REVIEW: Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel

Rated PG-13 : 124 min : Released March 8, 2018

Higher, further, faster . . .

Hello, dear reader. Me again.

I know, it’s been a few months since you’ve heard from me. I feel like I’ll spend a decent amount of time in the future doing so, so for the sake of brevity let’s consider this apology a standing declaration.

Moving on.

A few months ago we were hit with the trailer above after it had been announced that Brie Larson was to play the incredibly powerful Carol Danvers, ostensibly the one figure in the current MCU who could stand toe-to-toe with Thanos and win (something our gallery of heroes is in dire need of at the moment.) The trailer charmed, it intrigued, it confused (Larson decks an old lady for a fraction of a second), and more than anything it gave moviegoers a glimpse at the receiving end of that ominous signal Nick Fury sent as he dematerialized into dust at the tail end of Infinity War.

Well, now I’ve seen the movie and I’m here to tell you, dear reader and prospective Marvel viewer – Thanos has reason to worry.

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Captain Marvel is an early-year treat, for sure, but not in the same way that Black Panther was to kick off 2018. Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers and Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury investigate the invasion of Earth by the Skrull, a shape shifting alien race at war with the Kree – for whom Danvers is a soldier. Together and with the help of a few friends, they hit their requisite plot beats and throw in enough of that trademark Marvel humor to ensure at least a billion worldwide when this thing finally closes shop.

I’d wager good money that Marvel will dominate its opening weekend and every weekend until Endgame premiers, but audiences won’t propel this to the stratospheric domestic run akin to last year’s slate of superhero flicks; Nor do I see this receiving a “placate the masses” nod at the 92nd Academy Awards. It’s a great time, really, but nearly disappointing considering the massive hype machine leading up to release.

I’ll try my hardest not to spoil anything, though there really isn’t much to spoil. Writer and Co-Director Anna Boden imbues the proceedings with a fair bit of levity, cheeky dialogue, twists and turns, and a generally coherent narrative arc that culminates in one hell of a fireworks show; but this film exhibits one of the more common complaints levied against Marvel, particularly for its recent slew of origin stories: It’s too safe.

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I’m not referring to the fact that this is Marvel’s first ever female-led superhero film. And I’d be a fool to ignore the social narrative surrounding the film. It’s in the promotional material, the junkets, and is spewing angrily from the slobbering horde of incels that have been tanking the film’s user reviews on sites such as IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes. However, it isn’t really in the movie – not in the terms said incels are accusing Marvel of. It’s present, to be absolutely clear, but in no way does it tackle it’s broader social commentary as explicitly as Black Panther. To be completely honest, any messaging is hidden into the very presentation of Captain Marvel very skillfully.

Danvers’ is often sparring with her superior officer, played by Jude Law, with his frequent instruction being that she remove herself from her emotional impulses – that she restrain herself and play a role. As the film transpires, Danvers’ eventually succeeds specifically because she embraces the traits that make her who she is. The film does this without ever explicitly stating so. Again, very well done. Proponents of this film needn’t worry of a Mary-Sue type argument being thrown their way, either. Danvers struggles tremendously in this film, and relies on her skills and some clever ingenuity early on. Her charisma and strength are two forces working in her favor, but it isn’t until she discovers who she really is, how she earned her powers, that we see her in top form.

No, when I call this movie safe, I’m instead referring to narrative devices, a lack of genuine stakes, and the over-reliance of Marvel on blurry CGI, a muted color palette, and incredibly generic brass wailing for a musical score.

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It’s a shame, because by and large the film does so much right. Brie Larson’s Danvers is great. While she may not spout off a whip-smart one-liner every few moments, or growl in anger at her enemies, what she does embody is a kind of resolute heroism. She has fallen often – as a montage late in the film shows – but each and every time she rises to meet her adversary face to face. It’s a blunt tool, her perseverance, but an effective one. She has noticeable star power, a real presence opposite co-stars Sam Jackson, Jude Law, and Ben Mendelsohn. Would we expect anything less of an Academy Award winning actress?

