Mission: Impossible – Fallout

MI6Director: Christopher McQuarrie

Writer: Christopher McQuarrie

Cast: Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Rebecca Ferguson, Sean Harris, Angela Bassett

This summer’s Mission: Impossible – Fallout represents the completion of the second trilogy of the Mission Impossible franchise. The first trilogy’s films are simply titled with subsequent installment numbers (1, 2, and 3), but the second trilogy rejected the number scheme for a more ambitious title sequence (Ghost Protocol, Rogue Nation, Fallout). Not only did the naming scheme become more ambitious, but the stunt sequences and set pieces also got more impressive in each successive volume, and Fallout is no exception!

Mission: Impossible – Fallout finds our hero Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) dealing with the “fallout” that follows Hunt’s capture of Syndicate leader, Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). Lane’s group, The Syndicate, has reorganized with a terrorist group known as the Apostles, and their plot for creating a new world order through a series of catastrophic terrorist events is still in play. Guided by a chilling refrain, “The greater the suffering, the greater the peace,” the Apostles obtain three plutonium cores in order to construct three nuclear weapons. Hunt is now on a race against time with his loyal IMF team, Luther (Ving Rhames), Benji (Simon Pegg), and testosterone-tag-on August Walker (Henry Cavill), an agent forced on Hunt by CIA director Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett) to keep Hunt accountable. MI6 specialist, Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) rounds out the crew, now with loyalties firmly with Hunt and IMF’s camp; her identify crisis from Rogue Nation between MI6 and IMF is seemingly resolved. In fact, going back to the title, one can not overlook the fact that this film, in the original naming scheme, would have been MI6.

As I mentioned, this film has some of the most spectacular action sequences of the entire

mission-impossible-fallout-helicopter-chase-r8-1400x900
Just another day as Ethan Hunt

franchise, or perhaps of the action genre as a whole. I will not spoil anything, but I can not write a review without mentioning that there is a helicopter chase through the mountainous region of Kashmir that will blow you away. That’s right, a helicopter chase.

Stunt spectaculars aside, Fallout is most impressively a true sequel. This is the first Mission Impossible film to resurrect an old villain, and it is the first to carry the female lead into the next installment. This sense of connectedness gives the film more reach and significance in the series than the previous films, which could essentially be mixed up and played in any order. The success of this film’s story, pacing, and strength relies heavily on its writer/director, Christopher McQuarrie. McQuarrie has aligned himself with Cruise now on five separate projects as either writer, director, or both. More significantly as writer/director of Mission: Impossible – Fallout, he is the first to helm two installments in the series; an impressive feat in a series of films with directors like Brian DePalma, John Woo, and J.J. Abrams. The decision to stick with McQuarrie appears to be a good one, and to champion that, I would like to emphasize a quote from my 2015 Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation review that is just as appropriate today as it was then, “This time McQuarrie ‘rounds up the usual suspects,’ and puts together this year’s best action film that does not involve super powers or dinosaurs.” That’s right, 2018 is basically 2015 [brief pause while your minds explode!].

The film also gets a lot of help from its capable ensemble cast. Everyone pitches in and has a moment to shine. Cruise is obviously the central role, but he does not get to steal the whole show. The bumbling antics in the film’s first act between Cruise and Cavill are as entertaining and engaging as anything else in the film. I wanted to find fault with these scenes, but I couldn’t. Mission: Impossible – Fallout complicates the classic movie conversation about those sequels that outshine their originals. Now we have a fifth entry that was superior to its predecessors only to then be outdone by the sixth!

Two key thematic elements within Mission: Impossible – Fallout are time and destruction for the sake of improvement. The film seems to use these themes to meta-style reference itself in that Fallout while representing the culmination of a trilogy, feels like the beginning of something else. Fallout takes some massive swings at the way things have previously been in the franchise making way for some major shifts ahead in future missions that I hope Hunt and company choose to accept. A

Mission: Impossible – Fallout is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 27 minutes. There is no post-credits scene; this movie decided to have its ending be the ending!

Advertisements

Ready Player One

readyplayerone-tributeposter-highres-backtothefutureDirector: Steven Spielberg

Screenwriters: Zak Penn and Ernest Cline

Cast: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Simon Pegg, and Mark Rylance

Ready Player One is the highly anticipated adaptation of author Ernest Cline’s best selling novel. The film opens with a shot of Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), a high school student living in Columbus, OH in the year 2044. We are introduced to Wade as he navigates his way down from his trailer at the stacks, a futuristic “projects” where trailers are “stacked” on top of each other to conserve space due to the widespread poverty being experienced. Energy and environmental crises have rendered the world mostly back to the stone age with petroleum-fuel a thing of the past and poverty running rampant. One advancement has managed to proliferate through the classes however, and that’s the Online virtual world known as the Oasis. The Oasis is a place where everyone can escape their reality by entering a virtual space where they can be anyone and do nearly anything. All you have to do is log on to the Oasis, invent your avatar, and you’re in!

