Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. The IMF gets shut down, leaving Ethan Hunt on the run from the CIA whilst trying to take down an organized crime group called ‘The Syndicate’. More than in the past few movies this feels like it’s completely merged into the Bourne/Bond universes – it’s particularly Skyfall-y. IMF is outdated and up for debate (like the 00 program), ‘The Syndicate’ are a collective that trigger world events (hello SPECTRE!), and the main villain is pretty much Raoul Silva (Bardem) from Skyfall, but with no development beyond ‘he’s villainously European and wears turtlenecks’. True to the franchise the big action set-pieces are fantastic (Plane opening, Motorbikes, Opera Fight) but it digresses into foot chases and pistol fights, which are ten-a-penny these days. The opening half is everything you’d expect from an M.I. film, but the second part loses momentum with twist after twist after twist, which leaves the story feeling bloated and stretched: it’s 2hrs 10 long! A big problem for this movie is that Ethan “the living manifestation of destiny” Hunt is never on the back foot and has an air of invisibility – worse still Tom Cruise is an action star that can act, but he’s wasted here, coasting as the cocksure and invincible agent. The main female (Ferguson) – an equally kick-ass, deadly, and capable agent in her own right – is presented as a strong heroine, yet made to prance about in leggy frocks, bikinis, and even topless (from the back) for no real reason. When you think of the best scenes in the Mission Impossible franchise and I bet they’re wringing out tension and suspense during the ‘impossible’ missions – hence the name – but Rogue Nation gets tangled up with simple thrills and a flabby, tortuous plot.
Mission: Impossible II
Mission: Impossible III
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
Mission Impossible III (M:i:III, M:I-3): the impossible missions force’s (IMF) best agent, Ethan Hunt, is brought out of retirement when an arms dealer kills his protégé, then kidnaps his fiancé. The action set-pieces are what make this film: there’s a quality raid on Berlin building; impossibly intricate Vatican mission, Shanghai rooftops, and a sustained climactic ending – action fans can’t really ask for more. The only let-down is the lack of an ‘Impossible’ break in attempt, which is the linchpin of – and arguably best things about – the previous two films. It’s far less po faced than other contemporary spies like Bourne and rebooted Bond: moments like Cruise singing “We are family”, and a few tongue-firmly-in-cheek nods to Cocktail and Top Gun are the cherries atop a full-fat everybody-having-fun cake. Even Cruise’s running is funny to watch – perhaps his version of the Arrested Development chicken dance? Although it’s overall funnier, Seymour–Hoffman’s villain is the most callous and dangerous yet, he does well with his screen time. With a decent script, huge cast (Ving Rhames is back!) and another proficient director (JJ Abrams) putting his lens flared stamp all over it, Mission Impossible III is a great popcorn action movie with some gratuitous emotions thrown in; although it’s probably the least memorable or original entry in the franchise so far.
Mission Impossible II
Mission Impossible III
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
Edge Of Tomorrow (Live Die Repeat): when a slimy Army PR guy is marked as a deserter and put in the front lines he finds himself reliving the same day over and over again. This is at its best when it’s having fun with the concept of time looping, and doing the tongue-in-cheek sci-fi comedy moments; of which there are enough, but could have easily got in a heap more. It’s at its most boring however when it breaks the cycle, and turns into a fast/shaky/quick-cut generic alien invasion action film. Tom Cruise is playing Tom Cruise for about the 7,000th time; Emily Blunt puts in a good shift in as the kick-ass love interest; and they’re supported by a fine indie ‘OMG where’s he from again?’ cast. Of all the unbelievable alien stuff going on, the daftest thing in here is that a United Global Military is ruled by an Irishman (Gleeson) – LOL Hollywood! The phrase “Tom Cruise Action Vehicle” tells you everything you need to know – if you like him and Sci-Fi doesn’t turn you off, you’ll almost definitely like this. The Edge of Tomorrow AKA Live Die Repeat is an above par alien film, in the middle of a decade where Alien Invasions are becoming boring as shit.
