The Mission: Obviously Possible Monthly Update for July 2018

Dun dun dun-dun-dundun, dun-dun-dundun, dun-dun-dundun, dun-dun… duh-duh-duuun… duh-duh-duuun… duh-duh-duuun… duhdun!

It just makes you want to go jump out of a plane or something, doesn’t it? Sadly, I think I’d be less Tom Cruise, more James Corden.


#146 Batman Ninja (2018)
#147 Muppet Treasure Island (1996)
#148 Blade of the Immortal (2017), aka Mugen no jûnin
#149 Red Sparrow (2018)
#150 True Romance (1993)
#151 RoboCop (2014)
#152 Rocky IV (1985)
#152a Rocky VI (1986), aka Rock’y
#153 What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
#154 Cash on Demand (1961)
#155 Despicable Me 2 3D (2013)
#156 Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle (2018), aka Gojira: Kessen Kidō Zōshoku Toshi
#157 Zatoichi and the Doomed Man (1965), aka Zatôichi sakate-giri
#158 Free Enterprise (1998)
#158a Friends, Romans and Leo (1917)
#158b Little Red Riding Hood (1917)
#158c Quaint Provincetown (1917)
#158d Microscopic Pond Life (1915)
#159 Kidnapped (1917)
#160 Iron Monkey (1993), aka Siu nin Wong Fei Hung chi: Tit ma lau
#161 Superman III (1983)
#162 The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey (1988)
#163 The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)
#164 Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)
#165 Full Metal Jacket (1987)
#166 Wind River (2017)
#167 The LEGO Ninjago Movie 3D (2017)
#168 Body of Lies (2008)
#169 I Am Sartana, Your Angel of Death (1969), aka Sono Sartana, il vostro becchino
#170 The Garden of Words (2013), aka Koto no ha no niwa
#171 The Secret in Their Eyes (2009), aka El secreto de sus ojos
#172 Paul (Extended Edition) (2011)
#173 The Way of the Gun (2000)
Muppet Treasure Island

Free Enterprise

The Navigator

Mission: Impossible - Fallout

Full Metal Jacket

.


Firstly, as usual, stats and numbers…

  • With 28 new feature films watched, July kept up 2018’s run of supersize months — in fact, it’s not only the third best month of the year, but also the fourth best of all time.
  • It’s my 50th consecutive month with 10+ films. It’s also my 6th consecutive month with 20+ films, extending that record-breaking run. It leaves just November and December as the only months that have never reached 20+ films.
  • It’s by far my highest July ever, the previous best being last year’s 17, and is so far beyond the monthly average of 8.1 that it’s dragged it up almost two whole films to 9.9.
  • Continuing with averages, it also surpasses the rolling average of the last 12 months (previously 19.1, now exactly 20) and the average for 2018 to date (previously 24.2, now 24.7).
  • On the 17th I reached the landmark of being 100 films ahead of target. That’s the first time I’ve been 100 ahead since the end of 2015, when I was there for all of three days (29th-31st December) — and that was the only other time I’ve been 100 ahead. As it stands, I end the month a whopping 115 films ahead of where I ‘should’ be by this point.
  • Less auspiciously, this month my backlog of unreviewed films also surpassed 100 titles for the first time. Eesh.
  • Back to brighter news: as I continue to keep track of dates on which I’ve never seen a film (see the last bullet point in Viewing Notes here for background on that), this month I watched films on both the 16th and 19th to reduce the remaining list by a third. Still to come this year: September 2nd and December 22nd.

Now for something actually about the films themselves…

  • This month’s Blindspot film: plugging a gap in my viewing of both Quentin Tarantino’s and Tony Scott’s filmographies, the Tarantino-written Scott-directed True Romance, which plays exactly like a movie written by Quentin Tarantino and directed by Tony Scott.
  • This month’s WDYMYHS film: plugging a gap in my viewing of Stanley Kubrick’s filmography, as I tend to do about once a year, Full Metal Jacket, which was one of my favourite Kubricks.
  • Somewhat relatedly: Argentinian Oscar-winning thriller The Secret in Their Eyes was a strong contender for one of those must-watch lists this year, but didn’t make it for reasons I forget. I sort of figured it’d be on a list next year. Not anymore, obviously.
  • Finally, earlier this week I posted my Train to Busan review semi-randomly (it was the last review left from 2017 and I wanted those done), only to later discover its UK TV premiere is this Friday. The “likes to make reviews tie into things” part of my brain was not impressed.



The 38th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
Tom Cruise learnt to fly a helicopter, performed 106 skydives, and broke his ankle just to entertain us. And by golly, it worked. Some favourites are not a choice — this just is Mission: Impossible – Fallout.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
There were a few mediocre options to choose between here, though. While there were definite flaws in certain unnecessary remakes and sequels among this month’s viewing (have a scan through the list above and I’m sure you can pick out the films I mean), the closest any film came to the cardinal sin of boring me was Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle.

Most Played Soundtrack of the Month
As much as I love the Mission: Impossible music (and, having now listened to the soundtrack in full, Lorne Balfe’s score for Fallout is better than I gave it credit for in my review), the soundtrack I’ve most often had on loop this month is Muppet Treasure Island, which has an array of superbly piratical songs (including a scene-stealing turn from Tim Curry), as well as a proto-Pirates of the Caribbean score from Hans Zimmer.

Most Impressive Spy of the Month
Oh sure, Ethan Hunt can do all those amazing physical feats, but can he be a pasty white guy wandering around Iraq looking for terrorists and somehow not stand out like a sore thumb to the locals, hm? No, that’s apparently Leo’s special skill as Roger Ferris in Body of Lies.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
I reviewed two new releases this month: direct-to-Netflix anime sequel Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle, and highly anticipated cinematic blockbuster Mission: Impossible – Fallout. Guess which review got the most hits. Yes, as you’ve probably correctly predicted from the way I’m making this point, it was Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle. Well, I can tell you exactly why that happened: my most-viewed posts are always ones that get a lot of referrals from IMDb, and, despite submitting my Fallout review as soon as I published it on Thursday morning, for some reason they didn’t add it until Monday afternoon, after the pre-release and opening weekend interest had passed. It ended up coming third, behind a very different spy movie, Red Sparrow.


After a concerted effort, this month I finally finished publishing reviews of my 2017 viewing. Now I’ve just got all those 2018 ones to catch up…


This month I am mainly rewatching Films That Precede Sequels That Are In Cinemas Now.

Well, I say “mainly” — from a UK perspective, technically it only applies to two of these…

#25 Galaxy Quest (1999)
#26 Never Say Never Again (1983)
#27 The Incredibles (2004)
#28 Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)
#29 Ant-Man 3D (2015)

I’ve been meaning to watch Never Say Never Again, er, again for yonks — I last saw it as a kid and, really, didn’t remember it very well. I happened to catch it starting one night on ITV4 HD and thought, well, why not now? Turns out, it’s not all that bad. I mean, it’s not great, but it was a passably entertaining off-brand Bond film. There are probably some Roger Moore films I’d rank below it — if it counted for such rankings, which it doesn’t. I’ll give it the “Guide To” treatment at some point.

I bought (and last watched) the special edition DVD of The Incredibles when it first came out in 2005, but I’ve never upgraded it because Disney have given it short shrift over here: first an extras-starved Blu-ray, now no UHD release even scheduled. It was long overdue that I revisit the film (as I said, it’s been 13 years), especially with the sequel coming out (in July here, hence why I wasn’t wittering about this last month), but I didn’t want to watch it in SD. I ended up stumbling across a UHD copy by… “other means”. So, yeah: screw you, Disney — I can’t say I feel too guilty about freely acquiring a film I’ve already bought and they’ve not bothered to treat right on this side of the pond since DVD.

