"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

© all material on this website is written by Michael McCaffrey, is copyrighted, and may not be republished without consent

Mission Impossible - Fallout: A Review

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***THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars              

Popcorn Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT. This is a rather absurd and relentlessly inane take on the tired old action movie formula.

Mission Impossible - Fallout, written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, is the sixth film of the franchise and like all the others tells the story of Ethan Hunt of the Impossible Missions Force as he fights to save the world. The film stars Tom Cruise as Hunt with supporting turns from Henry Cavill, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg and Rebecca Ferguson.

I have seen some of the previous five Mission Impossible films, I do not actually remember how many of them I have seen as they all blend into one gigantic ball of action, but I know for sure I saw the first (which was decent) and second (which was dreadful), and then the one where Tom Cruise interminably runs along canals in China. I would have skipped this newest member of the franchise except for two things....one - I have MoviePass so I could basically see it for free...and two - I had a conversation the other day with a friend and he said that he heard that it was a really good movie and was the "Dark Knight" of the series. This was high praise indeed, for Dark Knight is the Everest of superhero movies. So...for those reasons I ventured out to the cineplex to see Tom Cruise ply his trade.

Mission Impossible - Fallout is a weird movie and that is evident from the get go. During the opening credits they play the highlights of the movie that they are about to show you...this strikes me as incredibly, incredibly strange. I mean, why in the hell are the filmmakers basically showing us a commercial for the film we already bought a ticket to? Also...why are they showing us everything that happens in the entirety of the movie during the first five minutes?

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These weren't the only questions raised by Mission Impossible - Fallout. Other questions I had were...what the hell is Tom Cruise doing and why the hell is he doing it? Cruise isn't so much an actor anymore as a professional athlete/stunt man at this point in his career. The plot of Fallout is nothing more than just an excuse for Tom Cruise to run, jump, fall, fly, drive, crash and fight with his usual over-the-top aplomb and as he is the first one to tell the world over and over again...Cruise does his own stunts...each more insane than the next. The marketing campaign for M.I.-Fallout is basically Tom Cruise doing interviews talking about all the stunts he does...which is all he has to talk about because the movie is so stupid that actually talking about it with a straight face is...ironically...an impossible mission.

Some of Cruise's stunts (did I tell you that Cruise does his own stunts?) are certainly daring...like Cruise doing his own skydiving and hanging from a helicopter, but the problem is, as challenging as those stunts were for Cruise to perform, they simply aren't very visually or cinematically interesting or satisfying. It is cool for Cruise to be able to say "hey I did this!" but it seems more important to me for those feats of derring-do to be filmed in a way to maximize their cinematic impact.

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Cruise used to be the biggest move star in the world but now the world is sans movie stars and Cruise is reduced to jumping out of planes or zipping around Paris on a motorcycle or hanging off of a cliff or helicopter or whatever is in reach for him to grip. But if you are Tom Cruise...why the hell do this junk? It isn't like he needs the money or help getting women (or men or whatever he is into). It isn't like MI-Fallout will garner him respect from his peers or awards. So why do this soulless, mindless crap?

Of course the answer to that might just be that Tom Cruise is not an actual person but a business entity, and the flesh and blood Tom Cruise is subservient to Tom Cruise Inc. which is as soulless and mindless a venture imaginable and which leaves the person Tom Cruise less a human being and more an automaton...which is why Cruise fits right in as the Christ of Scientology.

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What makes Cruise's absorption into the dead-eyed entity that is Tom Cruise Inc. is that there was a time in his career where he was a decent actor who strove to be better at the craft of acting. Cruise sought out great directors like Coppola, Scorsese, Oliver Stone, Kurbick and PT Anderson in order to try and become a great actor. These directors took Cruise out of his comfort and control zone and forced him to get better in films like Born on the Fourth of July, The Color of Money, Magnolia and even Eyes Wide Shut. It seems that Cruise threw in the acting towel after having not won an Oscar and now just churns out the worst sort of second rate action junk he can get made. This is a bad career decision as Cruise's time as an athletic action star are diminishing with every passing day...as any athlete will tell you, the older you get the harder it gets...and Cruise ain't getting younger. I think Cruise would be wiser to pursue the Magnolia approach, meaning he works with superior directors in smaller roles or smaller films in order to try and regain some artistic mojo before the lights go out on his career when he can't take the pounding of doing his own stunts.

Regardless of the Tom Cruise questions...the bottom line is this...Mission Impossible - Fallout is a terrible movie. I guess all things are relative, but calling this the "Dark Knight" of the franchise is sort of like telling a guy who stands three foot high that he is extremely tall for a midget. The Mission Impossible franchise has devolved into a parody of itself and the ever expanding absurdity of the films were highlighted by the resounding guffaws by audience members at my screening.