Top Gun: a hot-headed fighter-pilot is sent to train with the top 1% at the Air Force’s finest training school – Top Gun. This is one of those films I watched in complete disbelief, why is it that this has become such a popular, ‘must see’ movie? The best thing about it is the music, but even that’s criminally overused: Danger Zone pops up 3 times, and Berlin’s Take My Breath Away appears 4 times!! The aerial combat scenes (central to the plot) aren’t quite as fluent and obvious as you’d expect – with limited shots and a lot of rough cuts: it relied more on the pilot’s communications to keep you informed. Not much to say about the script, other than it’s terrible, beyond hammy, and packed with so much innuendo that they had to have deliberately been going for a campy vibe: one character actually shouts “I want some butts”. Kilmer and Cruise don’t have to do much other than oil up, stand about in towels covered in sweat beads, square up chest to chest and erotically whisper lines like…
“Yea, I know”
“What about it”
It’s a film jammed with so much machismo that it unknowingly ends up mincing it’s way over to the ‘camp classic’ section.
“I was invaded!”
Collateral: an LA cab driver becomes involved in several murders when fate makes his next fare a contract killer. The casting in the film is great: Jason Statham makes a brief appearance (was disappointed he didn’t resurface), Javier Bardem as a sleazy crooked nightclub owner, and Mark Ruffalo is unrecognisable as a cop (“No way, that dude sounds just like Ruffalo”). There are moments of truly great acting from both leads: Jamie Foxx as a bumbling, almost special / OCD cabbie and Tom Cruise as a stone-cold, experienced, remorseless killer. The entire film’s shot at night, and set over one evening, which gives it a creepy atmosphere and haunting vibe; quiet streets, empty buildings, dark alleys… the lighting, photography, and locations (empty LA is as much a character as anyone else) are all out of this world – although because it’s shot at night, on digital, with such a high ISO it looks very grainy. It all feels quite grounded and immediate during the movie, keeping a steady pace and having a lot of suspenseful moments, but the end leans towards a generic (albeit tense) action movie finale. My only major issue was that loads of things were hinted at, but never explained, particularly with Cruise’s character – is there any point in creating decades of backstory if all you get is a slight glance at the end of a murder? Collateral is a film every bit as polished, planned, sleek and exciting as you’d expect from Michael Mann, and pulls of the thankless task of being a character-driven action film with great ease.
Jack Reacher: an ex-military investigator is called in by a man who claims he’s been framed for the murder for five seemingly random sniper killings. Being based on a book, it’s got a good central story, packed with action and it moves along at a good pace, getting better as a conspiracy begins to unfold – although it’s seems deliberately obvious; the cooked evidence, motives and clues are easy for viewers to pick up. My biggest problem with this is that it reminds me how much of a ‘high-rent’ Jason Statham Tom Cruise is; same look, same voice, same haircut, same righteous quick-fire lines in every film – he never attempts anything new or different. There’s a couple of massive mis-steps that break up the tension – mostly the two bat-wielding goons that feel like they came from a Laurel and Hardy film, and the fingerless mastermind (Herzog!) – all seem unnecessary and out-of-place, given the otherwise serious / straight-up tone. Rosamund Pike‘s top also gets lower and lower as the film progresses. Back to the film, it’s a well-made piece, with some solid moments of tension like the opening scene – and sniper-scope-o-rama. On the other hand, you always know exactly how the film’s going to play out, and because Mr Reacher is ten steps ahead of everyone else, which forfeits a bit of suspense. Overall Jack Reacher is a decent, well-made, entertaining film, despite being a “bit wet” and a “genre picture” if there ever was one. Guns, fighting, cars, cleavage – it hits all the right targets.
Mission Impossible 2 (or M:i-2 – if you like maths!). Ethan Hunt is sent to Sydney by the IMF to find and destroy the mysterious “Chrimera”. This film totally reeks of John Woo’s direction: there’s at least one slow-mo shot in most scenes, sparks everywhere, superhuman sliding, birds, white dove… and some crazy, crazy action. Unfortunately, there’s a ridiculous level of focus on the love story / personal angle – which is riddled with clichés and makes you doubt how professional a spy Mr Hunt really is – not to mention it feels forced and cheesy. Despite a fairly average spy story clunking along for the most part, the final half hour is absolutely beautiful (other than the love interest and random shots of the sea), and undoubtedly the best part of the film. There’s a few bizarre lines in the script such as “This is not missions difficult, it’s mission impossible; difficult should be a walk in the park” (Hopkins) – and the seemingly accidentally left in “put a sock in it”, a Scottish-ism by Dougray. Other than a stupid emo haircut, lots of face masks and flamenco guitar (so you know you’re in Spain) there’s not a lot to write home about. Mission Impossible II has plenty of stand-alone memorable and ‘cool’ bits to enjoy, but as a whole film, it’s average at best.