Anyway, it’s a truly exceptional film — I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to rewatch it, and I wish I had more often. It’s certainly in my top four Pixar movies, alongside the Toy Story trilogy. Plus, I definitely made the right call skipping SD: it looks fantastic in higher definition; almost too good, the crispness showing up the age of the CG animation. Whether there’s an appreciable difference between its HD and UHD versions, I couldn’t say. Based on the comparisons at Caps-a-holic, there’s a slight difference in colour and sometimes in very, very fine detail, but the regular Blu-ray seems to hold its own.

Finally, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. It’s clearly the best of the first five Missions. Obviously, you’re allowed to have a different opinion. But you’d be incorrect. It’s basically a perfect spy/action movie, and anyone who tries to say otherwise is just wrong.


I suppose summer, with all its picnics and barbecues and whatnot, is the most appropriate time to release a movie about an ant and a wasp…

Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)

2018 #164
Christopher McQuarrie | 147 mins | cinema | 2.39:1 | USA & Hong Kong / English & French | 12A / PG-13

Mission: Impossible - Fallout

You can keep your Infinity Wars and your Incredibles 2sthis is the movie I’m most hyped for in 2018. I’ve been looking forward to it ever since it was announced we’d be getting another impossible mission from writer-director Christopher McQuarrie, who knocked it out of the park with the superb Rogue Nation. Anticipation only intensified with the fantastic trailers (that first one, scored to a Lalo Schifrined-up version of Imagine Dragons’ Friction, is a work of art in itself), and reached fever pitch with the influx of super-positive reviews in the past couple of weeks. Living up to the hype began to seem like an impossible mission all of its own.

Well, if there’s one thing Ethan Hunt and his IMF teammates can pull off, it’s… a rubber mask. But if there’s another, it’s the impossible — and how!

Two years after the events of Rogue Nation, Hunt (Tom Cruise, obv.) and his regular sidekicks Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) are after three stolen plutonium cores that could be used to make nuclear bombs. They must stop them falling into the hands of The Apostles, a radical group seeking to execute the manifesto of John Lark, a shadowy figure the intelligence services have been unable to identify, who seeks to bring about a seismic change in the world order. When the IMF’s attempt to acquire the plutonium goes sideways, Hunt is assigned a CIA minder, August Walker (Henry Cavill), with orders to let nothing get in his way of finding The Apostles — including Hunt.

From there, we’re heading into proper spoiler territory (I already rewrote that last paragraph to avoid giving away an early twist. You’re welcome, readers). However, as the trailers have already revealed, the storyline brings back into action the last film’s antagonist, Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), as well as Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), the MI6 agent whose allegiances were constantly under question in Rogue Nation. She was ultimately confirmed to be on the side of good, but was supposed to be leaving the game. Why is she back? And whose side is she on now?

Faust-Ethan pact (that's a pun, FYI)

The plot that mixes all of this together gets… complicated. In some respects there’s a clear throughline from one action set piece to the next, but in others it can leave you reeling as it rockets from twist to reveal to counter-twist to counter-reveal. Mostly I think you have to go with the flow and accept whatever’s happening in the moment — if you start to think about the bigger picture (how people knew what when, and how they planned for this, that, and the other), it’ll make your head spin. Naturally, I was trying to do the latter, and got completely lost at one point in the middle when there’s an assault of back-and-forth twists about who has the upper hand. Again, if you just accept it and go with it, it’s fine, but try and unpick the logic of the whole thing in the moment and, well, you’ll be so busy thinking that you’ll probably miss another twist. Personally, I have a lot of faith in McQuarrie as a screenwriter, and I have no doubt the whole thing does make sense (or enough of it, at any rate), but he’s too busy racing along to let the film stop and allow you to confirm it for yourself.

Fiddly plots are nothing new to the Mission franchise, of course: the very first one was (and often still is) criticised for having a story that’s more impossible to follow than a typical IMF mission is to execute. What is new to Fallout’s story is that it’s a sequel. Obviously, there are four other Mission: Impossible sequels, but they’re all standalone movies really. With the return of Lane and Faust, plus some of the baggage they had with them, a lot of Fallout spins out of Rogue Nation — it’s unquestionably a direct sequel. And, once again without wanting to get spoilery (though, again, this is partially given away in the trailers), it also picks up on hanging threads from movies even further back in the series. In this respect it’s a great film for certified Mission fans: there are a number of payoffs and answers to questions that are only still thought about by such devotees; but it’s also done in such a way that it never obstructs the fun for casual viewers. That goes for the whole sequel thing: although the storyline is grounded in the events of Rogue Nation, Fallout gives you enough info that you could watch it as a standalone.

Long walk off a short aeroplane

Talking of Rogue Nation, about 24 hours before seeing Fallout I listened to Empire’s legendary three-hour Rogue Nation spoiler podcast, in which McQuarrie talks a lot about the writing process of a Mission movie, and what he learned about that during Rogue Nation. With his observations fresh in my mind, it shed an interesting light on Fallout — how and why it was doing certain things, as well as about when it chose to do them. Perhaps that’s why I was able to spot some of the reveals and stuff, because I knew the (self-imposed) rules McQuarrie was playing by. But there are some fascinating contrasts, too. For one not-really-spoilery example (because I’m going to talk about literally the first scene of the movie now), in the podcast he talks about how Mission films have to begin with a burst of action — no plot, no story, just straight into an action scene. It’s partly about giving the audience an instant thrill, but it’s more about letting them settle into watching the movie before you throw important information at them. But Fallout does literally the opposite: the first scene sees Hunt receive one of the series’ famous briefings (delivered, as always, in a completely different manner to how we’ve seen it done before), and that, as it’s precisely designed to do, delivers a massive infodump of plot. Now, how much of it you need to take in I’m not sure — various bits are explained again later as they become pertinent — but it certainly implies you should be paying attention. I’m in no way criticising this (I really liked everything in the pre-titles), it’s just an interesting contrast to how McQuarrie said things ‘needed’ to be done last time.

Another thing from the podcast: one rule they set themselves on Rogue Nation, which ended up being a massive thorn in their side, was that there had to be constant escalating tension, meaning the film had to end with the biggest action sequence of all. This was a self-imposed rule, but they struggled with it for ages before they finally realised it just wasn’t what the story demanded, which was when they alighted on the ending that saw Hunt outsmart Lane rather than engage in a massive action scene with him. Clearly McQuarrie came into Fallout more prepared, however, because while there are big stunts and action scenes throughout the film, the finale is the largest, most complicated, most dynamic, and most impressive sequence of the lot.

Watch that ankle...

And so we’ve come to the real point of the movie; the thing the trailers and posters and behind-the-scenes videos have all sold it on: the action sequences. Simply, they’re incredible. Cruise’s dedication to giving the audience something new and exciting and awe-inspiring to watch is second to none. He spent literally years preparing for this film, learning to fly a helicopter and perform HALO skydives. That’s him flying the helicopter. That’s him jumping out of a plane. That’s him doing all sorts of other stuff too, like riding against traffic on a speeding motorbike, or jumping across rooftops, or falling off the side of a mountain. The only effects work here is for the odd spot of safety-rig removal or, I presume, one or two moments that would be impossible to achieve safely in real life. And this dedication has paid off: it’s so much more thrilling when you know this has all been performed for real than it is to watch some pixels or someone on a green screen. Those kinds of effects have their place in other movies, and can provide a thrill within the context of the story, but they nonetheless lack the tangibility that doing it for real provides, and the knowledge it’s a genuine feat you’re watching adds a whole extra thrill of its own.