Fallout follows the tried and true formula of the other films in the series as there are a series of double and triple-crosses usually involving masks that are also accompanied by cheap fake out dream sequences, flash forwards and flashbacks and of course, to top it all off, Ving Rhames wears a hat.  

Two things stood out to me in Fallout...the first is that there is a climactic sequence that I have titled "The Longest Fifteen Minutes in Human History" that is so inane that the audience in my screening laughed out loud multiple times during the endless, allegedly fifteen minute sequence. Secondly, Alec Baldwin does one scene in which he does the worst acting of his entire career and maybe in the history of the artform. I found it incredulous that Baldwin didn't burst out laughing as he was saying his eye-rollingly awful dialogue and look to the camera and wink to let us know he was in on the joke that was this script.

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There were some brights spots for me regarding Fallout...but I had to look very hard to find them. The first was Vanessa Kirby as the White Widow. I liked Kirby on Netflix's The Crown where she played the Queen's party-girl sister. I was pleased to see she is able to adequately fill the big screen...something television actors can at times struggle with...in Fallout. The other thing is actor Sean Harris who plays the bad guy Solomon Lane. Harris isn't particularly great in the movie but I just like him as an actor and was happy to see him getting a paycheck.

In conclusion, I found Mission Impossible - Fallout, to be repetitive, boring and entirely forgettable. Even though Tom Cruise puts himself through the ringer for this movie...have I mentioned that he does his own stunts?...the whole endeavor is for naught. Mission Impossible - Fallout will no doubt make a tsunami of dollars, but my recommendation is that you withhold your money from that green tidal wave.

ADDENDUM: WARNING - THE FOLLOWING SECTION HAS SPOILERS

And finally, another thing I found interesting about the movie is that in some ways it plays into my Isaiah/McCaffrey Wave Theory. Tom Cruise/Ethan Hunt, symbolic of the neo-liberal world order, with his puffy, bloated cheeks, a result of his narcissism in the form of bad plastic surgery to, just like that tired old political philosophy, try and look young and vibrant again, is literally hanging by his fingers to stay alive and maintain the current world order. The bad guys...Solomon Lane and company...are fighting to take down that world order and only preposterous movie magic can stop them. Add in the fact that Cruise's character, Ethan Hunt, works for the IMF, which is supposed to be the Impossible Missions Force, but is also the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which is the flagship of the neo-liberal world order, and you have a perfect storm for my wave theory.

The neo-liberal world order of the IMF (both the real one and the movie one) is hanging by a thread, and the likelihood of it surviving gets more and more unlikely with every passing second. Solomon Lane, the red headed anarchist...sound familiar (Donald Trump)?... has his heart set on destruction as the first act of creation "the greater the suffering, the greater the peace"...which sounds a lot like the best case scenario for the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Henry Cavill, who plays August Walker (is he a cross between August Wilson and Walker Percy...symbolic of the outcast modern man?), a CIA assassin. Cavill also famously plays Superman, and here he also represents the Nietzschean Superman. Walker (he is a White Walker...sort of like the villainous army in Game of Thrones) is the White Working class seduced by the red headed Solomon Lane/Trump...and does his bidding to destroy the world order.

I assume Fallout will be in the top ten in terms of box office this year, so its narrative/sub-text about a charismatic anarchist leader using his minions to destroy the world order is something that resonates in the collective unconscious right now and will continue to do so in the near future.

©2018

 

 

 

Justice League: A Review

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***THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!!***

My Rating: 2.65 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT/SKIP IT: See it in the theatre if you are a comic book/superhero film fan, it is worth the effort. If you are lukewarm or ambivalent about comic book/superhero films then feel free to skip it in the theatre and see it on Netflix or cable. 

Justice League, written by Joss Whedon and Chris Terrio and directed by Zack Snyder (with re-shoots directed by Whedon), is the fifth film in the D.C. Extended Universe and is a sequel to Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice. The film is the completion of the origin story of the Justice League, which is a collection of superheroes who join together to fight evil. The film stars Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Mamoa, Ezra Miller and Henry Cavill. 

My experience of Justice League was very similar to my experience of 2016's Batman v. Superman (BvS). I did not see Batman v. Superman until very late in its theatrical run, therefore even though I do not read reviews, I had seen enough headlines to understand that the film was not widely loved…or even mildly liked. With my expectations very low I went and saw Batman v. Superman and much to my shock and amazement I joined the rarest of groups, the handful of people who actually enjoyed Batman v Superman a great deal. It wasn't a perfect movie but it was certainly better than all of the negative buzz that was floating around about it.

