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94. Mission: Impossible – Fallout (#166) – This Just In

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and with special guests Graham Day and Luke Dunne, This Just In is a subset of The 250 podcast, looking at notable new arrivals on the list of the 250 best movies of all-time, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Christopher McQuarrie’s Mission: Impossible – Fallout.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 166th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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“A Bunch of Grown Men in Rubber Masks Playing Trick or Treat.” Mission: Impossible – Fallout and Good Old-Fashioned Espionage Fun…

One of the most striking aspects of Mission: Impossible – Fallout is how thoroughly and how completely it rejects the idea of morally compromised blockbuster protagonists.

The Mission: Impossible series has always had a bit of an auteur quality to it, with individual writers and directors bringing their own styles to bear on a given installment. The original is very much a Brian dePalma film, leaning heavily into themes of identity and Hitchcockian tension. The second is very much a John Woo film, complete with slow motion black leather and white doves. The third is a J.J. Abrams film that comes in and very consciously tweaks the formula while drawing attention to its own plot mechanics. The fourth is a string of incredibly impressive and kinetic action sequences strung together with Brad Bird’s patented sense of pacing and spectacle.

However, there was some tension when Christopher McQuarrie was recruited to direct the fifth film in the franchise and returned to direct the sixth. McQuarrie is primarily known as a writer rather than a director, with only a handful of director credits to his name. McQuarrie doesn’t necessarily have a distinctive style, although he has a long-standing relationship with Cruise from his work as director on Jack Reacher and as writer on Valkyrie and The Mummy. However, in a high-stakes action series, there was always a question of what McQuarrie could bring to the series to put his own distinct slant on the series. Whether he has or not is still a matter of heated debate; some would argue that Mission: Impossible is an ode to Tom Cruise as auteur or to the stuntman as auteur.

That said, there is a sense that McQuarrie is approaching the material in his own unique way. Perhaps reflecting his own background as a writer, his two Mission: Impossible films tend to play rather heavily with the idea of what a Mission: Impossible film actually is, even if they aren’t quite as ponderous or self-conscious as the recent James Bond films. McQuarrie’s scripts for his Mission: Impossible films are decidedly writerly in a way that Mission: Impossible II and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol are not, and in a markedly different manner than Mission: Impossible III. In fact, arguably the biggest issue with Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation was that McQuarrie was too writerly, working too hard to sell the idea of Ethan Hunt as a compulsive workaholic.

Fallout perhaps gets the balance right. A large part of this is down to the careful structuring of its action sequences to build a sense of propulsive momentum. Most Mission: Impossible films tend to peak in the middle; the dangling sequence from Mission: Impossible, the Vatican sequence and bridge raid in Mission: Impossible III, the skyscraper climb from Ghost Protocol, the opera sequence and underwater dive from Rogue Nation. Instead, barring the spectacle of the HALO jump, the set pieces in Fallout constant escalate. They ramp up; the bathroom brawl, the Paris motorbike chase, the two-level urban pursuit, all building to the three-thread helicopter climax.

However, part of that is undoubtedly down to the fact that McQuarrie seems to fundamentally understand how a Mission: Impossible film works, and so weaves it carefully into the plot. Fallout superficially resembles a modern franchise blockbuster in a number of ways; the pulsing Lorne Balfe score, the darker and edgier teases, the heightened sense of continuity, the ridiculous escalated stakes, the crosscutting climax. However, all of these elements serve to emphasise the relative simplicity of Mission: Impossible as a series, and to celebrate what distinguishes it from contemporary blockbusters rather than attempting to close the gap.

The Mission: Impossible films seem relatively old-fashioned as far as blockbuster franchises go. They are released at a fairly steady pace, but with significant gaps between films. There is always relatively little gossip or hype around them until they actually arrive. There are seldom any casting rumours. There are no hardcore fans wondering how this instalment will fit within an established continuity. There is no post-credits teaser to set-up the next installment. Each film has a markedly different tone instead of enforcing a consistent house style across the films. It is possible for audiences to dip their tow into a particular film in the franchise without having to do any real homework.

More than that, they are a rare modern franchise that seems to be driven as much by star power as by the intellectual property. This may be largely down to how Brian dePalma adapted Mission: Impossible for the big screen in 1996, in the era before X-Men and Spider-Man effectively changed the blockbuster landscape. dePalma approached Mission: Impossible not as a sacred “mythos” to be adapted to screen with fidelity and delicacy. Instead, dePalma treated Mission: Impossible as a springboard to crafting his own decidedly esoteric psychological espionage thriller. There are elements of the original Mission: Impossible that can be traced back to the original show, but it is about as faithful to the source material as Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman: Returns.

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Non-Review Review: Jack Reacher – Never Go Back

It is a strange experience, to watch one’s action hero icons grow up.

Tom Cruise is approaching fifty five years of age, although Jack Reacher: Never Go Back convincing places his character in his “mid-forties.” Watching the film, this feels entirely reasonable. Cruise is still a lean, mean, action-film-making machine with a dynamism that would put many younger stars to shame. If Tom Cruise isn’t in peak physical condition, he cannot be far off. Watching Never Go Back, it is not Cruise himself that gives the game away. The leading man is as limber as ever, energised at just the thought of another impressive stunt sequence.