The acting isn’t the problem here. While the dialogue is light and fun, so too are the stakes. At no point are we to believe that Danvers is in genuine danger. This has little to do with her portrayal and more to do with the lack of context surrounding this Kree vs Skrull war going on, and her role in it. After a lengthy and frankly uninspired train chase, the middle of the film commits to fleshing out what we already know of Danvers – that she is from Earth and had a life here prior to intergalactic warfare. Though we are generally aware of her past, we aren’t allowed much time to dwell on it.

The more interesting elements of the plot – Mar Vell, the lightspeed drive, Danvers’ time in the military, her relationship with her best friend Wendy, her childhood – are all given their seemingly mandated five minutes of exposition before we are whisked away toward the next set-piece, or a dig at the antiquated technology of the 90’s (when the film is set.) We see Danvers during her transition from super-powered, to more super-powered, which would fall incredibly flat if we weren’t allowed access to a handful of her memories. We are enlightened to her struggle, enough to dispel arguments to the contrary, but we don’t experience them in a manner that endears us to her as a character – at least as well as it could have.

That these narrative beats feel more like a checklist, however well composed on the screen, stands testament to my next point: This film doesn’t feel like the project of an artist, though it is and of many. There’s no voice. Somewhere during production I have to imagine a memo from corporate circulated with demands for an exact count of humorous character exchanges, some gross-out scenes, the requisite plot twist at around the 2/3rd’s mark, and four or five scenes that be shot with the specific intention of using them for the trailer.

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This is an inoffensive movie. One without risk or noteworthy creative flourishes. Explosions are bassy, the CGI flamboyant and excessive, the superhero is punch-happy and posed triumphantly at every occasion. These things exist because they should, no modern superhero film is without them, but the result is a film that leaves one imagining the insane potential of every scene, rather than fall into a unique and engrossing movie-going experience.

I’d liken Captain Marvel to 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, rather than to Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman.

Homecoming was the return of the Spider-Man character to the MCU, and for the most part did its job. The action was uninspired, the CGI apparent, and it was positively stuffed to the brim with lighthearted character interactions. It was . . . fine. It’s villain was introduced with one hell of a twist, but the climax of the film is just a loud, flame-broiled bout of fisticuffs between two steely eyed supers. Which, again, is fine. It just isn’t particularly memorable.

DC’s Wonder Woman stole Marvel’s thunder, admittedly, releasing their female-led adventure a full two years before their rival studio. But at the core of Wonder Woman was a vibrant character, a more compelling fish-out-of-water narrative, genuine stakes in the trenches of The Great War, and one incredible show-stopper of a scene with Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince rising to meet a hail of gunfire with nothing but her shield.

 

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Captain Marvel relies too heavily on Marvel’s already well-worn formula. It introduces little more than a handful of quirky revelations as to the larger plot of the MCU, a few fun scenes, and features an endless string of easter eggs and fan-service. It’s fun, easily worth the cost of entry. The film is more than competent in every department, but a lack of weaknesses does not a strong or memorable movie make. More than a solo outing, this is a stepping stone, a necessary introduction to a character needed to help win the battle coming April 26th.

However, despite these gripes, my lack of enthusiasm for what is obviously the product of studio mandates – and the continued depression of creative expression in Hollywood blockbusters – shouldn’t dissuade you from seeing the movie yourself. This is not a poorly made or uninteresting film. I was thoroughly placated throughout its entirety. Go on and head to the theater. Eat it up.

You’ll see it and smile like a buffoon at the adorable cat, Goose, as well as the many quips and jabs between Danvers and Fury. You’ll cheer as Danvers overcomes her opponents, “aw!” at the Stan Lee cameo, and poke your seat-neighbor each time you spot a reference to another film in the franchise. You’ll also leave the theater having expected a fair bit more. Disappointed but not dismayed by how whisper-close this film came to saying something, to being something more than it was – competent, but certainly not marvelous.

Verdict: 3.25/5

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Thank you for stopping by the blog today! I know it’s been a while. I’ve taken on a few projects recently, and will be sure to update you all on those once I can.