The Oasis is mostly an entertainment device, but it does serve many practical purposes as well. With the infrastructure of the real world crumbling, the Oasis has become a place of commerce, communication, and even education (although exploration of this concept is curiously missing from the film adaptation). The Oasis is the biggest thing in the world and it has made its creator, James Halliday (Mark Rylance), a trillioniare. However, Halliday takes ill, and with no heir or even true friend to designate his estate, he releases a statement that he has hidden an Easter egg, or hidden object, deep within the Oasis. Whoever is first to find the egg will inherit everything.

Wade, under his avatar Parzival is one such egg hunter, known in the film as a “gunter,” a highly problematic term, if you ask me. Wade along with his friends whose avatars Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), Aech, Daito, and Shoto are all attempting to seek out the hidden prize. This sets up an episodic adventure where Parzival travels through the Oasis searching for clues to lead him to various keys that help him unlock gates that will hopefully lead him to the egg. The catch is that in order to really play the game Halliday has laid out, it helps to know Halliday the man, which is to say you’d better know your 1980s pop culture, music, movies, and video games.

The antagonist of the film comes in the form of Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), the head of Innovative Online Industries (IOI), who wants to inherit and monetize the Oasis. Sorrento hires players to search for the egg on his behalf in exchange for suiting up their avatars with the best suits, armors, weapons, credits, and access possible. These sell-out gamers come to be known as “sixers” due to the fact that all of their avatar names are actually just a series of numbers that start with sixes.

So, what’s the verdict? As it happens all too often for many a film reviewer, I am placed in the curious position of having to evaluate a film adapted from a novel that I just adored. So, while my final grade will reflect my core value’s stance of whether the film itself is worth your money as mainstream moviegoer, I must first speak to how the film measures up to the book’s greatness.

First of all, Spielberg is an appropriate choice for envisioning this book as a film. His career and impact on pop culture is precisely what Cline celebrates in his novel, and he does get a few things right here. One scene based on the concept from the book called a “flicksync” finds the characters of the film transported into a well-known film as part of their journey towards the egg. The massively meta and fabulous poster campaign had me hoping this would play a larger role however. This scene captures the spirit of the book brilliantly while also changing things up for book readers and still pleasing non book readers. Additionally, Spielberg and screenwriters Zak Penn and Ernest Cline himself are very successful in their treatment of envisioning IOI and especially Sorrento who is portrayed brilliantly by Ben Mendelsohn. In fact most of the casting is quite good. Rylance is a very fine choice to play Halliday, and I daresay the film treatment of Sorrento’s eventual henchman iR0k (TJ Miller) is superior to the novel’s treatment. This can also be said for Art3mis who receives a more heroic portrayal in the novel than she perhaps had in the book.

That being said, the film mostly falls flat as an adaptation. The film’s focus diminishes the journey element that was so important to the book’s majesty, and instead simplifies the video game-centric quest plotline in favor of a cliché “resistance” storyline in the real world. Furthermore, the overall structure and complexity of the Oasis itself is marginalized. The crux of the novel is our understanding of this new environment as it unfolds. Its economy, its vastness, its rules, and most disappointingly its education system are all abandoned leaving the Oasis to appear cinematically as simply a game. I almost wish Spielberg had decided to take this project to Netflix or HBO in order to give it a longer play. Simon Pegg, who plays the Oasis’s co-creator Ogden Morrow, is also wasted, as much of his purpose from the book is left out leaving him quite flat as a character.

