. For example, when the Star Trek films were being made, it was a response to a fanbase needing more of these stories, thereby raising awareness with a studio that wants to make money off of that. Now, imagine that the first Star Trek movie comes out and you find out that James T. Kirk is the bad guy of the movie. He's gonna die a horrible death and a new kid is going to take over. Honestly, it is absolutely bizarre that Jim Phelps is the bad guy in this movie. It soils the character. If you loved that character, there's no apology for his actions. Phelps is an old man in this movie and sick of living the spy life. The movie starts off with Phelps dying, which is not completely impossible for a film to do. I commented on Star Trek and that was the plan for the original Star Trek. Kirk was going to retire and Captain Dekker was going to take over. Okay, that's fine. I'm sure that the fans would have been angry that Phelps would have died by being shot and falling off a bridge, but it happens. But then making him the bad guy is just insane. Yet, I don't know if there is a large community calling for this to be retconned or repaired. I know that the original cast of the show was going to appear in this movie, but were upset with how Jim Phelps and the old team would have been treated. I can't really blame them. They were heroes. Also, I'm thinking about how many people who watched the original show were kids. I mean, Mission: Impossible the film is hardly a kids' movie. I mentioned that it is PG-13, but it is pretty intense. I don't think a lot of the audience gets that Jim Phelps was the hero of the show. This kind of leads me back to the Paramount perspective. Did they just gamble extremely well? Most of the fans of the movie are wholly new audiences. I guess they did the same with the new Star Trek. My buddy Bob actually really hates the new Star Trek movies because he was such a fan of the show. I don't know how it works with Mission: Impossible, but it ties back into my thesis that the reason that the movie works so well is that it seems like Brian DePalma just wanted to make the best movie he possibly could. I love the twist. It's the one character you think can't do it and he does it. That's fantastic.
I will always have a special place in my heart for the Bond films, as outdated as they are. (It's odd that sequence in GoldenEye exists because it seems like that applies more now than it did then.) But I get really excited for the Mission: Impossible movies. I kind of want to binge them all before seeing the new one. I know I don't have the time (or actually the access) to do this, but the first movie is such a solid entry, I'm willing to watch Mission: Impossible 2, one of my least favorite movies. I don't know if it is the amazing movie that Derek thinks it is, but I do like it quite a bit.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.