In the next few days, look forward to reviews on a few games that I’ve played, maybe a video or two on the Black Beanie Gaming YouTube channel, and new episodes of the That Was Okay I Guess podcast. Other than those projects, I’m working on two long-form pieces of fiction and have started writing freelance.

It’s an exciting time.

Later on.

REVIEW: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Rated PG : 117 min : Released December 14, 2018

With great power . . .

Hello, dear reader.

When I first heard of the animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, I was beyond skeptical. Without a doubt, I thought, there was nothing more to say about our favorite web-slinger – especially not with Tom Holland assuming the role of Peter Parker back in 2015.

Holland’s solo-outing, Spider-Man: Homecoming, was a perfectly serviceable movie. It entertained, had all the charm and requisite one-liners one would expect from a Marvel film, and offered a fairly nuanced relationship between Holland’s Parker and Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark. It was good, not great, and at the time it felt like Homecoming was as good as we were going to get.

I was wrong.

Not only is Into the Spider-Verse a superior Spider-Man film, it’s a better film period. It’s easily as fine a piece of entertainment as Spider-Man 2 was back in 2004 – if not better – and, as I see it, probably the best comic-book movie ever made.

That’s high praise, I know, but as far as replicating the feel, exuberance, and artistic chaos of a comic book – no modern superhero film has done it better. And that’s only the beginning.

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Without divulging much of the plot, I’ll say this: Spider-Verse is whip-smart. In a world full of derivative origin stories and fan-service, Spider-Verse offers a fresh and fun self-examination of the Spider-Man narrative, while adhering strongly to the themes and morals presented in the very first issue of the comic. That’s thanks in large part to the stellar direction by collaborators Bob Perichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman, but almost entirely to another superb script by Phil Lord.

Easily the smartest decision Lord made when crafting the script was to focus on Miles Morales as our new web-slinger. He’s immediately endearing, relatable, funny, and full of the type of charisma and vulnerability that makes for a great underdog. Sure, Peter Parker is there, but he acts more as Miles’ mentor (begrudgingly) than as the hero of this story.

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Dialogue is fresh, quick, witty, and so saturated with easter-eggs and asides that the film warrants multiple viewings if just to catch them all.

No character feels out of place, no motivation unclear, and no potential catharsis left untapped.

Yeah, it’s sort of a kid’s movie, but it doesn’t behave like one. You’ll see a few sight gags here and there, but none too juvenile to dissuade parents from enjoying every minute of the film.

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More than anything, it’s a script that allows its characters to fail and to feel. Even once the multi-verse splits open and all the different iterations of Spider-Men (and woman and pig) come tumbling out. All of whom are brought to life by a stellar voice cast, lead by Shameik Moore and Jake Johnson as Miles and Peter respectively. Characterizations are brief, at times, but ultimately effective.

If there’s one deficiency, it would be the film’s several villains. The narrative assumes viewers possess a casual knowledge of some of the more obscure members of Spider-Man’s rogues gallery. That the film has so many Spideys to contend with, the motivations (and even names) of the villains are left simple and, at times, underdeveloped. But, the villains aren’t really the point here.

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At the core of the story is the fundamental understanding of what makes Spider-Man such a beloved character. Beyond exploring the memes and pop-culture legacy of the character itself, the film brings to light the more universally applicable set of morals that have been apparent from the very first issue of the comic: That if one possesses the ability to do good – they should. And that the good fight is worth fighting, over and over again.

It’s a film that believes in its characters, and wants them to believe in themselves. It’s difficult to overstate exactly how much of an impact that makes as the narrative progresses to its more emotional moments – of which there are many. That the film balances moments of levity, action, and emotion while indulging in a sort of sly, playful self-examination without ever devolving into the sort of sardonic hi-jinks of say, Deadpool, is a testament to the type of storytelling on display here.

It’s a film that recognizes the potential for heroism in all people. “Anyone can wear the mask.”