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When Justice League came out last month on November 17th, I once again avoided reviews but was still exposed to a deluge of negative buzz surrounding the film before I saw it on December 19. And just like when I saw Batman v. Superman, the theatre for Justice League was deserted except for the three other people.  And…just like with Batman v. Superman, my expectations were in the gutter for Justice League and either in spite of or because of that, the movie was able to greatly exceed them leaving me most pleasantly surprised. 

Justice League is supposed to be DC's attempt (at Warner Brothers insistence) at "lightening things up" from the dark themes and tone of BvS and being more "audience friendly". While I am not a fan of "lightening things up" in general and was attracted to the darkness of Batman v. Superman, I was not turned off by the more approachable tone of Justice League. Would I have liked a much darker version? Most definitely…but Justice League held onto enough darkness that it maintained a certain superhero gravitas that I found compelling. 

It has been my experience that while the rest of the world adores the Marvel franchise, I am more temperamentally suited for the brooding DC universe. The DC films have on the whole been pretty uneven, with Batman v. Superman, Wonder Woman and Justice League being pretty good and Suicide Squad and Man of Steel being abysmally bad. What I liked about Batman v. Superman and Justice League are that they are both cloaked in a very heavy, existential angst that regular folk may find boring and impenetrable, but which I find very philosophically intriguing and creatively courageous. In contrast, I find the Marvel films to be much too light-hearted and frivolous and to be lacking in visual and narrative texture. Marvel films are made for kids while DC films, at least Batman v. Superman and Justice League, are made for tormented kids who've grown old. While Justice League is definitely not a great film, it is probably at best an average cinematic venture, but it is still considerably better than many of the Marvel/Avenger movies. 

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Justice League benefits greatly from Zack Snyder's visual style that gives the film a distinct look and feel that the flat and cinematically dull Marvel films lack entirely. Snyder's Justice League world looks like something out of a Hieronymus Bosch hellscape, which is only heightened by its being populated  by hordes of villains, para-demons, who may very well have flown out of a Bosch painting. Snyder has always thrived when it comes to giving a film a distinguishing and original look, and so it is with Justice League.

On the other hand, Snyder has always struggled with narrative clarity and cohesion and while he doesn't excel at that in Justice League, he doesn't entirely flounder either. Justice League is more coherently structured than Batman v. Superman and flows better, that comes at the expense of dumbing things down and settling for a standard and generic approach over a more complex and challenging one.

I had a chance to see the extended directors cut of Batman v Superman and thought it added a great deal to the film and I hope that Warner Brothers releases an extended Zack Snyder cut of Justice League as well at some point as I think that Snyder can be at his best when he is free of the restraints of running length and focus groups. 

Justice League is greatly enhanced by a top notch cast that all do solid if not spectacular work. I realize I am in the minority here but I think Ben Affleck does a terrific job as Batman. Affleck's caped crusader is a grizzled, aching and aging icon struggling to keep up with his more supernaturally endowed colleagues and keep the undefeated father time at bay. Affleck is not an actor whose work I have been impressed with over his career, but his brooding Batman is second only to Christian Bale, and it isn't a distant second either.

Gal Gadot is simply sublime as Wonder Woman for the second time this year. Gadot is such a charismatic, magnetic and dynamic power it is impossible to keep your eyes off of her when she is on screen. Gadot's commanding screen presence never feels forced or disingenuous, but always feels grounded, earthy and forceful.  

Jason Mamoa and Ezra Miller do solid supporting work as Aquaman and Flash. Their roles are used to good comedic effect in Justice League (they do most of the previously mentioned "lightening up") but they could have been greatly bungled in the hands of lesser actors. Both Mamoa and Miller never push too hard and they make specific choices for their characters while never settling for half measures when bringing them to life. I don't know if Aquaman or the Flash will be able to carry a film on their own, but we shall see soon enough. 

As for my biggest issues with Justice League…the first and most pressing issue was that the CGI seemed to be rather sub par. Steppenwolf was the arch villain in the film and instead of using a human actor, they made him entirely of CGI. The CGI simply did not look real or believable and so it felt like the members of the Justice League were fighting a really evil cartoon character. 

