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Non-Review Review: Mission – Impossible: Fallout

Mission: Impossible – Fallout has the best third act of any blockbuster in years.

To be fair, the first two acts are highly enjoyable on their own terms, with writer and director Christopher McQuarrie building and maintaining momentum across the film’s near-two-and-a-half hour runtime. As expected of the franchise, Fallout is peppered with memorable set pieces that push the plot along with an endearing commitment to in-camera action set-ups, impressive stunt choreography and ambitious imagination; skydiving through a thunderstorm, a brutal bathroom brawl, a daring mid-movie motorcade abduction, a three-dimensional topographical pursuit.

Snow escape.

While all of these elements work well, with the bathroom brawl in particular serving as a worth addition to the franchise’s set piece canon, the final act of Fallout is a masterclass in blockbuster film-making. It is a genuinely dizzying piece of spectacle, a soaring accomplishment that manages to ratchet up the suspense for the better part of forty minutes, making excellent use of an ensemble in close geographic proximity but in very different situations. McQuarrie skilfully understands the rhythm and the tempo of the scene, crosscutting beautifully between the various strands to sustain the tension.

Fallout is not the best film in the Mission: Impossible franchise; it isn’t quite the all-rounder that Mission: Impossible III was, and it lacks the gleefully demented sustained adrenaline rush of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. However, it is a testament to the remarkable and sustained quality of the franchise, and the best movie of the summer to this point.

Just dive right in…

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The Dark Knight Rises (and Falls) in 2016

As it draws to a close, there has been considerable reflection on the fact that 2016 has been a very “strange” year.

Of course, “strange” is perhaps a polite way of phrasing that sentiment. “Harrowing” might be another. “Depressing” could also fit. The year has been physically and emotionally draining for virtually everyone. It was the year that audiences around the world bid farewell to talents as diverse as David Bowie, Prince and Leonard Cohen. When it was determined that December 2016 would receive a “leap second”, it felt almost like an insult. Why should 2016 last one second longer than it absolutely has to? (Not that 2017 promises to be better.)

The hole in things.

The hole in things.

However, the biggest shocks of 2016 were political. Brexit and the election of Donald Trump shook the world to its core, and not just because the pollsters somehow failed to predict them. Those public votes were seen as stern rejections of liberalism and progressivism, of an angry and disenfranchised class striking back at what had been seen a disconnected and aloof elite. It was presented as a strike back against the establishment, against vested interests, an expression of rage – whether racial or economic.

Some of the best films of the year helped to capture that sense of anxiety and resentment. The Hateful Eight suggested that perhaps the United States had never reconciled itself following the end of the Civil War and perhaps it never would. Green Room suggested that there was still a primitive savagery lurking just off the main roads, nestled snugly in the heart of the country. The Girl With All the Gifts dared to suggest that those who reacted with panic and fear to change were likely to find themselves consumed by it.

Everything falls apart.

Everything falls apart.

However, the movie that most successfully embodied 2016 was not released in 2016. It was released four years earlier. That film was Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, the conclusion to his groundbreaking Batman trilogy of films. Batman Begins had been released in 2005, and its meditations on fear made for a potent superhero story in the midst of the War on Terror. The Dark Knight was released in 2008, and seemed the perfect film to close out the Bush era. It was even described as “the first great post-Sept. 11 film.”

In some respects, The Dark Knight Rises was lost on its initial release. It seemed rather out of place, with audiences unsure how best to read the film. It was not the sequel that anybody had been expecting. Indeed, it seems fair to observe that it was not the sequel that Christopher Nolan would have been expecting as he worked on The Dark Knight. That had been a crime epic with political undertones. The Dark Knight Rises was a revolutionary epic and war movie, an odd combination for a film released in 2012. And yet it feels perfectly in step with 2016.

"Okay, maybe Batman vs. Superman wasn't everything that it could have been."

“Okay, maybe Batman vs. Superman wasn’t everything that it could have been.”

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Daredevil – Regrets Only (Review)

This month, we’re doing daily reviews of the second season of Daredevil. Check back daily for the latest review.

And, just like that, the season’s middle act runs into trouble.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the second season of Daredevil is how carefully and meticulously the season is structured. Producers Doug Petrie and Marco Ramirez have adopted a very clear three-act structure to the season, and great care has been taken to treat the year as a thirteen-episode origin story for the Punisher. Even within that, there is conscious mirroring and reversals that rely on the show reflecting its own continuity back at itself. For example, Frank addressing a defeated Daredevil in New York’s Finest is reflected in both Penny and Dime and .380.

