Thursday, January 05, 2012

Mission Impossible: Believing Top Gun as a secret agent

I actually don't have a problem with Tom Cruise. I could care less if he's the type of guy who bounces on couches, has a non-Christian religion, and has an interesting tendency to marry women three times taller than him (though that may actually earn him some points in my book)... but, he's known for working WITH the writers and directors (from what I can tell) to make a good film. No wonder people still want to work with him.

BUT.... I always have difficulties seeing him as a secret agent in "Mission Impossible". Dunno why. Is it the script? The direction? The perfect hair and grooming while dodging bullets?

In any case, last night I saw Brad Bird's "Mission Impossible 4" (I refuse to cave in to the trend of NOT numbering sequels. If it's a sequel, be proud of it, dammit! Give it the dignity of a Roman numeral!)--- mainly because I've heard it's the best of the bunch, by far, and many exalt Brad Bird's name.

(I tip my hat to Brad Bird, being an animation director first, but I admit I'm the only human being on the planet that was underwhelmed by "Iron Giant" and "The Incredibles".)

IS it the best of the bunch? And--- can this post tie into why I have issues with Cruise as a secret agent?

Well....cut to the chase- YES, I think it's far better than JJ Abrams'(the guy who did an extremely enjoyable brainless and philosophy-free reboot of Star Trek) Mission Impossible 3- which knew how to grab your interest and keep a film moving....but I'll be damned if I can remember half of the sequences in the film.

The film is a bit longer (and a little more convoluted) than it needed to be, but there are some extremely memorable (and clever) set pieces that feel very fresh. The Russian prison break sequence at the beginning and the dual setups/face-offs at the top of the Dubai building were especially 'fresh' for a rather jaded action moviegoer like myself.

So, there are bits that made me go: "hmm...I've never seen that before done in that way- AND entertaining!" So, kudos for that.


But, it was a distraction from the Tom Cruise/Ethan Hunt* (Speaking of Ethan Hunt- it's a character last name I've never been crazy about. Roddenberry's "Andromeda" had Dylan Hunt as a character name for its lead, and it bugged me there, too. Maybe it sounds too close to an obscenity for my comfort. But maybe that's just me) storyline.

So long as the action moved and some fresh situation was introduced, I was engaged- but pretty much on a superficial level. Abrams' MI:3 got you engaged by having a great villain in the character played by the fantastic Phillip Seymour Hoffman (a character actor who actually would be far more interesting as the secret agent hero imo and Cruise as the villain).... but Brad Bird's version gives you fresh set pieces, even as Tom is just a good looking chess piece that moves around the board in an interesting fashion.

When he stops moving, though, and it's about the human drama--- and I'm asked to REALLY believe he's a secret agent with a Tom Cruise face....then my interest goes more to who's burning the popcorn in the lobby, as opposed to what's onscreen.

Not necessarily Tom's fault. Or maybe it is. Maybe he should have adopted a different look, like he did in the magnificent "Tropic Thunder" film:

Still, I have to admit that of all four Mission Impossible films, the Brad Bird and the John Woo-directed one I enjoyed the most. (MI:2)

Now, I know that a number of die-hard "Mission Impossible" fans hated the second one and felt that slow-motion pigeons and physics-defying motorcycles had no place in a "Mission Impossible" film--- but to me, John Woo was flavoring a Mission Impossible film HIS way--- unrealistic, dreamlike, ridiculous, and yet oddly beautiful at the same time.

While his version may have lacked the dark edge of some of his better films (His Hong Kong films, "A Better Tommorrow", "The Killer", and "Hard-Boiled"--- and in the US: "Face-Off" and I'll argue even the Van-Damme one whose name I forget)--- I found it highly entertaining--- and I bought Cruise as a secret agent in the Woo version, because EVERYTHING was hyper-stylized there. Even the pigeons look handsome in a John Woo film., what's my point creatively?

My point is (I suppose).... if you make a secret agent film- if you're going for realism, then let your star actor look a little scruffy. Tell him he can stop clipping his nose hairs and eat a few extra fries now and then before filming.... like real secret agents do. (Yes, we're assuming that I actually have inside knowledge about the grooming habits and digestive tracts of genuine secret agents)

If you're NOT going for realism--- go for broke. Gimme the cool secret agent cars that can transform into flying robots, evil demonic pigeons that can fire lazers out of their eye sockets, fembots that have multiple interchangeable eyebrows that can cut diamonds....well, you get the picture.

I'm NOT going to be on the edge of my seat worried about fake nuclear bombs that may destroy a fake United States. Give me a real threat like wiping out a beloved supporting character you made me care about on screen and make me feel like the villain HAS to be stopped. Or, evil demonic pigeons. Colorful ones with big, terrifying feet the size of Arizona.

Otherwise, you're going to bore me with your fake threats and I'm just going to sit in my theatre seat thinking about the bad economy and the burning popcorn in the lobby.

Now, THAT's scary.

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