Monday, May 08, 2006


Oddly, spending a year in film school has not made me hate the blockbuster. Rather, spending a year amongst snobs who insist on trash European art films over Robocop has made me love the blockbuster, and especially the action movie, oh so much more.

First, I believe FIRMLY in entertainment. I don’t care how smart it is, how “emotionally engaging” it is or how well-developed the characters are. If a movie that is so clearly setting out to entertain you does that, then it’s absolutely worth your time and money.

If you want a deeper, theoretical idea, action is the one genre in film that really, truly cannot be done in any other form. I know, I know, you can discuss on end the differences in storytelling and experience between theater and novel and film. But in the end, you can tell the same STORY of Lost in Translation in a play. Almost Famous would make a wonderful book. But you can’t, with any level of success, do Terminator 2 as a play. The action scenes in Kill Bill wouldn’t translate as a novel.

And for this reason, above all others, action is a worthy form of cinema. Well, besides the fact that they’re just fun as shit to watch. Action movies are FUN.

Which brings me to Mission: Impossible III, a movie that’s about as good as summer movies come. Look, the first line of the movie is “We’ve planted an explosive charge in your head.” That’s either going to grab you or it’s not. After that, it just keeps moving. If you thought War of the Worlds slowed down too much by the time Tom Cruise met Tim Robbins in that basement, THIS MOVIE IS FOR YOU. If you thought Spider-Man 2 spent too much time on a love subplot, THIS MOVIE IS FOR YOU. This is about cool dudes and hot babes falling off buildings and shooting people with impossible accuracy. It’s about a form of storytelling in which the answer to any given problem is to blow it up.

And the cast is fantastic. Phillip Seymour Hoffman especially, in a typical blockbuster role following an Oscar win, but yet he still delivers the Hoffman excellence. He’s my favorite actor out there, and in everything I’ve seen him in he’s yet to deliver a bad performance, or even one he seems at all less committed to. Same goes here.

And Tom Cruise. I didn’t really wanna go here but…Go ahead, make the Tom Cruise joke in your head. MAKE IT. Done it? Good, I don’t want to hear it. It’s not funny. It’s not clever. Every single joke that can possibly be made has been, and none of them are funny. They’re all obvious. But if you can’t separate an actor or actress from his or her personal life, not only should you avoid Mission: Impossible III, you shouldn’t be watching movies. Any movie. Ever. You’re obviously not cut out to understand the concept of acting. I love Tom Cruise. I’ve always loved Tom Cruise. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie with him I haven’t liked, if only for his work in it. He’s one of the most charismatic actors out there, and I love watching him onscreen. And even though it’s been ten years since the first Mission: Impossible, he’s as much an action star today as he was then. If anything, he’s gotten better. It’s kind of a personal preference, but the older and more weathered the star of an action movie, the more I like them. It gives them a certain edge. And while Cruise certainly isn’t old or weathered or even looking forty-four, it comes out in the right places. He has an edge that he didn’t in the first film (I’ve forgotten almost all of the second…it blew chunks).

But Cruise’s best move was in tapping JJ Abrams to direct. Abrams has never directed a feature film before, but did create Alias and Lost (two TV shows I’ve never seen). Somewhere in there, Cruise saw the potential and damn was he right. The film as a whole moves like hell, but the action is better filmed than most I’ve seen, and he holds a shot longer than most action directors would, which gives us a better idea that it’s really happening. In his quick cuts, though, he never loses that edge, and never once loses the flow of narrative, which happens ALL THE TIME in action movies. You’ll be watching a car chase, or a fight scene especially, and you either just cannot figure out what the hell is going on (Batman Begins) or the last motions of one shot don’t carry over to the next (The Bourne Supremacy, though that was saved by having the best car chase ever). That never happens here. From the biggest set pieces to the smallest, it’s the slickest movie I’ve seen in awhile.

Speaking of slick…I saw this out at Bridgeport (a place I will never again return…worst seating ever), which was showing it in digital, which I hadn’t seen a big-screen presentation of yet, but damn did it look slick. If you get a shot to check out this or any other big, flashy summer movie in digital…do it. It makes a huge difference.


Shakeer said...