These gripes are clearly subjective, and Spielberg knew as well as anyone that many of these things had to be cut for a feature length film. Therefore, he did do one of the most bad-ass things a director of this film could do as a consolation, and that’s layer in tons of cinematic Easter eggs. There are numerous references to the various omissions I’ve just laid out all over this movie. It’s as if Spielberg is saying, “I know you love this book, but I can only include so much, so here’s a WarGames poster in the background and some fun Back to the Future imagery. The film’s ending, however is actually quite appropriate and rather clever. Some twists are implemented that work well, and overall there’s a lot to be entertained by in the final act. [Minor Spoiler Alert] However, those looking for that brilliant final “flicksync” in the end will be sadly disappointed, which really upset me; I mean the guy’s name is Parzival, how do you not go there!? [End of Minor Spoiler Alert] So here’s my take. This is a really fun movie overall. There are some great Spielbergian moments that play the nostalgia card, hard. However, the film does have its problematic moments regardless of your familiarity with the source material. What could have been a classic, instead is just kind of a pile of visuals with a story savagely butchered and left on life support. B

Ready Player One is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 19 minutes.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation PosterDirector: Christopher McQuarrie

Screenwriter: Christopher McQuarrie

Cast: Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Alec Baldwin, and Ving Rhames

A scene early in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (a title so dramatic, it requires both a colon AND a dash!), finds our heroes in Casablanca, Morocco – a city fairly iconic in American cinema lore.  In one shot Tom Cruise, reprising his role as Ethan Hunt for the fifth time, seemingly looks at the camera and gives one of those Tom Cruise smirky smiles that he has perfected over the past 34 years.  A smile that at least in this case seems to say to director Christopher McQuarrie, “This looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

And it just might be!  McQuarrie, most famous for his Oscar winning screenplay for 1996’s The Usual Suspects, has written three of Cruise’s most recent projects[*] and served as director for two of them, including this film.  This time McQuarrie “rounds up the usual suspects,” and puts together this year’s best action film that does not involve super powers or dinosaurs.

Kremlin Explosion Scene from Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
Oops!

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation begins right where Ghost Protocol left off.  The nefariously named Syndicate (gasp!), has managed to force the American government to basically dissolve the Impossible Missions Force (IMF) over that nasty Kremlin incident from Ghost Protocol.  Now the Syndicate has its eyes on…world domination, Mwa, ha, ha, ha, ha!  Yes, the Syndicate’s goal is to set off a series of global terrorist attacks, creating a need for an entirely new world order.   Now Ethan Hunt is a rogue agent who will stop at nothing to bring down the Syndicate and clear the name of the IMF.

Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
“Of all the torture chambers in all the towns in all                   the world, she walks into mine.”

But he can’t do it alone…although he tries.  Eventually, Hunt has to recruit his old team including William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames).  Hunt’s only lead is a blonde man with glasses named Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), whom Hunt believes is the director of the Syndicate.  When Hunt is surprisingly rescued from a torture chamber by a mysterious double agent named Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), Hunt’s mission is further complicated regarding her motives.  Is she MI6 or is she working for the Syndicate?  Questions abound as Hunt trots the globe searching for Lane, while also trying to prevent more catastrophes.

The Mission: Impossible franchise is as fascinating as they come.  Each entry is a fresh take starting with director Brian De Palma in 1996 and inviting a new director for every subsequent film: John Woo, J.J. Abrams, Brad Bird, and now Christopher McQuarrie.  The result is a series of films that while connected through narrative have a truly unique look and tone that makes for a really interesting set of films.  Of course, the critical unifying element is Cruise.  Cruise is a juggernaut, and he does not take it easy the fifth time around.  Rogue Nation opens with the much talked about scene featured on the poster above where Cruise hangs on to the exterior of an aircraft as it takes off.  The reason that this scene can be talked about and be used to open the film is that there are at least four more tremendously entertaining action stunts left to come that rival this opening scene’s intensity.  Too often films are ruined in the trailer; this is not one of them.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is an action film that harkens back to the golden age of adventure, invoking films like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Die Hard or as I mentioned earlier, even Casablanca.  However, the film it will be most compared to is the fantastic fourth Mission: Impossible film, Ghost Protocol.  As great as Rogue Nation is, it does fall slightly short of the magnificence of its predecessor and here’s why.  Ghost Protocol was a real ensemble film.  The stunts were incredible, but more importantly, every character was deeply involved.  Cruise, Pegg, and Ferguson are on full display in Rogue Nation, no doubt about it, but Renner and Rhames are given very little to do in this film.  And did I mention Alec Baldwin is in this film?  He is, but he’s there to wear a suit and say stuff like, “Where’s the proof of this so-called Syndicate?” or “I need Hunt captured by whatever means necessary.”  Someone does need to say lines like these, but they feel wasted on Baldwin, who is slowly devolving into a caricature of his Saturday Night Live appearances.  Let’s hope Mission: Impossible 6 or M:I 6, as it’s bound to be called, has more in store for these second tier characters because, “It doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”  Nonetheless, this film represents the best time at the theater so far this year.  A-

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 15 minutes.

