Are We Still Doing This?
Threat: Nuclear Armageddon. Saviour?: Tom Cruise. Some tall buildings off which he will hang in some sweaty-palm moments interspersed with gunfire and martial arts punchups. Ready? (I’m over it, baby.)
The fourth installment of Tom Cruise’s pet series is actually better than the previous installments. It’s actually a bit of a surprise. None of the previous films were terribly compelling before but this one raises a pulse. I dubbed the first one Mission Improbable, the second Mission Imbecile, the third Mission Improvisational but this one actually earns its Mission Impossible moniker properly.
What’s Good About It
It’s a feature of these movies that they always have some hairy aerobatic thing off the tops of tall buildings. The one in this one is actually impossible and exciting. The worst one was the one in Sydney (we can all blame Nicole Kidman for that one). The weirdest one was the one in Shanghai. Anyway, it’s good in this one exactly because it’s so outlandishly impossible.
Going stronger on the teamwork thing is better in this film; even better that the third. They also left behind Ving Rhames who only makes a cameo, but in turn the unit seems sharper rather than know-it-all.
What’s Bad About It
The actual mechanics of what holds the plot together is pretty weak, complicated and in need of a lot of exposition. At it’s core, it’s a bomb that needs defusing, but somehow this turns into a re-run of the “Cold War Going Hot” threat. I know in real life Putin’s a bit of a dick, but we’re really too far distant from those days to feel the threat. Even when a nuke is flying through the air headed for San Francisco, it’s not terrible threatening. If the Cold War was well over in the first movie made back in 1996, then 15-16 years on, this movie is just not that immediate.
I also think the mode of action movies has moved on significantly since 1996, what with the rash of superhero movies and LOTR trilogy and other assorted excitements. The kind of action going on in this film just looked old – and not even ‘cool retro’ old, but tired and old. In short, it’s outmoded and antiquated.
They flip a couple of cars in the stunts this film. They flip a whole city-load of cars in ‘The Avengers’.
What’s Interesting About It
I’m surprised Tom Cruise wanted to go another round as Ethan Hunt. These films have a weird dynamic because the original TV show was about teamwork while the movies have been about Ethan Hunt, the super agent that can solve most any problem on his own. Every film has some kind of team, but the team never quite gels because there’s not enough screen time to do that kind of work because everybody knows it’s all about Tom Cruise playing Ethan Hunt. He’s his own worst enemy when it comes to these films.
To put this into perspective, a movie where Tom Cruise plays the smiling leading man and wins the day sort of started in the mid 1980s. He sort of put an end to it with ‘Vanilla Sky’, but it’s been pretty weird since. The bloom of youth is gone, but also the charm of his 30s are long behind him. He looks haggard in this film. He can still do the stunts but the martial arts bits – never his forte – looked really s l o w.
I’m sure he feels like he’s up for it. I just don’t think his fans would agree.
Nuclear Arsenal Going Astray
The polemic of the rogue nuclear weapon has been around for a long time. ‘Goldfinger’ is built around a plot to irradiate all the gold in Fort Knox. Had they stuck around for a decade, the need would have disappeared because Nixon ended the Gold Standard and therefore the necessity to keep that gold in Fort Knox. Kubrick’s ‘Dr. Strangelove’ is all about a rogue Bomber with the bomb which would go on to trigger nuclear Armageddon and Mutually Assured Destruction, and of course that one gets through. It happens a lot in cinema history.
It is easily arguable that there is actually a tradition of these films. The best of the bunch for me would be ‘Crimson Tide’, where the protocols for firing nuclear weapons from a submarine get a good working over, while ‘Broken Arrow’ provided us with a glimpse of how prone the world is to such scenarios if insiders were at play.it’s not as good, but it has the bare bones down. Activation codes. Acknowledgements. Security clearances. Protocols. Keys on chains and colour coded lanyards. Numbers on the screen in that old style computer font counting down.
This film reruns the insider scenario without really explaining how this fictional IMF is part of any government. So the film proceeds with the problem without adequately explaining how the problem came about – but expects the audience to cotton on quick and therefore not ask too many questions. It’s really interesting that a film proceeds on that basis, without it being a parody or satire.
Back during the Cold War, we never got to see what went on in the Kremlin. These days, they’re inviting Hollywood into film there, so we get an eyeful of the place in this film. I don’t know if they really have those underground tunnels or even corridors with red carpet, but safe to say the ballroom and courtyard got a good showing.
It goes to show how far in the past the Cold War is these days. Even all this speaking in Russian on the screen in Hollywood movies is a new development. Tom does it, Simon Pegg does it, at one point the subtitles come up in Cyrillic alphabet and then swap over into English. Scarlett Johannson is doing it in ‘The Avengers’, Vin Diesel was doing in ‘Babylon A.D.’; speaking Russian on the screen is all the rage.
It’s as if Russians are the new best friends. I guess they would be if they’re inviting film crews in to the Kremlin. I guess Sting was right all those years ago, they love their children too.