Mission Impossible: when his mission in Prague goes FUBAR Ethan Hunt must prove his innocence and figure out who the real traitor is without the help of the CIA/IMF. This contains pretty much everything that’s cool about spying & espionage, from the high-tech gadgets (hacking/security) to the low-brow survival tricks (cracked light bulb on floor). Brian De Palma is on top form; the complex story is well told, and the moments of drama/tension are just perfect – the NOC list Langley break-in in particular is a beautiful, yet almost unwatchable, set piece – more generally, the film is like a masterclass in ambiance and tension. The director slaps a heavy streak of throwback Noir style: camera angles, soft focus, clothes, hats, music overcoats – not to mention the mystery story. Being a 90s film some of the technology is horrifically outdated, e-mail in particular is laugh-out-loud bad. While Ethan Hunt is no James Bond, the team behind Mission impossible did a great job of lifting from the Bond Blueprint and re-inventing a modern super-spy.
Knight and Day A wanted super spy (Cruise) somehow thinks it’s OK to tangle a random civilian (Diaz) into his escape plans. Up front – there are simply too many things to dislike in this movie; the plot is terrible, the tone is uneven – big action or goofy parody, derivative script, neither lead is any good, neither lead is watchable or likable, etc, etc… The secret agent keeps knocking out the gal when she’s just about to put 2 + 2 together, that’s no way to treat a Lady, even if she is only with you for the money! Moreover, the whole film feels like a big, strategic, crass plan to simply make a ton of box office, without as much of a thought given to the actual product.
It genuinely made the Mrs and I want to make a suicide pact, but before things got that far, we switched it off after a record-breaking 15 minutes. Bankable A-list stars, does not a good movie make! GAME OVER, Cruise.
Alternative Plans: just went to bed early that night, ‘cos that’s how we roll.
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol: the IMF’s best agent Ethan Hunt is back again; his team go off the grid as they’re blamed for bombing the Kremlin – they must also stop an unfolding global Nuclear War – instigated by a madman! This film sticks to what the franchise does best; action and tension. The tension is wrung out and maximised like a boss; the Kremlin corridor and double-meeting in particular are proper edge-of-your-seat scenes. The action is also well above par, bone-crunching fist-fights and well-handled/edited camera work (other than the sloppy sandstorm chase). This story is typical of the other three films, with more newfangled espionage in various hyper-photogenic locations. Pegg comes out on top of the cast, providing a bit more comic relief than usual, but avoids becoming the clown – everyone else is solid. There’s some awesome gadgets and technical details for your inner-geek, the fastest-booting servers in the world and an onslaught of Apple products. On the downside, it definitely needed more Ving Rhames quips & ass-kicking, and Nyqvist as the ‘main’ bad guy could have done with more screen time and evil development. M:I-4 is another slick instalment of the winning James Bond formula cranked up to 11.
Valkyrie: There’s only one WWII movie faux pas that’s more insulting than Nazis “Telking Leik Zeis” amongst each other, and that’s Nazis that speak full-blown “Jolly good, tally ho” English – especially Adolf Hitler. Listen out for American and Irish accents in the mix too. What’s more infuriating is that they type, read and sing in German to make it more ‘authentic‘! Accents aside the dialogue’s pretty naff, and predictable – not unlike a 60s/70s WWII movie you’d see on TV through the day. There were also too many scenes with dozens of similar uniforms and names to keep on top of. A stumpy Tom Cruise doesn’t really set the world on fire, and Bill Knighty was the only real standout for me. There are some good moments when the tension builds up, but that’s about all this had going for it. Until I saw this I wouldn’t have thought that such a major, and potentially exciting, chapter of history could be so boring – especially when it’s marketed as ‘action packed’.