In filmmaking terms, McQuarrie does all he can to match Cruise’s drive to entertain us with his daring — not by being daring himself, but by showing off Cruise’s efforts in the best way possible. McQuarrie favours going without score for the action scenes, letting the sounds of revving engines, squealing brakes, thumping punches, and all kinds of crunching and smashing and thudding, be the only music you need. The tension and excitement comes purely from the physical feats on display, plus the camerawork and editing that showcase them. It works like a charm. I’ve seen music-less action sequences in the past where you feel the absence on the soundtrack; like something more is required. Early on in Fallout, I noticed the absence of music during these scenes only because I was aware McQuarrie favoured it that way, and because of how much it wasn’t needed. But by the end of the film, I was too hooked to care — I honestly can’t tell you if Fallout’s big finale sequence has music or not, because it grabs the attention so thoroughly that I’d just stopped being aware.

Arms fully loaded

Of course, other parts of the movie do have a score, provided by Lorne Balfe. Thanks to where it’s been applied, much of it is atmospheric rather than the pulse-racing theatrics you expect of an action movie score, though he makes nice use of Lalo Schifrin’s original themes — both the main one and The Plan — to provide grace notes where required. Plus there’s the big title sequence to really show off that iconic main number — and, like Rogue Nation, we’re treated to it twice. At my screening the houselights came up and people started walking out during the second one, which kind of bugged me — it’s not just names scrolling, it’s part of the movie, McQuarrie using it as a kind of final hurrah to send you away with (just as he did in Rogue Nation — he’s repeating the ‘trick’ because it works so damn well). Personally I prefer Joe Kraemer’s rendition of the title theme from last time, but Balfe’s is a worthy alternative.

Also new to the franchise is cinematographer Rob Hardy, who’s delivered some gorgeous photography here. Not in a showy way, but there’s a richness to some shots, plus consistently great choices of angles and camera moves. The entire thing is about forward momentum — from set piece to set piece to set piece — and that’s conveyed by the way the camera moves, too. Even, for example, when cars drive up to buildings: rather than just observe it, the camera’s behind them, low to the ground, speeding along. Rarely has some people arriving at a near-empty airfield to get on a plane felt so exciting. I believe the film was shot mostly on 35mm, and those who care about such things will surely notice the benefit in many sequences. The big exception is the couple of sequences that use an IMAX ratio if you attend such a screening, which were shot in digital 8K (the need for small, light cameras precluded the use of genuine IMAX ones). Long gone are the days when mixing film and digital would make the difference obvious, however, and the switch between formats is entirely unnoticeable.

IMF class of 2018

If there’s one disappointment, it’s that the trailers gave too much away. Technically there’s a shedload of plot stuff they didn’t reveal, but honestly, the plot’s not where the real entertainment value lies. For one thing, seasoned viewers will see most or all of the twists coming. Maybe they could’ve kept some returning characters a surprise, but they’re all in the trailer too. No, this film is all about the incredible action, and story context only adds so much to that. What it does add, at least, is tension: the “oh my God, Tom Cruise is doing what?” factor may’ve been burned up by the trailers, but the edge-of-your-seat suspense about whether Ethan Hunt can achieve his goals is still there. And while the mind-boggling-ness of a first impression may be gone, the stunts are still genuinely spectacular — so much so that you can watch them again and again and still be thrilled, which means they do survive being in the trailers. Of course, if you were lucky (or sensible) enough to avoid those advertisements… boy, are you in for a treat!

Even if you didn’t, I still think it’s a treat — they went and put all the best bits in the trailer and yet it’s still bloody spectacular. I think Rogue Nation may’ve had a better story, but nothing beats Fallout for adrenaline and spectacle. Well, every Mission movie is different in its own way, has its own strengths, and it’s clear what Fallout’s are. Personal preference will therefore dictate where you rank it next to the other movies, but what I’ll say is this: in a series where the level of consistency is so high that my personal favourite is usually whichever one I happen to be watching at the time, Fallout easily stands toe to toe with the rest.

5 out of 5

Mission: Impossible – Fallout is in UK cinemas now, and in the US from this evening.

It placed 1st on my list of The 26 Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2018.

Mission: Impossible III (2006)

The 100 Films Guide to…

Mission: Impossible III

The Mission Begins

Also Known As: M:i:III

Country: USA, Germany, China & Italy
Language: English
Runtime: 126 minutes
BBFC: 12A
MPAA: PG-13

Original Release: 3rd May 2006 (11 countries)
UK Release: 4th May 2006
US Release: 5th May 2006
Budget: $150 million
Worldwide Gross: $397.85 million

Stars
Tom Cruise (A Few Good Men, Edge of Tomorrow)
Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote, The Master)
Ving Rhames (Con Air, Piranha 3D)
Michelle Monaghan (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Source Code)
Billy Crudup (Almost Famous, Watchmen)
Laurence Fishburne (The Matrix, John Wick: Chapter 2)

Director
J.J. Abrams (Star Trek, Star Wars: The Force Awakens)

Screenwriters
J.J. Abrams (Armageddon, Super 8)
Alex Kurtzman (The Island, Transformers)
Roberto Orci (The Legend of Zorro, Star Trek)

Based on
Mission: Impossible, a TV series created by Bruce Geller.


The Story
Ethan Hunt and his IMF team must track down ruthless arms dealer Owen Davian before he can get his hands on the Rabbit’s Foot, a potentially catastrophic weapon.

Our Heroes
Ethan Hunt has semi-retired to a life of (to-be-)wedded bliss and training new recruits, until his protégé, Lindsey Farris, goes missing on an undercover op and Ethan is persuaded back into active duty to rescue her. For that he’ll need a team, including his regular partner, hacker Luther Stickell, plus pilot Declan Gormley, and Zhen Lei, whose particular skillset I’m not sure is clarified beyond being kick-ass and looking good in a dress. Back at IMF HQ, there’s also a helping hand from funny British tech whizz Benji Dunn.

Our Villain
Owen Davian is not a man to be messed with — and when Hunt and his team do, Davian is hellbent on revenge. As portrayed by the peerless Philip Seymour Hoffman, he’s the most genuinely threatening villain of the entire series.

Best Supporting Character
The head of the IMF, Theodore Brassel, is a superb turn from Laurence Fishburne — commanding and imposing, but also drily hilarious. It’s a shame they never had him back. Alec Baldwin has taken over basically the same role in Rogue Nation and Fallout, and he’s good, but Fishburne was really good too.

Memorable Quote
“It’s unacceptable that chocolate makes you fat, but I’ve eaten my share and guess what?” — Brassel

Memorable Scene
The IMF team’s unofficial mission to capture Davian from a party in Vatican City, which involves stopping traffic in central Rome, overleaping security walls, blowing up sports cars, and, most fundamentally, switching out Davian for Hunt — wearing one of the series’ trademark masks, natch.

Memorable Music
Nothing against Michael Giacchino’s original score, but there’s no besting Lalo Schifrin’s fantastic main theme.

Truly Special Effect
The movie actually has loads of model work and CGI, as the special features attest, but the vast majority of it is totally invisible — as is the single greatest effects moment. It comes when Hunt puts on a mask of Davian: as he slips the mask over his head, the camera tracks around behind Luther, briefly hiding Hunt from our view — we assume it’s for the sake of an invisible cut to switch Cruise for Hoffman, but no: as the camera emerges out the other side, it’s still Cruise + latex. Only then, as Luther attaches the mask properly, is there a completely unnoticeable transition to the real Hoffman. Not only is it a superb bit of work, but it helps sell the idea that these masks are plausible — we’ve just seen him put one on, so they must be!

Previously on…
Starting out as a ’60s TV series created in the wake of James Bond’s success, Mission: Impossible’s own popularity saw it run for seven seasons into the ’70s, before being revived in the ’80s for two more seasons, and then relaunched as a Tom Cruise film franchise in the ’90s. As this one has “III” in the title, you can probably deduce that it was preceded by two others.

