Saturday, July 2, 2011
Movie trailer reviews: part deux
An ominous government man (no, I'm kidding, it's just Tom Wilkinson) informs a mysterious spy that he is being framed for treason. The spy's agency is on the run, the President wants him dead, and if the spy wants to prove his innocence, he's going to have to stage an escape and do it from outside the system.
And then, a minute in, the trailer dramatically rips away the curtain to reveal: Tom Cruise. And everyone realizes, "Oh wait, this is just another Mission: Impossible movie," called -- really -- Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol.
An aside: this title contains two separate stylistic gambits. First, the substitution of a dash for the more-conventional colon, to distract everyone from the fact that the movie contains a subtitle within a subtitle; second, the substitution of "Ghost Protocol" for the more conventional "4," to disguise the fact that this is the fourth movie in the Mission: Impossible franchise, and at some point we might want to want to consider if we're acceptably apportioning society's limited resources. But despite the studio's best efforts to really sell the movie with the title, they botched it all up. Because they called their movie Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol. I keep thinking of it analogically, like so: Mission : Impossible :: Ghost : Protocol. You would read that "Mission is to Impossible as Ghost is to Protocol," which really highlights the fact that none of them are like each other at all, and these are in fact just four unconnected words glomped together into some sort of titular mush.
But enough about the title! On to the movie! In it Agent Ethan Hunt and his buddies are on the lam (wait wasn't this the exact plot of the first movie?) after they get blamed for explosion that destroys the Kremlin. (We're using "explosion" lightly here, because anyone can see that what destroys the Kremlin is actually a series of absurd underground eruptions, perhaps achieved by sneaking into Russia and burying land mines throughout Moscow under the cover of darkness.) Then there are some scenes where Tom Cruise scales a skyscraper and crashes cars into each other and descends into a man-sized tube and uses a computer. You'll note that the series has apparently entered a recursive loop where everything that has happened before will happen again, which could be a commentary on the futility of using espionage as a force for meaningful social progress, but probably isn't.
Notably, this fourth impossible mission was directed by Brad Bird, who is literally my favorite living director. You'd be forgiven for not realizing this, though, as they forgot to include the "From the makers of Ratatouille" title card. While Bird's skills are formidable, the man is only human.
And Brad Bird or no Brad Bird, Mission: Impossible faces two great obstacles in its eternal aspiration to become a completely forgettable action franchise, from which sequels can bud, fungally, without effort or encouragement.
The first of course is Tom Cruise himself.
The second is unique to the franchise: the continuous reliance on the laughable plot device wherein every spy agency in the world possesses the ability to instantaneously make perfect rubber masks of absolutely anyone's face, as well as voice-changing technology that allows a person to emulate another person's voice. The result: at any point in these movies, anybody on screen could actually be any other character. It's unbelievably stupid and leads to incredibly lazy twists. Usually what happens is that someone does something horrible, or has something horrible done to them, and then the mask gets ripped off and it's all YOU THOUGHT I WAS X BUT NOW I AM Y. The trailer smartly goes out of its way to avoid reminding us that this is the key feature of the Mission: Impossible movies, but then blows its hand at the end, when Ethan Hunt faces off against some sinister-looking dude. And I quote:
Ethan: "Who are you, really, Brent?"
Brent: "We all have our secrets, don't we, Ethan?"
And my stomach sinks as I realize that Ethan is probably Brent and Brent is probably Ethan, and Tom Wilkinson was probably Ving Rhames, and nothing is true and God is dead, and yes, after fifteen years, they still haven't learned, they're still making these things.
Next comes Immortals, the movie adaptation of the video-game adaptation of the music video for "Power." Its creators have taken the dramatic step of skipping over the middleman, and incorporating footage from the video game directly into the film, right down to the slow-mo arrows (Multikill! +500), air juggle combos (Brutal Hit! +50 +50 +50), and gratuitous embrace of light bloom effects. The movie utilizes a bold or possibly completely derivative visual aesthetic, conveying a world where everything is either made of lustrous gold, or else is Mickey Rourke.
The whole "slow-motion sky fighting" plus "high-contrast gold" plus "swords and tunics" thing means there's already a version of this movie in my head that is far superior to anything that could possibly occur on screen. In it, besandaled men duke it out for 90 minutes and then Yeezy himself strides through the battle and declares himself king of Athens. That movie would make 250 million dollars and is too wonderful to ever exist in this ugly world of ours.
Anyway. Some decidedly un-Greek looking white kid plays Theseus -- a man who we learn, ludicrously, "does not fear danger, but fears only the failure to defend his freedom." It's a statement of values that in its utter defiance of common sense doubles as a perfect repudiation of certain libertarian viewpoints. Immortals, it seems, in the vein of Braveheart and 300, continues the proud filmic tradition of anachronistically transforming every underdog who has ever taken up arms against an oppressor into the third-grade version of American revolutionary patriots (a treatment even American revolutionary patriots themselves have failed to escape). I guess it's done as a sop to modern audiences, who apparently find this sort of thing a convincing depiction of actual human behavior, but it does seem to me that, as far as character motivations go, "freedom to remain mostly unskewered" trumps "conceptual freedom from any form of political fealty." Still, I suppose this approach does have the virtue of insulating movie-goers from the fact that Theseus, William Wallace, et al, would probably partake in some thinly-rationalized skewerings of their own, if given half the chance. Freedom's just another name for "ambiguous internecine conflict didn't play well at test screenings." And admittedly, the calculus of rebellion does change a bit in a world populated by unkillable immortals. No one man, as they say, should have so much power.
By WHS at 8:15 AM