[*] McQuarrie wrote and directed 2012’s Jack Reacher, wrote 2014’s Edge of Tomorrow, and served as writer/director on 2015’s Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.

The World’s End

ImageWell ladies and gentlemen, the Cornetto trilogy has finally come to a close.  Whether you knew it or not, director Edgar Wright and writer/actor/producer Simon Pegg teamed up in 2004 to create the most loosely connected cinematic trilogy of all time beginning with Shaun of the Dead, followed by Hot Fuzz in 2007, and culminating in 2013 with The World’s End.  The films share no characters, plot devices, settings, or  really any foreseeable connective quality.  What they do share is actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, passing references to a popular British ice cream treat called Cornetto, and a few surprises for die-hard fans.  Otherwise, these three films are as unrelated as could be.  What we’re left with is a social commentary wrapped up in an inside joke that unfortunately has no solid punch line.

The World’s End follows Peter, Andy, Oliver (also known as ‘Oman’ because of an unfortunate birthmark shaped like a 6 on his forehead), and ringleader Gary.  In 1990, Gary (Simon Pegg) and his four best friends attempted and failed to complete “The Golden Mile,” a 12 tavern pub crawl in their hometown of Newton Haven that ends at a particular pub named The World’s End.  Twenty years later, Gary’s life has paled in comparison to that fabled night two decades ago, and while he has not quite left the wild days of his youth behind, his friends have.  After recounting his happier days at a rehab session, Gary decides to reconnect with his reluctant friends and convince them to give “the Golden Mile” one more go.    

The World’s End does very well moving from point A to point B providing lively introductions to the characters and Hangover-style laughs as the group of friends reminisce over past antics and attempt to reclaim the passion of their youth.  Pegg’s performance as Gary is uproarious and sharp.  His reaction to Andy (Nick Frost) ordering a tap water rather than a proper pint is comic perfection, and his various monologues are quick witted, fast, and smart.  Unfortunately, the film hits a stumble moving from point B to point C and does a world class face plant on its way to point D. 

I want to preface this next point by saying that I do not think From Dusk Til Dawn is a good film, nor do I feel that The World’s End is a bad film, yet a comparison must be made.  From Dusk Til Dawn, the George Cloony/Quentin Tarantino vampire western, is notoriously critiqued in the following way: “It was pretty good until the vampires showed up.”  The World’s End will likely receive similar word of mouth, except replace “vampires” with “alien robots.”  The movie does not come entirely off the rails upon the revelation of alien robots, but the tone becomes uneven and “ludicrous” becomes a word that might be used to describe the events from that point forward.  Proponents of the film will cite Shaun of the Dead as a film that similarly injects a sudden influx of horror into an otherwise silly comedy.  However, the mixing of genres in that film works far better than in this one.  The “body snatching” alien storyline interrupts all of the progress made in the film’s first half and unfortunately leads to an incredibly unsatisfying conclusion.  

The World’s End is admittedly British.  By this, I mean that the humor, styling, and overall mood of the film is dry and at times very silly.  Fans of this type of humor know what I mean, and those who go through life saying, “I don’t understand what’s so funny about Monty Python and the Holy Grail” should stay miles away from The World’s End.  The film works somewhat well as a critique on the globalization of society where the boys find the pubs they once loved for their individuality becoming increasingly “starbucked,” resembling one another in every detail.   Additionally, Wright and Pegg have written a film that cleverly alludes to films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and John Carpenter’s The Thing in quite nuanced and ingeniously fresh ways.  Quite a bit works in The World’s End, but ponderous choices are made from time to time that will leave audiences scratching their heads.  Overall, The World’s End is funny but also preposterous, and it fails to successfully convey a satisfactory point about being middle-aged or the loss of youth, both of which are so strongly introduced in the film’s first half.  I for one would enjoy a film about these five guys rehashing the past and drinking – end of story.  There is no doubt that Wright and Pegg are a good team, and while Pegg is becoming more of a household name thanks to high profile roles like Scotty in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek films, he still has plenty of passion for his roots.  As they leave the “Cornetto” behind, I think strong collaborations are in store for the future.  B-

The World’s End is rated R and has a running time of 1 hour and 49 minutes.  Aside from Pegg and Frost, the cast also features some interesting cameos (some more obvious than others) as well as Martin Freeman (currently playing Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit films), who successfully revives the phrase “WTF,” and Rosamund Pike (soon to be seen in David Fincher’s Gone Girl) who successfully revives the phrase “oh crumbs.”