Next time…
Ditching the numbering, the M:I films have continued with Ghost Protocol, Rogue Nation, and this week’s new release, Fallout. Already a huge critical success (scoring 97% on Rotten Tomatoes), there’s no reason to think we won’t be seeing more in the future.

Awards
1 Empire Award (Scene of the Year (the bridge attack))
1 Empire Award nomination (Best Thriller)
5 Saturn Award nominations (Action/Adventure/Thriller Film, Actor (Tom Cruise), Supporting Actor (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Director, Special Effects)
3 Teen Choice Awards nominations (Action Adventure, Actor: Drama/Action Adventure (Tom Cruise), Actress: Drama/Action Adventure (Keri Russell))
1 World Stunt Awards nomination (Best High Work)

Verdict

This is where the Mission: Impossible series as we know it today begins, both stylistically (although the series never adopts a house style, the pure individuality of Brian De Palma or John Woo won’t be seen again) and narratively (while most of the plot points from 1 and 2 are never referenced again (bar an Easter egg or two), there’s stuff introduced here that’s still a major part of the series in Fallout). That said, it’s still very much a standalone movie (the series has never become reliant on continuity, though it looks like Fallout may change that somewhat).

And what of it as a film in itself, then? Well, kind of ironically, it has more action than the John Woo movie — there’s set piece after set piece after set piece. And I don’t mean that in a bad way, because they’re almost all phenomenal examples of suspense or action filmmaking. Though, it must be said, a mite too much of it is enabled by green screen, lacking the done-for-real extravagance of the films that follow. And there are a couple of exceptions to that “phenomenal” assessment: the Shanghai skyscraper heist, which feels like they knew the film was going on too long and so what should be a huge section is rushed, with the middle chopped out; and the climax, which has its moments but is rather underpowered, just a runaround in some houses.

That said, the finale does keep the focus on Hunt and his new wife, which is only fitting. This is the series’ most emotional and human film — all the stuff with Ethan and his home life/relationship is absolutely central to the movie; and the villain chooses specifically to mess with both Ethan’s protégé and his missus, making this the most “this time it’s personal” of the Missions. It isn’t even that concerned about its own big threat, making the Rabbit’s Foot the most MacGuffin-y MacGuffin ever. It’s never explained what it is — in fact, that’s even made into a bit of a joke in the penultimate scene. But we get the stakes because they have Benji give a theory about what it could be, so we know its potential. It’s neatly managed so that we believe this thing matters, but we remain focused on the characters instead of “what happens if they use the Rabbit’s Foot?” (Well, some of us do: according to Christopher McQuarrie, the lack of explanation didn’t go down well with test audiences, since when Cruise has taken it to heart that audiences like things to be explained.)

All in all, whenever I watch M:i:III I end up loving it more than I think I will — it’s an incredibly proficient, entertaining action-thriller. That I’d still rank it near the bottom of the franchise says more about the quality of the other instalments than it does the film itself.

The new Mission: Impossible, Fallout, is released in the UK today and in the US on Friday.

Mission: Impossible (1996)

The 100 Films Guide to…

Mission: Impossible

Expect the Impossible

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 110 minutes
BBFC: PG
MPAA: PG-13

Original Release: 22nd May 1996 (USA & Canada)
UK Release: 5th July 1996
Budget: $80 million
Worldwide Gross: $457.7 million

Stars
Tom Cruise (Top Gun, Minority Report)
Jon Voigt (Midnight Cowboy, Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2)
Emmanuelle Béart (Manon des Sources, 8 Women)
Henry Czerny (Clear and Present Danger, The Ice Storm)
Jean Reno (Léon, Ronin)
Ving Rhames (Pulp Fiction, Dawn of the Dead)

Director
Brian De Palma (The Untouchables, Snake Eyes)

Screenwriters
David Koepp (Jurassic Park, Spider-Man)
Robert Towne (Chinatown, Tequila Sunrise)

Story by
David Koepp (Death Becomes Her, Panic Room)
Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List, Gangs of New York)

Based on
Mission: Impossible, a TV series created by Bruce Geller.


The Story
When a covert mission goes sideways and the rest of his team are killed, agent Ethan Hunt is blamed for their murder. On the run from his CIA employers, he sets out to prove his innocence and bring the real culprit to justice.

Our Hero
Mission: Impossible may be meant to be a team exercise, but as most of them get killed we’re focused on surviving member Ethan Hunt, an exemplary agent who must figure out what happened and track down who’s responsible.

Our Villain
The CIA man, Kittridge, who thinks Hunt is responsible for killing his team and is determined to bring him in. Of course, Hunt’s innocent — so is Kittridge really behind it all?

Best Supporting Character
Needing a new team, Hunt recruits a couple of disgraced IMF agents. One is Luther Stickell, a stylish computer expert and hacker. Despite his initial doubts, he’ll become one of Ethan’s loyalest team mates.

Memorable Quote
Kittridge: “I can understand you’re very upset.”
Ethan Hunt: “Kittridge, you’ve never seen me very upset.”

Memorable Scene
Ethan and his team need to retrieve a computer file from the only place it exists: a highly secure room in the centre of CIA headquarters. Access is controlled by voice print identification, a six-digit access code, a retinal scan, and a double electronic key card — none of which they have. In the vault itself, security measures include sensors for pressure (anything on the floor sets if off), noise (anything above a whisper sets it off), and temperature (a rise of a single degree sets it off). All of which leaves Ethan with only one option: to lower himself in from the ceiling, staying calm and cool enough not to raise the temperature, while not making any noise — all while hoping the guy who works in the room doesn’t come back. The resulting heist scene is a fabulous bit of suspense moviemaking.

Memorable Music
Danny Elfman provides a good score for the main body of the film, but the shining star remains Lalo Schifrin’s main theme, as iconic a piece of spy-fi music as the James Bond one. The new version featured here wasn’t produced by Elfman, however, but by the less famous half of U2, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen. It was also released as a single and became a sizeable hit, reaching #7 in both the UK and US charts (where it received a gold certification) and even making it to #1 in some countries.

Technical Wizardry
The main title sequence is a modern do-over of elements from the TV series: a fast cut (even by today’s standards) montage of scenes from the film to come, plus a burning fuse, all scored by that updated version of the peerless theme music.

Making of
Jon Voigt, as pudgy “getting soft in his old age” Jim Phelps, was 57 years old when they made this film. For the new one, Tom Cruise learnt to fly a helicopter so he could do it all himself throughout a major stunt sequence, and actually performed hundreds of tricky HALO skydives for another major sequence, not to mention sundry other bits of running around and jumping off buildings — most of it while recovering from a serious leg injury. He is 55. How times change.

Previously on…
The original Mission: Impossible TV series was a popular and long-running part of the James Bond-provoked spy-fi craze of the ’60s. It was revived for two seasons in the ’80s. Although the film might look like a reboot, it kind of isn’t: there’s supporting material (such as the character bios on the film’s DVD and Blu-ray releases) that reconciles both TV series into the same continuity as the movie.

Next time…
Multiple never-less-than-entertaining sequels, starting with the standalone M:i-2, before becoming increasingly serialised through M:i:III, Ghost Protocol, and Rogue Nation. This summer’s sixth instalment, Fallout, promises to bring them all to some kind of head.

Awards
1 Saturn Award nomination (Action/Adventure/Thriller Film)
1 Kids’ Choice Award nominations (Favourite Movie Actor (Tom Cruise))
1 MTV Movie Award nomination (Action Sequence (for the train-helicopter chase) — it lost to Twister)
1 Razzie nomination (Worst Written Film Grossing Over $100 Million — it lost to Twister, again)

Verdict

Watching Mission: Impossible now, it’s funny that people used to regard it as unfollowably complex. I’m not saying the plot is straightforward, but if you pay attention then it’s all there. Obviously it can’t be that there were no complicated movies made before 1996, but I guess because at the time it was a summer blockbuster (not enough CGI or superpowers for that nowadays, of course) people didn’t expect to have to think about the story. Arguably it displays the kind of intricacy and complexity we specifically praise in spy thrillers, meaning the film has actually aged very well indeed. Well, it’s always been popular (it was the third highest grossing film of ’96), so I guess it just took a while for its reputation to catch on.

