'Mission: Impossible - Fallout' is an Exercise in Perspective
Is Mission colon Impossible dash Fallout a good movie? That's the most important question. We'll return to it in a minute. I can tell you this. After buying my first legitimate individual movie ticket in over a year (RIP MoviePass) to go see it, I can confirm that it is a Mission: Impossible movie. As Bill Hader/Stefon would say, this movie has everything: Luxurious locations, death-defying stunts, a briefcase or USB drive that contains top secret information, sorta predictable plot twists, nonsensical typing of code into a computer, car chases where the good guy narrowly avoids getting t-boned and the pursuing cops get hit, the thing where someone puts on a mask and a plastic strip over their throat and suddenly becomes a totally different person, and plenty of Tom Cruise open-palm sprinting. All this should come as no surprise. We're six movies into the franchise and would be sorely disappointed if we didn't get all of those things. I know for a fact I didn't buy a $12 matinee ticket on Wednesday to see no arthouse chamber drama. So how can I hold it to that standard? Basically what I'm saying is it's impossible to evaluate this movie the same way you would with, say, The Shape of Water. You have to evaluate it for what it is. What is it? It's an action movie that doesn't take itself too seriously. It is carefully developed piece of franchise IP management, valuing the ongoing series over any one movie. It is a creative process in which the star (who is also one of the most powerful producers) goes to the writer/director and says "I want to learn to fly a helicopter" and they have to write around it. It is a project funded largely by foreign (read: Chinese) money, so great care must be taken to appeal to overseas markets. It is a two-and-a-half hour BMW commercial, with intermittent Apple product placements sprinkled in. But it's also the best possible version of all of those things! The stunts are breathtaking, and for the most part real. The sets, location and some of the cinemetography needlessly stylish, and the sheer scope of the film is incredible. The side characters around Cruise are fantastic, from the always charming Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames to newcomers Henry Cavill and Angela Bassett, plus the return of Michelle Monaghan. We get literal hand-to-hand combat out of 60-year-old Alec Baldwin and a woman who steals every single scene she's in, being Rebecca Ferguson. In the action genre, it's sooo much better than anything Fast and Furious or Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is pumping out. So to answer our first and most important question, yes, under the proper criteria this is a really good movie. Because sometimes all you need, especially when you're forced to pay for your own ticket, is the assurance that you're going to get exactly what you came for. I hope Tom Cruise can open-palm sprint forever.
There's something so uncomplicated about movies whose premise is completely in the title. I'm thinking of Game Night, or Couples Retreat, or Escape from New York. Instantly, the audience knows exactly what they're in for. And even though there are a few high concept examples of this (Swiss Army Man, Being John Malkovich), for the most part these titles aren't exactly signaling high art. In terms of pulpy, campy, ridiculous fun, I'm not sure it gets any better than Speed. A bus goes over 50 mph, a bomb attached to the bottom is armed. Go below 50 mph, and it blows up. That's the whole thing! Throw Keanu Reaves and Sandra Bullock on the bus, Dennis Hopper and Jeff Daniels playing cat and mouse off the bus, and it's all you need! Plus, way before Tom Cruise was strapping himself to the sides of planes or hanging off the side of helicopters, Reaves was jumping from a moving car to a bus without a stunt man. If you're a fan of 1980's action movies and haven't seen this classic, you're missing out on a busload of fun.
Band of Robbers (2016)
I can't believe I'm giving up my greatest Netflix hidden gem, but here it is. Band of Robbers was released into a grand total of 11 theaters in 2016, with a box office gross of just over $20,000. Nobody has heard of this movie, let alone seen it. But that doesn't stop it from being an absolutely FANTASTIC adventure comedy. Obviously the action set pieces here come nowhere near Mission: Impossible considering the shoestring budget, but it shares some similar DNA to M:I in that it's a heist movie with great characters and plenty of plot twists. A modern reimagining of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, you'll get completely lost in the world of the film with this cast of entirely unknown actors (other than a hilarious appearance from Hannibal Buress). It's funny, exciting, and has real emotional stakes. Big studios are becoming more and more incapable of producing movies as good as this one. So go watch it, and then brag to your friends about how cool and hipster and sophisticated you are for watching movies as obscure as this one.