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Another example of bad CGI is such a remarkable tale it demands retelling. The opening scene of the film shows a flashback of Henry Cavill as Superman being interviewed on a video phone by some local kids. Cavill, who is impossibly handsome, looks very...weird in the scene. I couldn't place it at first, but there was something wrong with his face. As I looked closer I could see his mouth was deformed. I started wondering if Henry Cavill in real life had an accident or been sick and was left with some sort of facial paralysis or something. I noticed the same issue at other points in the film featuring Cavill as well and was completely distracted by it every time. When I got home I searched the internet and found out the story behind the bizarre look of Superman. 

The story goes that Cavill was signed on to shoot Mission Impossible 6 (God help us all) once he wrapped shooting Justice League. Justice League director Zack Snyder stepped away from the film in post-production due to the death of his daughter and Joss Whedon stepped in to replace him. The studio wanted Whedon to do a plethora of re-shoots to change the tone of the film which they feared was too dark like Batman v. Superman. Whedon complied and did a great deal of re-shoots to the sum of $25 million. Bringing back Cavill for Superman was tricky though because he was currently shooting MI6 and had grown a mustache for his role and was contractually obligated to not shave it off for the duration of that shoot. So Warner Brothers, the studio of Justice League, which had a budget of $300 million, was at the mercy of Paramount, the home studio of Mission Impossible, in regards to their star Superman. Paramount, not surprisingly since they are not in the business of making life easy for their competition, wouldn't let Cavill get rid of the mustache. So billion dollar company Warner Brothers, who was spending $300 million on Justice League, was not allowed to walk down to CVS and get a Bic razor for 99 cents in order to shave the face of the star of their movie. The movie business is completely and utterly insane. 

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Superman and Steppenwolf's faces aren't the only missteps in Justice League. The enormity of the plot was a bit burdensome as well. All of these superhero movies now revolve around end of the world cataclysms that seem to me to be overkill. Whether it is the Justice League or the Avengers or anyone else, the threat of global annihilation is so overplayed as to be ridiculously redundant. And as much as I think Steppenwolf in theory is an excellent villain (although as stated he didn't look right in the film) and his minions the para-demons are quality Miltonian/Boschean foils, the scenario presented by their assault on Earth felt much too similar to The Avengers plots with Loki or Ultron. In execution I think Justice League pulled that scenario off better than The Avengers, but that doesn't make their lack of originality any less of a creative sin. 

The political subtext of Justice League is pretty interesting. Steppenwolf is a Putin-esque, power hungry warlord who begins his quest for total world domination in what is alleged to be a small Russian town but looks an awful lot like Chernobyl in Ukraine. Justice League accurately captures the divided mess that is our current world as we stagger and stumble from a uni-polar world protected by Superman/U.S. to a multi-polar world reigned over by God knows who, that acts like a bi-polar world. 

The Justice League itself is obviously a metaphor for the United Nations or the defunct League of Nations, in which the good guys protect the globe from the bad guys. Of course, life is never as clearly defined as that, and in our world it is becoming more and more difficult to discover who is good and who is bad. To Justice League's credit, the good guys aren't always so good and they struggle to find their place in the world.

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After seeing Justice League I did something I rarely do, which is go read other reviews of the film. Critics have savaged the film with an unabashed glee and seem to have a pre-disposition against the movie. While it was never stated, I think that predisposition to critical displeasure with Justice League (and Batman V. Superman) may have to do with critics subconsciously comparing the film to the last "Batman" movies which were Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy which are a far, far superior collection of films. Any superhero films compared to the Dark Knight Trilogy will pale in comparison as Nolan has raised the superhero bar beyond anyone’s reach with those phenomenal films. To be extremely clear, Batman v. Superman and Justice League are not The Dark Knight series, not even remotely close, but that doesn't mean they are completely devoid of any redeeming value.

The mythic and archetypal energies at the core of all of these these superhero stories, be they DC or Marvel, is the same, it is just the window dressing that changes. The core archetypes at the heart of superhero stories are what resonate with our collective psyches. Just as the Greeks told stories of their Gods, we tell stories of our mythic gods…Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Flash. These comic book characters and the Greek gods are the same archetypes but are only wearing different masks. 

In conclusion, I found Justice League to be a pleasant surprise of a movie that wasn't great, but was certainly better than its buzz would indicate. Justice League is a solid companion piece to Batman v Superman and in fact enhances that film a great deal in hindsight. If you love superhero films then I recommend you go see Justice League in the theatre while it is still there. If you are lukewarm or ambivalent about superhero films then you can definitely skip it in the theatre and catch it at your leisure on cable or Netflix. And finally, in this holiday season when we anticipate a bounty of gifts beneath the Christmas tree, let Justice League be a lesson to us all, that low expectations are the golden key to a happy existence. 

©2017