The world premiere of the new Mission: Impossible, Fallout, is in Paris today. It hits UK cinemas on 25th July and US theaters on July 27th. It’s not actually released in France until August 1st.

Mission: Impossible II (2000)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #62

M:I-2

Also Known As: M:i-2

Country: USA & Germany
Language: English
Runtime: 123 minutes
BBFC: 15
MPAA: PG-13

Original Release: 24th May 2000 (USA)
UK Release: 7th July 2000
First Seen: cinema, July 2000

Stars
Tom Cruise (Top Gun, Jack Reacher)
Dougray Scott (Ever After: A Cinderella Story, Enigma)
Thandie Newton (Besieged, Crash)
Ving Rhames (Pulp Fiction, Dawn of the Dead)

Director
John Woo (Hard Boiled, Face/Off)

Screenwriter
Robert Towne (yes, the author of The Most Perfect Screenplay Ever™, Chinatown)

Story by
Ronald D. Moore (Star Trek: First Contact, Battlestar Galactica)
Brannon Braga (Star Trek: First Contact, Star Trek: Enterprise)

Based on
Mission: Impossible, a TV series created by Bruce Geller.

The Story
When rogue IMF agent Sean Ambrose steals every sample of Bellerophon, the only cure to deadly man-made virus Chimera, his former colleague Ethan Hunt is assigned to get it back. His team includes Nyah Nordoff-Hall, Ambrose’s former lover, who Hunt must send undercover in the villain’s operation. Ambrose plans to blackmail Biocyte, the company behind Chimera, and potentially unleash the virus on the world — unless Hunt & co can destroy it first.

Our Heroes
Daredevil IMF agent Ethan Hunt is back, this time with floppy hair! Basically a one-man team, the film nonetheless nods to Mission: Impossible’s original team-based format by having him recruit thief Nyah Nordoff-Hall and his computer expert chum from the first film, Luther Stickell. There’s also pilot Billy Baird, but I’d completely forgotten about him until I looked up a plot summary.

Our Villain
A former IMF agent gone bad, Sean Ambrose therefore has access to some of the same skills and tech as Hunt, like those (basically magic) masks. Not so fond of dangling from ventilation shafts, though.

Best Supporting Character
For some reason Richard Roxburgh has always stuck in my mind as Ambrose’s South African henchman, Stamp. It was the start of a very successful few years for Roxburgh, in which he had leading roles in high-profile movies like Moulin Rouge, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and Van Helsing, playing Dracula in the latter, and was also Sherlock Holmes in a major BBC adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles. I guess the lack of critical success that greeted most of those is why he’s somewhat fallen off the radar since.

Memorable Quote
“Mr. Hunt, this isn’t mission difficult, it’s mission impossible. ‘Difficult’ should be a walk in the park for you.” — Swanbeck

Memorable Scene
At the sale of the cure, Ambrose’s henchman, Stamp, captures Hunt and drags him before his boss. As Ambrose gloats, Hunt can only mumble in protest because Stamp broke his jaw. With great glee, Ambrose unloads his gun into Hunt… and only then spots his little finger, which is missing its tip — just like Ambrose did to punish Stamp earlier. He approaches Hunt and pulls his face off to reveal the real Stamp, his mouth taped shut. Meanwhile, ‘Stamp’ is running off with the cure, and as the Mission: Impossible theme surges on to the soundtrack he whips his mask off to reveal (of course) Hunt. #owned.

Memorable Music
The rock version of the main theme, composed by Hans Zimmer and also turned into a song (a song! with lyrics!) by Limp Bizkit, was ever so cool at the time, at least to my teenage ears (I loved the entire soundtrack, actually). It all sounds terribly dated and turn-of-the-millennium now, but hey, that’s music and the ravages of time for you.

Technical Wizardry
For the much-trailed close-up shot where Ambrose nearly shoves a knife in Hunt’s eye, Tom Cruise — in a typical daredevil move — insisted a real knife be used and that it stopped just a quarter-inch from his eyeball. To achieve it with some degree of safety, that knife was attached to a cable that was carefully measured to ensure it wouldn’t, you know, half-blind a major movie star.

Letting the Side Down
“All of it!” Oh, hush, you.

Making of
John Woo’s final cut was 3½ hours long. The studio balked at this (understandably!) and ordered a final length of no more than 2 hours. According to IMDb’s trivia, “this could explain why there are so many plot holes and continuity errors in the theatrical cut.” I’ve never noticed those, personally, but now I’d be fascinated to see that longer version. Considering it’s 16 years later and the film isn’t well liked, I guess we’ll never get the chance.

Previously on…
Part of the James Bond-provoked spy-fi craze of the ’60s, the original Mission: Impossible TV series ran for seven seasons, was revived for two more at the end of the the ’80s, and then relaunched as a Tom Cruise film franchise in ’96. (That film narrowly missed out on a place here.)

Next time…
To date, three more sequels, with a sixth (at least) in development. The third also missed out on inclusion here, while the fourth and fifth are part of 100 Films.

Awards
2 Razzie nominations (Worst Supporting Actress (Thandie Newton), Worst Remake or Sequel)
2 MTV Movie Awards (Male Performance (Tom Cruise), Action Sequence (the motorcycle chase))
2 Teen Choice Awards nominations (including Wipeout Scene of the Summer)
[Thandie Newton was also nominated for Female Newcomer at the Blockbuster Entertainment Awards, British Actress at the Empire Awards, and Supporting Actress at the Image Awards. Take that, Razzie!]

What the Critics Said
“The first Mission: Impossible (1996) had a plot no one understood. Mission: Impossible 2 has a plot you don’t need to understand. It’s been cobbled together by the expert Hollywood script doctor Robert Towne out of elements of other movies, notably Hitchcock’s Notorious (1946) from which he takes the idea that the hero first falls in love with the heroine, then heartlessly assigns her to resume an old affair with an ex-lover in order to spy on his devious plans. […] If the first movie was entertaining as sound, fury and movement, this one is more evolved, more confident, more sure-footed in the way it marries minimal character development to seamless action.” — Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

Score: 57%

What the Public Say
“compared to the wildly complicated and almost infuriatingly labyrinthine plot of DePalma’s Mission: Impossible it seems like nothing is happening in M:I-2, but the plot here is actually pretty top-notch. […] what I once considered emotionally unsatisfying and intellectually sub-par now seems kind of fascinating. I still tend to not like plots that revolve around a man-made disease as a MacGuffin — I have no idea why, but they always seem lazy to me — but the Cruise/Newton/Scott love triangle holds some very honest beats […] Scott plays a very interesting, unique kind of villain, one I can’t entirely explain. But I think he succeeds in humanizing somebody who is written to be despicable. Scott’s tearful intensity when he learns of Thandie’s betrayal is almost sympathetic.” — Marcus Gorman, 10 Years Ago: Films in Retrospective

How M:I-2 Makes More Sense If You Consider It In a Different Context
“Fully asserting the series reboot mantra, M:I-2 eschews the original’s ethos in favour of […] traditional, near self-parodic Woo bombast (not enough for some fans, but there’s set pieces here that are among his very best). It’s often dopey, but then, to be fair, so are a lot of Hong Kong action films that don’t tend to get flak for that attribute, including Woo’s own action masterpieces made there. Fifteen years on and three more sequels later, it’s curious to observe how Woo’s film is even less like a traditional Hollywood action blockbuster than De Palma’s.” — Josh Slater-Williams, Vague Visages (the full piece has more analysis in this vein)

Verdict

M:i-2, as we used to call it, is pretty much everyone’s least-favourite Mission movie, a place only cemented by the two excellent instalments that have been released during this blog’s lifetime. To be honest, I’ve never really been sure why. It’s very much a John Woo movie, all overblown action and melodramatic stakes, and I’d be tempted to say that turns people off were it not for the love Face/Off receives. Personally I like his style, and I always thought it neat that the Mission series aimed to avoid having a “house style” by hiring distinctive directors for each instalment (a plan that went out the window almost as soon as it began thanks to tapping the bland J.J. Abrams for the third one, but hey-ho). For my money, M:I-2 has a strong storyline (as action-thrillers go), a threatening villain (particularly with his IMF-recruited ex-girlfriend undercover in his operation), and entertaining action sequences. For its genre, what more do you want?