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If there’s one thing I must commend the film for, it’s a distinct lack of corporate schlock. This does not feel like a Disney film, and it’s better for it. Rather than ham-fistedly promoting a progressive agenda in press junkets or through cringe-inducing dialogue – the film embodies such ideals in its very presentation. There are no women stuck in refrigerators, no insufferable romantic entanglements, or any of the other stale, self-congratulatory committee-approved audience hand-holding. This is a film that puts its people of color and its women front and center, and treats their problems with respect, and allows them to fail and grow as characters rather than as talking points. Its respectful not only to its characters and the story its trying to tell, but to the intelligence of the audience – while never forgetting the best-interests of said audience.

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I’ve said all of this without mentioning the stellar animation or character designs. The film’s adherence to comic-book stylings is seamlessly integrated into its 3D animation. It’s immediately the most aesthetically intuitive film to Marvel’s name.

If I can gush for just a moment. Each iteration of Spidey, be they man or woman or pig, has their own unique power and art-style. They each have their own personality and embody the same selfless heroism.

Look at these.

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To say much more of the world and characters would not only be an injustice to you, dear reader, but would fail to adequately describe just how vibrant – how wonderfully expressive – this film is. It’s the complete package.

I’ll end with this:

This film get’s Spider-Man right. It just does. And it does so with such a love of the character, in its many forms, and of the many things that make the character so universally beloved. The quirks, the witticisms, the heart, the energy, and the morals.

Swing over to the theater and check this out as soon as you can. Enjoy this bookend to a wonderful year for Spider-Man.

Verdict: 4.25/5

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Thank you for stopping by the blog today.

Please enjoy your holiday season safely and respectfully.

Until next time.

REVIEW: Bradley Cooper’s ‘A Star Is Born’

Released October 5, 2018; Directed by Bradley Cooper; Distributed by Warner Bros.; Runtime 2h 16m; Rated R

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When purchasing the tickets for this movie, an older, grizzled man cut the ticket and made an offhand remark about the film. “A Star Is Born,” he said dryly. “Fourth time they’ve made this one. Theater six, to your left.”

Normally, I’m inclined to ignore the dismissive language of the jaded, but what he said stayed with me as I took my seat in the center of the theater. Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut is a remake, but it’s been promoted as a kind of re-imagining. Rather than focus on the glamorous toxicity of fame, this film offers a raw, intimate portrayal of art and success. In many ways, it’s exactly that, but it’s beholden to the same tropes and clichés as is common in the typical rise-to-fame narrative. Point being: You’ve seen this before. Only, Cooper and Gaga are so damn good that it doesn’t matter if you’ve seen a million tortured musicians take a million amber-lit stages, baring their souls in a million different ways.

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I’ll refrain from summarizing much of the plot. It’s a simple premise. Gaga’s Ally is an aspiring musician who has all but given up on success, while Cooper’s Jack is an aging Country-Rock star who’s resorted to boozing his way through his old hits to make a living. After a chance encounter at a bar, they grow enamored with one another and develop a working relationship on stage. Ally’s star rises, while Jack’s begins to fade as his substance abuse worsens.

While its premise is simple, and beholden to all of the archetypical rich-man-meets-woman narrative beats you’ve come to expect, this iteration of the classic narrative succeeds where others have fallen by the wayside. How? An insistence on unflinching intimacy and emotional honesty between the two leads.

Cooper and Gaga both give complex, varied performances here. Gaga is especially vulnerable early on, shedding much of the audience’s preconceptions about her status as a world-renowned musician. As Ally, she’s stripped down, sometimes literally, to reveal the depth of her earnest ambitions and love for Jack. We are never, as an audience, lead to believe that the love these characters share for one another is in any way imbalanced or unfair. If one character suffers, they both suffer. And there is suffering.

Cooper has lowered his voice here, lightened only by his scenes opposite the inimitable Sam Elliot. His pitch is raspy, aged, and his face is leathery – tarnished by his time in the limelight. His diminishing health walks hand-in-hand with his diminishing returns as an artist. Although Ally gives Jack a much-needed shot in the arm, the film is smart to subvert the typical woman-as-muse trope in favor of a far more honest, and visceral, portrayal of the nature of addiction. Jack is heavily flawed, and though Ally is certainly a force for good in his life, she isn’t there to save him. Nor can she.