Who punishes the Punisher?

Who punishes the Punisher?

There is great attention to detail, very careful craftsmanship. The actual plotting of the arcs on an episode-by-episode basis might not be particularly robust, but there is a definite and very precise plan laid out. However, all this delicate craftsmanship belies the fact that this structuring is built around a story with several beats missing or repeated. The second season of Daredevil is laid out like a three-act superhero story, but with the biggest issue being the nature of the story itself. There are missing structural elements that leave the formula feeling hollow.

The second season of Daredevil might consciously aspire to be a televisual version of The Dark Knight, but it actually lands somewhere closer to The Wolverine. And not just because it is a superhero love story that pits its protagonist against an assortment of ninjas.

The name's Murdock. Matt Murdock.

The name’s Murdock. Matt Murdock.

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Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo’s Run on Batman – Death of the Family (Review/Retrospective)

23rd July is Batman Day, celebrating the character’s 75th anniversary. To celebrate, this July we’re taking a look at some new and classic Batman (and Batman related) stories. Check back daily for the latest review.

In many respects, despite the massive hype that it received and the gigantic crossover that it spawned, Death of the Family is structured as an anti-epic. The triumphant return of the Joker to the world of Batman over a year into the “new 52” instead turns into a deconstruction and criticism (and arguably a rejection) of the character. Sandwiched between Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s much larger and more ambitious epic Batman stories, Death of the Family is a story about how small the Joker really is.

In many respects, Death of the Family reads best as the story of a collapsing relationship, where one partner refuses to deal with the fact that the other has outgrown them.

Ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?

Ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?

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Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo’s Run on Batman – The Court of Owls, Night of the Owls & The City of Owls (Review/Retrospective)

23rd July is Batman Day, celebrating the character’s 75th anniversary. To celebrate, this July we’re taking a look at some new and classic Batman (and Batman related) stories. Check back daily for the latest review.

The “new 52” was a rather polarising experiment.

Claiming to restart their entire universe from scratch after the events of Flashpoint, DC comics claimed the initiative would make comic books more accessible to the masses. Without decades of continuity to block access, new readers would be more likely to try to get into these sorts of comics. The decision to effectively start from scratch has been controversial – arguably compounded by the fact that writers like Geoff Johns or Grant Morrison were allowed to carry their work across the continuity reboot.

Swinging into action...

Swinging into action…

The team of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are among the longest serving of the “new 52” creators. The pair have remained on the flagship Batman book for three years, longer than the vast majority of creators recruited to help relaunch the DC universe back in September 2011. There’s a wonderful consistency and enthusiasm to their work, and it seems like the two have a very clear vision of where they want to take Batman, one of the characters with the most complex relationship to the re-launch.

In many ways, The Court of Owls can be read as a meta-commentary on Batman’s position in the wake of Flashpoint, reflecting on the awkward relationship between the potential for novelty and the demand for familiarity.

Everything burns...

Everything burns…

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Spider-Man: Reign (Review/Retrospective)

This April, to celebrate the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, we are taking a look at some classic and modern comics featuring Spider-Man (and friends). Check back daily for the latest review.

Spider-Man is not Batman.

This really should be self-evident, but it doesn’t seem to be. The biggest problem with Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man was that it wasted a lot of time telling audiences an origin story they all knew and had last seen a decade earlier. The second biggest problem was that the movie seemed to want to be a Batman film. There are a variety of tropes and conventions that work much better in a Batman story than they ever will in a Spider-Man story, and vice verse.

Unfortunately, The Amazing Spider-Man is far from the only Spider-Man story to make this mistake. Spider-Man: Reign, written and illustrated by Kaare Andrews, is essentially an attempt to use Spider-Man to tell another version of The Dark Knight Returns. It goes about as well as you might expect. (That is: not at all.)

Swinging through the night...

Swinging through the night…

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Gotham Central – On the Freak Beat & Corrigan (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of The Dark Knight Rises, July is “Batman month” here at the m0vie blog. Check back daily for comics, movies and television reviews and discussion of the Caped Crusader.

If you ask me, Gotham Central is the highest quality Batman title that has been published in quite some time – if not the most consistent Batman comic book ever published. These final two volumes contain the second half of Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka’s celebrated forty-issue exploration of life within the Gotham City Police Department, providing one of the freshest and most compelling comic book stories ever told in either of the two major comic book publishers. Essentially the story of the ordinary men and women stuck in the superhero world of Batman, it’s a genuine comic book classic.

Taking a shot at the Batman…

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