#63 will be about… truth, beauty, freedom, love.

The Climactic Monthly Update for December 2015

Happy New Year’s Day, dear readers!

The quest for 100 films has little regard for it being the first day of a new year, however — it’s still the start of a new month, which means it’s time to reflect on the last. And as it’s the last month of 2015, to reveal just what my final tally actually was…


#183 Shaun the Sheep Movie (2015)
#184 Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)
#185 Terminator Genisys (2015)
#186 A Most Wanted Man (2014)
#187 Tomorrowland: A World Beyond (2015)
#188 Begin Again (2013)
#189 Escape from Tomorrow (2013)
#190 Le Mépris (1963), aka Contempt
#191 Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
#192 About Time (2013)
#193 Happy Feet Two (2011)
#194 Morning Glory (2010)
#195 Dreamgirls (2006)
#196 Aladdin and the King of Thieves (1996)
#197 AfterDeath (2015)
#198 Heaven Can Wait (1943)
#199 Slow West (2015)
#200 Dressed to Kill (1946)


  • #200 is the final Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes film. It’s taken me almost eight years to get through that series — longer than they took to make — so it seemed an appropriate choice for such a momentous number.
  • With four WDYMYHS films left, I managed to watch… one. That was Le Mépris. On the one hand, not watching 25% of my list is a bit of a failure. On the other, watching 75% of it means I’ve watched nine films this year that I should’ve seen but hadn’t got round to, and almost certainly wouldn’t’ve got round to without WDYMYHS. So it shall continue next year, though I’ve not decided on the selection process yet.
  • Remember back in my October update, when I mentioned re-watching the Veronica Mars movie to get 2014 finished? Bloody well didn’t bloody happen, did it! I’ll do it in January.
  • Apropos of not very much, the version of Rawhide sung by the elephant seals in Happy Feet 2 is awesome.


The headline news here is, of course, that this year I reached #200.

That’s my highest final tally ever, by 64 films — 47% higher than the next best year! You could add together my two poorest years (2009 and 2012) and you’d still be nine films short of 2015’s solo total. Anyway, more whole-year stats in my next post — for now, let’s just look at December.

This month I watched 18 new films. Most importantly, that exceeds this year’s ten-per-month goal, making 2015 the first time I’ve done it for a whole calendar year. (It’s also the 19th consecutive month.) It’s only the second-highest December ever, just behind 2008’s 19, but it does pass the December average (10.86; now 11.75) and beats December 2014’s total of 15, the 11th month this year to beat its previous equivalent (only November let the side down). In terms of 2015, it beats the monthly average of 16.67, and is actually the third highest month of the year, settling in behind the record-breaking feats of September and October.

I always end these analyses with a look ahead to the rest of the year… which is now over. So what for 2016? Having reached 200 films in a year, will I be seeking to equal it next year? Perhaps even to better it? I can confirm that…

No. No I won’t.

There are so very, very many films that I want to see — and they keep making more of the darn things! So many that even watching 200 new films isn’t enough to make a serious dent in the “to see” list. But there are also TV series I want to watch, books I want to read, audio dramas I want to listen to — not to mention movies I want to re-watch — and the film fixation engendered by a goal as vast as 200 new films in a year is counterproductive to doing anything but watching new films. So of course 100 Films will continue, and maintaining my ten-per-month streak would be nice, but if this time next year I’ve watched 200 new films and not watched many TV series, or read books, or listened to audio dramas, then I won’t be dancing a victory dance. Quite the opposite. Whatever the opposite of “dancing a victory dance” is.

In conclusion, my personal goal for next year is… well, 100 films — that’s why it’s the name of the blog. But I’ll be aiming to maintain my ten-per-month run, making the target 120+ Films in a Year. Plus lots of TV and books and audio drama and films I’ve seen before and special features and goodness knows what else. There still won’t be nearly enough time, anyway.


Thanks to the advent calendar, 44 films were reviewed this month(!) Here’s a full alphabetical account:



The 7th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
It’s not been a bad month, but there aren’t a great many stand-out options here. Although I hugely enjoyed the new Star Wars, and some other 2015 blockbusters I caught up on weren’t as bad as expected, the winner is easily best-of-year contender Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
It’s not been a bad month, but there are still a few three-star-level contenders here. In the end, I decided to pick the film I felt I was most likely to never bother to watch again, and while there are a few I’m not likely to ever revisit, the least likely was AfterDeath.

Best Use of Time Travel
Was it to visit a wondrous future city of joyous technological advancement? Or to spend more precious time with your dying father? Or to send a cyborg to protect your mother from your robot enemy before your best mate arrives to stop that enemy murdering her before you’re born then trying to disable said robot enemy before it’s ‘born’? Or to get Emilia Clarke naked? How about using it to make Rachel McAdams fall in love with you in About Time. That and the dad thing.

Best Theme Tune
Oh sure, there’s John Williams on Star Wars… but of course there was. And I’ve already said how much I liked Rawhide in Happy Feet 2, but it’s not functioning as theme tune there. So the winner is composer Joe Kraemer finally giving Lalo Schifrin’s Mission: Impossible theme a suitable big-screen rendition not once but twice in Rogue Nation.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
When you think about it, this should come as no surprise. In a month that featured 47 new posts (it sounds a little insane when you put it like that), the most-read is one that was a hive of activity for 25 days: the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2015.


…will be 31 days into 2016. Before all that, though, I’ll thoroughly look back and dissect 2015 — the largest year of 100 Films ever!

(Dog-loving regular readers will be pleased to know that (further to September’s update) Millie is still with us, and coping admirably with there already being a new Irish Wolfhound puppy in the family.)

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)

2015 #184
Christopher McQuarrie | 132 mins | Blu-ray | 2.39:1 | USA, Hong Kong & China / English, Swedish & German | 12 / PG-13

Mission: Impossible - Rogue NationIt’s an overcrowded year for spies on the big screen (as previously discussed), so I imagine Paramount were very glad they were able to make the last-minute decision to pull this fifth Mission: Impossible movie forward from its original post-Spectre release date to a summer debut, before audiences perhaps felt the genre was played out. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered anyway: for my money, Rogue Nation is the best James Bond movie released in 2015.

Beginning a year or two on from the last Mission, we find IMF’s star agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) investigating the Syndicate, a shadowy terrorist organisation that may not even exist. Hunt finds proof when he’s kidnapped by the Syndicate, escaping with the help of one of their operatives, Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson). Unfortunately, this is the moment when Washington politicking by CIA director Hunley (Alec Baldwin) sees the IMF shut down. So, naturally, Hunt goes on the run, determined to find and eliminate the Syndicate.