Although I do appreciate being entertained and excited, I think film, like most artistic mediums, has potential to please audiences in more ways than just entertain. Also, for me, entertainment value diminishes in films that are formulaic, or try to entertain me in very obvious, predictable, or cheap ways. I like surrendering my sense of reality and escaping into fantasy, but the only thing fantastical about most action movies these days (and there are of course examples of really good exceptions; that new Miami Vice movie looks pretty cool) is how much more outrageous the stunts were than the last movie, how much bigger the explosions are, how much faster the cars chase, and how much more gorgeous the woman look. I want movies to impress me by doing things they haven't done before, or telling stories better than they've been told in the past. Though I haven't seen MI:3, if the last one was any indication, I imagine this it isn't better than other action movies. It's just bigger, louder, and sexier. Trust me, I want to be excited and thrilled by movies but I don't want to keep feeling as though I'm just seeing the same shit I saw last summer put on screen again with a bigger budget because it made so much money before.

Ken said...

Scott, this is a great review. Seriously, I think this is one of your best.

In response to Shakeer, I don't think many people are interested in movies that are predictable or formulaic--at least, many people who read this blog. Fair enough, action sequels can be poorly-written attempts to carve a little more off a cash cow... but I think this post would have read a little differently if that were the case here. I mean, if I were going to criticize it for that reason, I'd defer to someone who'd seen it until I had.

Also, and I'm not saying this just to be provocative, I think action films are often just as much a part of the fantasy genre as anything with elves, castles, and magic. Some people like imagining they live in a world where good and bad are clearly defined, horses are the main mode of transportation, and cell phones don't exist; others like imagining they live in a world where they can run across rooftops, fire twenty bullets out of a seven-round magazine, and fight evil just like any fantasy hero does. What are you hoping to find "fantastical" about a film?

Finally, there's a logical difference between "action movies are valuable for their potential to entertain an audience" and "the most (or only) valuable movies are those that best entertain an audience." I didn't read it that way and I don't think it was intended that way. (If Scott thought that way, I wouldn't have gone to see Elizabethtown.)

By the way (I keep forgetting to tell you guys), read this book! "Everything Bad Is Good For You," by Steven Johnson. It's the most interesting book I've read in at least three years--about how pop culture, in the form of television, video games, etc., is not making us dumber but rather represents a huge jump in intelligence. I recommend it especially to Shakeer, I'd be interested to know your reaction.

Scott said...

Glad we're getting a reaction here. Ken pretty much nailed everything I could have said, only better, and I actually almost put in that idea of action movies as fantasy in the review, but it was getting long anyway.

I certainly didn't mean that the only valuable movies are those that are meant sheerly for entertainment (though there is a significant argument to be made that the most highly-regarded films in cinematic history are also very, very entertaining). Hell, I put The New World as my favorite film of last year, which was one of the least entertaining I saw (next to Narnia...zing!)

And I'll be the first to call a bad sequel when I see it (as with any bad movie in general), but for the most part I just won't go. This, however, is a huge leap in quality from the second (which, as I stated in the review, I hated) and might even be better than the first (and I LOVE the first).

Beyond that, I think we're in an age where "sequel" shouldn't equal "bad." I think we've moved past that with especially stuff like Spider-Man 2 and X-Men 2 far exceeding the originals (and say what you will about the Matrix sequels, they definitely weren't just trying to make a bigger, louder copy of the original).

But, sort of along the lines of the fantasy idea, I LOVE going to movies when they're going to show me something I won't otherwise see. I'm all about deep, human stories, but my favorite kinds of movies, the ones I go back to again and again and again are the ones that allow me to escape. And that can be anything from Star Wars to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas to Casablanca to...Mission: Impossible III.

There is creedence, Shakeer, when you say entertainment value diminishes for you if films follow a certain plotline, or try to entertain you in obvious ways. That's where personal preference comes into play, and if you KNOW that no matter what I say, MI: III will not entertain you, don't go. Only so much I can do.

But if you go into it KNOWING and BELIEVING that all you're getting is "the same shit you saw last summer put on screen again with a bigger budget because it made so much money before," of COURSE you'll hate it. There's not way out of it. And if that's the case, I fully recommend against seeing it, because I GUARANTEE you'll be disappointed.

I gotta check out that book though. Trip to the library tomorrow, methink.

Katie said...

I really like how your reviews have, mm, evolved, I guess, Scott...I always trusted them, but now you have all that technical jargon and stuff in there too now that you're going to film school, and it makes for a great review. I want to see it...maybe I'll take my brothers. That could be fun. Although I'll probably end up at's closest. What can you do.

Ben said...

that mission needed to be, like, 20% more impossible

Anonymous said...

it's just a fuckin movie. pretentious much?

Scott said...

Every day and twice on Sundays.

Ken said...

Yeah, it's just a fuckin movie... but now I'm gonna see it.