You know where to Reacher me, if you have to.

You know where to Reacher me, if you have to.

It is the memory of Tom Cruise that gives the game away. Studies suggest that the peak age for cinema attendance is still somewhere between eighteen and forty. Tom Cruise would have been headlining films long before many modern movie-goers started attending the cinema with any real frequency. From Risky Business to Legend to Top Gun, Cruise has been a cinematic fixture for over three decades. That is a remarkable accomplishment, serving as something of a cultural constant.

For most of its runtime, Never Go Back feels very much like a middling demonstration of Cruise’s action movie bona fides. Like Jack Reacher, this is a standard actioner without the confident direction that has elevated Tom Cruise’s best work of the past few years. However, Never Go Back comes alive in those fleeting moments where it brushes against the idea of its leading man facing adulthood, positioning itself as a weird movie about a nineties action movie hero who inexplicably finds himself saddled with a makeshift family.

Literal life line.

Literal life line.

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Non-Review Review: Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation moves like the clappers.

The movie speeds along through a selection of impressive stunt work and setpieces, constantly ramping up the tension and raising the stakes. The threat is constantly larger, the game ever more deadly. The film escalates and escalates, to the point where foreign heads of state are nothing more than pieces on a chessboard, fodder for impressive action sequences and swift double-crosses. In a way, this is the approach that made Mission: Impossible III and Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol taken to its logical conclusion. Momentum is key.

Cruising...

Cruising…

However, there are points where it feels like Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation hits the limit of this approach – that it serves as a control case to demonstrate just how far you can push this sort of suped up storytelling without breaking the emotional tethers that hold all this together. There are several major emotional beats in Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation that simply don’t land because the film has never eased its foot off the gas long enough to develop any of its characters beyond familiar archetypes.

This is perhaps the biggest problem with the film, but writer and director Christopher McQuarrie is shrewd enough that he never lets it get entirely out of hand. If the movie’s biggest emotional moments never have the necessary punch, that is not enough to sink the film; there is always another big action setpiece or another reversal or another tense thrill ride waiting after this underwhelming character beat. Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation might move so fast that it seldom has room for its characters, but it also moves so fast that this is seldom a fatal flaw.

Winging it...

Winging it…

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Non-Review Review: The Edge of Tomorrow

As with Oblivion, the last “Tom Cruise in the future” blockbuster, The Edge of Tomorrow feels like a gigantic big-budget episode of The Outer Limits. It’s low on character and high in concept. The film moves fast enough to gloss over the assorted problems that come with a typical time travel narrative. The script is witty enough to keep the audience engaged, and Tom Cruise is solid enough leading man to hold it all together.

The Edge of Tomorrow is wonderfully enjoyable high-concept thrill ride, and one of the stronger offerings of the summer so far.

It's not the end of the world...

It’s not the end of the world…

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Non-Review Review: Oblivion

Director Joseph Kosinski wears his science-fiction interests on his sleeve. Tron: Legacy was obviously an update of an eighties science-fiction cult classic, and Oblivion feels like another form of pulpy homage. At its best, Oblivion feels like a spiritual successor to those wonderful cult science-fiction movies of the seventies and eighties, by way of classic version of The Outer Limits. Oblivion isn’t the strongest piece of science-fiction I’ve seen this year, nor the most ambitious, nor the most intelligent.

The movie is full of twists and turns, but few that any genre aficionado will fail to see coming. Instead, the movie largely works because it feels like an affectionate homage to those old-school post-apocalyptic pulpy sci-fi adventures. It’s cinematic nostalgia, but it’s lovingly crafted and skilfully rendered. Kosinski might not be the best storyteller working in the business, but he has a wonderful eye and keen sense of how to construct a beautiful scene.

On top (what remains of) the world...

On top (what remains of) the world…

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12 Movie Moments of 2012: We Built This City (Rock of Ages)

As well as counting down the top twelve films, I’m also going to count down my top twelve movie related “moments” of 2012. The term “moment” is elastic, so expect some crazy nonsense here. And, as usual, I accept that my taste is completely absurd, so I fully expect you to disagree. With that in mind, this is #12

Rock of Ages was not a terrible film. It was also not a great one. It had a lot of fundamental problems holding it back from any sort of consistent. The film didn’t seem to know quite when it was camping it up to eleven, when it was taking itself too seriously, or when it was approaching near-critical levels of irony.

Except…

When the cast broken into a medley of We Built This City and We’re Not Gonna Take It. It’s the only point in the film when it seemed like everybody involved grasped the ridiculous irony of basing a jukebox musical around the concept of rock ‘n’ roll’s refusal to sell out. Most of Rock of Ages was silly, enjoyable, hypocritical nonsense. With We Built This City, for about a minute, Rock of Ages seemed just a little bit smarter than the rest of the film might have you believe.

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