Rogue Nation has a nicely straightforward yet nuanced espionage-y plot, though its hard to accurately summarise its inciting incidents without giving too much away. Suffice to say, it’s not long before Hunt is reuniting with former IMF teammates Benji (Simon Pegg), Brandt (Jeremy Renner), and Luther (Ving Rhames), as well as forming an off-and-on alliance with double (or triple?) agent Faust. They’re aligned against the Syndicate, led by the excellently named Solomon Lane. He’s played by Sean Harris, on fine form as a very still, very quiet, very bespectacled villain. Even though you know the heroes are going to win, it becomes hard to see how they’re going to manage it, so powerful and threatening is Lane.

Crazy stuntsObviously this uncertainty is also thanks to the story constructed by writer-director Christopher McQuarrie. Some automatically dismiss the plots of the Mission films, saying they’re just an excuse to link some death-defying stunts performed by Mr Cruise. Although there may be an element of truth to that, I don’t think this is a bad storyline by any means. As I said, it’s fairly straightforward (there’s no mole in IMF! Hurrah!), but the intricacies keep it engrossing and keep you guessing. And anyway, the action sequences it ties together are first-rate. You’ve pretty much seen the opening plane stunt in the trailer — heck, you’ve seen it on the poster — but it’s still a thrilling opener. Then there’s the opera sequence, a massive logistical challenge for the filmmakers that they’ve crafted to perfection, making one of the most effective and memorable spy sequences for a long time; arguably, ever. There’s a rich pedigree of such scenes set in theatrical spaces, be they by Hitchcock or even in otherwise-poorly-regarded Bond films, but Rogue Nation’s sits proudly alongside them.

Unsatiated by creating two iconic scenes, McQuarrie and co set about offering even more: there’s an underwater sequence where Hunt has to hold his breath for fully three minutes while diving, replacing an underwater computer chip, and escaping; there’s a crazy car-vs.-bike chase through the backstreets of Casablanca; that’s followed by an equally manic bike chase along the motorways and windy cliff roads of Morocco… If the climax — a runaround through the foggy streets of London — feels a little underwhelming by comparison, it’s through no fault of its own. In my Ghost Protocol review I discussed the Mission films’ consistently lower-key finales, and Rogue Nation is no exception, although I’d contend the sequence works well enough that it’s still one of the franchise’s most effective climaxes.

Team improbableAs alluded to above, this is probably the most globetrotting Mission film yet: it starts in Belarus, before taking in Washington D.C., Cuba, Paris, Vienna, Casablanca, and London. It’s things like this that lead me to describe it as a James Bond film. There’s also the balance of a serious plot line with plenty of humour, the use of outlandish just-ahead-of-reality gadgets, and the fact that the series can’t retain a female cast member for more than one film (though that last one isn’t a positive). For all the effort Spectre made to bring classical Bond elements back into the fold, Rogue Nation arguably feels more like a classically-styled Bond movie. It’s not a faultless like-for-like comparison — one of Rogue Nation’s best points as a Mission movie is that the whole team are necessary to complete the mission, a defining factor of the TV series that many felt went awry in the movies, with their focus on Cruise — but the almost-indefinable sensation of this experience is Bondian. It’s not stealing that style, though: considering Ghost Protocol had it too, and Craig-era Bond has abandoned it for a ‘classier’ action-thriller mode, it’s something the M:I series has come to own.

Indeed, of late the Mission films have come to feel more like a series than they did previously. It’s now quite well known that every Mission film has a different director, a conscious choice on the part of star/producer Tom Cruise to give each film a unique flavour. To be honest, I’m not sure how well that’s worked. M:I-2 drips with John Woo’s personal style (to the distaste of many, as it turned out), and I suppose the first film is pretty Brian De Palma-y, but since M:i:III things have got distinctly less distinctive. That was helmed by J.J. Abrams, whose only stylistic point is “lens flare”; and it was his first feature, so he didn’t even have that yet. The fourth film was by Pixar’s Brad Bird, making his live-action debut. This fifth isn’t McQuarrie’s first film, at least, but it is only his third, and the first was 15 years ago and I’m pretty sure no one remembers it. Now, none of these chaps did a bad job — far from it, as Ghost Protocol and Rogue Nation are among the series’ best instalments, perhaps even the two very best — but I think you’d be hard pushed to tell the last three films came from different creative brains.

InterrogationSo on the one hand the recent news that McQ (as current regular collaborator Cruise calls him) is returning to write and direct the sixth Mission is a shame, because it breaks a twenty-year rule; but on the other, I’m not sure it matters. Plus, by taking on the dual role of sole writer and director, you could argue McQ’s Missions are the most auteur-y of the lot, even in spite of the lack of a terribly unique visual style. Which is all a very long-winded way of saying that I was a little disappointed when it was announced there wouldn’t be a sixth director for the sixth film, because I always thought that was a neat idea; but as the idea hasn’t actually had much effect, who better to ask back than the man who wrote and directed arguably the best Mission: Impossible film of them all?

Perhaps that’s because (according to Abrams in one of the special features) McQuarrie wanted this to be a sort of “greatest hits” for the M:I franchise. He’s done that pretty subtly — you don’t feel like you’re watching a string of ripoffs from the first four — but he has done it, with sequences and locations that recall the previous films, and some nice hidden Easter eggs for the hardcore, too. Technical attributes are equally up to scratch, with some lovely lensing by Robert Elswit. He shot most of it on 35mm film and it pays off, with an indefinable classy quality. The score is by Joe Kraemer, who I’d not heard of before, probably because the main thing he’s done is score both of McQ’s previous films. No matter, because his work here is top-notch, and certainly the most memorable Mission score I can, er, remember. Wisely, he’s taken the iconic main theme as his starting point, also used Lalo Schifrin’s other beloved M:I piece, The Plot, and mixed recognisable motifs and elements from these throughout his own compositions. It works marvellously, and helps contribute to not one but two of the best title sequences the Mission films have yet had. Yes, two, in one film. It feels kinda greedy, but I enjoyed it — when you’ve got a theme that good, why not highlight it twice?

Obligatory photo of Rebecca Ferguson in that dress with those legsThe cast are liable to get lost among all the grandiose goings-on in a film like this, so its a testament to the skilled team that’s been assembled over the past few movies that they absolutely do not. Cruise is Cruise — surely by now you know whether you like him or not. I always feel like I should dislike him, especially given his crazy real-life religious views, but on screen I find him very entertaining. Rogue Nation is no different. Hunt is on the back foot for a lot of the film, and Cruise is at his best when he’s playing someone who’s almost the underdog. He’s also a more talented comic actor than he’s normally given credit for, and that glimpses through here too. Most of the time comedic duty is handled by Pegg, of course, who provides a good foil as Hunt’s sidekick for much of the film. More surprising, perhaps, is the amount of humour Jeremy Renner brings. It’s much less obvious, dryer and more sarcastic, so the contrasting tone is fun. He’s paired with Ving Rhames for a long stretch, who returns wholesale after sitting out Ghost Protocol but for a cameo. The pairing may come up just short of feeling inspired, but nonetheless makes for an entertaining change. Elsewhere, Baldwin offers a neat, not-too-clichéd turn as the CIA ‘villain’, while Tom Hollander pops in for a funny cameo-level turn as the British Prime Minister.

But the real star of the film is Rebecca Ferguson, marking the second male-led action franchise this year where the movie has been stolen from the male hero by the female ‘support’. (The other, of course, is the much-discussed Furiosa in Fury Road.) Ilsa Faust is a fantastic character, whose allegiances are regularly questioned — every time you think you have her pinned down, something changes. She’s an immensely capable agent, but Ferguson also finds her vulnerable side when needed. She’s no damsel in distress — far from it — but she’s not just a cold man-but-with-boobs action heroine either. (Incidentally, it would’ve been very easy to illustrate this review with half a dozen pictures of Ferguson being awesome. But I resisted. Though I should’ve made room for this.) As an action movie leading man, and a producer who can shape the film how he wants, it’s to Cruise’s credit that he allows everyone else to share so much screen time — and to save him on more than one occasion too — and especially so when one of those characters is pretty much stealing the limelight out from under him.

Mission acceptedAs the fifth film in a franchise that has always carried a slight “pretender to the throne” air, Rogue Nation should feel played out and tired. Instead it seems fresh and invigorated, with a spot-on tone, likeable and fun characters, a real sense of jeopardy and menace (missing in so many modern action films), and some of 2015’s very best action scenes — and in the year of Fury Road, that’s really saying something. McQuarrie has already spoken about learning lessons from this so he can make the next one even better. I find that hard to imagine, but that’s his mission, and I choose to accept it.

5 out of 5

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation placed 1st on my list of The Ten Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2015, which can be read in full here.

This review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2015. Read more here.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)

2015 #15
Brad Bird | 133 mins | Blu-ray | 2.40:1 | USA, UAE & Czech Republic / English | 12 / PG-13

Mission: Impossible - Ghost ProtocolWith Bond going “real world” and gadget-free in the Daniel Craig era, and the Bourne series having blazed a trail of “we shot it all handheld and shaky and grainy so it must be real” veracity, it seems the task of providing audiences with a contemporary version of the spy action, just-ahead-of-reality gadgets, and larger-than-life spectacle that the Bond movies specialised in during the ’60s and ’70s, has fallen upon the Mission: Impossible franchise. For my money, it’s taken the baton with aplomb.

This fourth instalment finds Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) having to enact the titular protocol when IMF are blamed for a terrorist attack and disbanded. What that means is going it alone with a small team of loyal compatriots — newcomers Brandt (Jeremy Renner), who harbours a secret, and Jane (Paula Patton), who’s cowed by a failure in her previous mission, as well as returnee Benji (Simon Pegg), upgraded from office-bound tech-head in the last film to field agent tech-head here. They have to find the chap who did do the bad thing, and stop him from doing something even worse. Naturally that means trotting around the globe, engaging in adrenaline-pumping action sequences, and, the franchise’s speciality, performing vertigo-inducing stunts. For real, because, you know, Tom Cruise is crazy.

Naturally, the latter is the film’s most memorable asset — there’s a reason the Burj Khalifa sequence, where Cruise scales the outside of the world’s tallest building using only some magic gripping gloves, was all over the trailers and the only image on most of the posters (apart from the one I’ve used…) There are several great action sequences, but that — and the chase through a sandstorm that follows soon after — are the best. SandstormySomewhat unfortunately for pacing, they come halfway through. The climax is a mano-a-mano fight in an automated car park. It’s good, but feels underwhelming by comparison, with Michael “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” Nyqvist’s middle-aged businessman villain never feeling like a credible physical threat to Cruise’s action hero. (Someone like the other Mikael Blomkvist, on the other hand, would’ve worked.)

This is a bit of a recurring theme with the Mission: Impossible films now, though. M:I-2 had numerous big sequences but ended with a knife fight on a beach, while the third one climaxed with a run around some houses. They worked in their own way — 2, in particular, because the rivalry between Hunt and the villain is so thoroughly built up throughout the film that their final face-off matters — but here the villain is underdeveloped, the threat he poses pitched as a broad “end of the world” type thing for most of the film rather than something specifically tied to one man, so the one-on-one showdown doesn’t feel earned.

Elsewhere, the film works in a nice subversion of another of the series’ stock-in-trades — namely the insanely good masks, which were so vital to the plots of the last two films. Possibly realising their effectiveness couldn’t be topped, or just fancying a change, here a situation is engineered where they must go without. It also means Cruise and co stay on screen as their characters, rather than having another actor embody them for what turns out to be a tense, key sequence. Bonus.

GadgetsThere’s a host of other gadgets to be going on with, though. It may be a side effect of having the writer-director of The Incredibles at the helm, but the stuff they’ve dreamt up here is pretty cool. Okay, the plausibility is dubious… but not everything has to be super-real, does it? Can’t we have some actiony spy fun? I think we can; and it can be done without needing to apply the excuse of “well, the film’s basically a comedy, isn’t it?” that other (enjoyable, in their own way) films of the past decade-ish have used. The tone is clear right from the pre-titles, which feature one of the film’s best gadgets (no spoilers!), so I think it sets out its stall early enough. You’re not going to think you’re watching a moderately strait-laced movie only for an invisible car to turn up halfway through, put it that way. If you’re not on-board after the opener… well, there are plenty of Bourne and Bourne-a-like films to go back to.

Another aspect that may have been brought by the Pixar alum is a nice vein of humour. Most of it comes courtesy of Pegg, unsurprisingly, though Cruise’s ability to be light and amusing is one of his lesser-praised, but very able, qualities. It doesn’t undermine the action (as it does in some of the Moore Bonds, for instance) but adds welcome tonal variety.

Not all of Brad Bird’s decisions are to my liking, though. Reportedly, 25 minutes of Ghost Protocol were shot on IMAX. That’s about 19% of the film. On Blu-ray, the amount of the film afforded a Dark Knight-style shifting-aspect-ratio IMAX treatment is a whopping 0%. This was on the orders of the director, but it’s a shame. No, IMAX footage on a TV is not the same as watching it in an IMAX theatre, but releases like The Hunger Games: Catching Fire have proven it can still have a strong impact. I bet the Burj bits in particular looked stunning, and it’s a shame we’re not allowed to enjoy them in a form closer to how they were shot. What are you up to? Just hanging outStill, that’s a fault of the home entertainment release, not the film itself. In all other respects, Bird’s work is first-rate. I like that the series consciously changes director with each new film to provide new ideas and voices, but if they were going to break the pattern then Bird would’ve been a good guy to allow back (certainly a superior pick than the third film’s J.J. Abrams, anyway, who was originally slated to tackle this sequel too).

I’ve always been a fan of the Mission: Impossible series — indeed, the oft-derided second one is among my long list of favourite films — but Ghost Protocol I particularly enjoyed. After a third entry that sometimes bordered on becoming formulaic or rote (saved primarily by Philip Seymour Hoffman’s villain), this feels like a breath of fresh air. I was even tempted to go for a full 5 stars, but there are some bits that push the cheesiness too far (mainly the final poorly-green-screened scene), and the villain is underdeveloped. Ultimately these are minor complaints; fleeting niggles in a spy actioner of the highest calibre.

4 out of 5

The fifth impossible mission, subtitled Rogue Nation, is in cinemas tomorrow.

Ghost Protocol placed 19th on my list of The 20 Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2015, which can be read in full here.

Texas Across the River (1966)

2008 #58
Michael Gordon | 101 mins | DVD | PG

Texas Across the RiverTexas Across the River hardly seems to be a well-remembered film — the only DVD edition available (as far as I can tell) is a legally-produced DVD-R, clearly in the wrong aspect ratio. I only come to see it because a friend happened to have a VHS as a child, enjoyed it back then, and we managed to track down that DVD. [It was later released on UK DVD in 2012. (Amazon claim 2007, which is clearly BS.)]

And actually, it’s a fairly entertaining film. Little more than a comedic Western runaround, it sees Alain Delon — as a Spanish nobleman — trying to get to Texas to escape the Cavalry (led by Jim Phelps himself, Peter Graves) and marry his betrothed. On the way he enlists the help of Dean Martin and his Indian sidekick. Hilarity ensues!

OK, so it’s probably funnier if you watch it before your age hits double figures, but it still has enough entertaining moments and decent gags that its complete expungement from almost anyone’s consciousness seems unwarranted.

I don’t expect it’ll ever undergo some miraculous revival (it’s not that good), and perhaps is of primary interest as a curio for fans of Dean Martin, Alain Delon or Mission: Impossible, but it made me laugh — and, as I believe I’ve said before, that’s all I really ask of a comedy.

4 out of 5