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The film is strongest when focusing primarily on the relationship between Jack and Ally, mainly due to the superlative performances of Gaga and Cooper, but also due to Cooper’s startling proficiency behind the camera. We are treated to close-up after close-up, wavering dialogue and all the “uh” and “um”s that indicate strong, believable conversation. The script has its fair share of platitudinal idioms – the type of fortune-cookie vaguery that belies many inspirational narratives – but it delivers them earnestly through the mouths of two characters that the audience trusts have each other’s best interests at heart.

The narrative needs that trust, and builds it diligently and intelligently in the film’s first half, but at times struggles to maintain focus on it as the film progresses toward its conclusion.

That isn’t to say that Cooper doesn’t know what he’s doing as a director. The smartest move he made was keeping Gaga dead-center throughout so many of the film’s more intense emotional moments. It cannot be understated how well she performs in this role.

Unfortunately, at around the mid-point, when the narrative capitalizes on an hour’s worth of anticipation by having Ally perform her first duet with Jack on-stage, the film’s carefully cultivated lacquer of authenticity begins to fade.

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Following that goose-bumps inducing performance, the film becomes a juggling act between its disparate themes. Cooper seems to manage this by giving each individual element of his film equal screen-time, but all that manages to do is distend the second act into something more akin to a biopic, rather than the down-to-earth fairy tale of the film’s first hour.

One thought kept creeping into my head as addiction and toxic-fame began to take center stage. The balance between what constitutes whimsical coincidence and insightful commentary just isn’t there. Some moments are reminiscent of Scorsese’s claustrophobic portrayals of spousal conflict – raw and uncompromising – while others require a suspension of disbelief simply beyond what should be required of the audience. Considering the lengths the film goes to in order to place this film in reality – our reality – it struggles to maintain it.

The film simply struggles to resolve its plot-threads in its closing act. There’s a poorly-communicated B-Plot involving Sam Elliot’s Bobby, Jack’s brother, as well as a comically over-simplified caricature of the money-hungry Hollywood type in Ally’s manager. Jack’s back story is fleshed out in bite-sized increments and delivered through gruff, farm hand mumbling. The emotional impact that those elements intend to deliver is massive, but being the tropes that they are, eventually offer little. I’d argue that they go so far as to diminish the aforementioned narrative focus on Ally and Jack.

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That will be my lasting complaint with this film. Whereas the first hour is enthralling, the latter hour and fifteen simply does too much. There’s a Dave Chappelle cameo that provides literally nothing substantive to the arcs of either character, save for what they do while in his company. The narrative moves so quickly through Ally’s rise to fame that it becomes difficult to discern exactly how much time has passed between her discovery and the accolades she inevitably receives. Time and space mean little in fairy tales, but in a film that attempts to ground itself so thoroughly, it’s frustrating that the film has so little setting to speak of.

Sure, there are sets. There are apartments and tour busses and hotel rooms and many, many stages upon which Cooper and Gaga actually performed live music. Commendable, all of it. But, the film is content to not clearly define when exactly all of this takes place, and for how long a period, preferring instead for the here and now. That’s it. It takes place in the age of smart-phones and Spotify. Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess. How, then, are moments of titanic personal achievement supposed to resonate with an audience when the context of spent time is lacking? Especially considering the weight of the film’s closing moments.

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That isn’t to say that the film isn’t a stellar entertainment. Bradley Cooper has proven himself a competent director and vocalist, and Lady Gaga can act like it’s nobody’s business. That’s on top of her impressive vocal ability. Despite the film addressing too quickly the nature of addiction, fame, creative expression, love, and art; despite its struggle to choose which character’s lens to filter the story through, Ally’s or Jack’s; and despite all the rocky melodrama that bogs down the third act – it’s still a wonderful time at the movies.

What will stick with me, more than anything, is the image of Cooper and Gaga during their first duet, singing a song they wrote the night prior in a convenience store parking lot. When it commits to telling a fairy tale, one with its feet planted firmly on the ground – weighing its character’s aspirations against their circumstances – that’s when it shines very, very brightly.

The songs are catchy, the performances solid, the cinematography adherent to theme, and the emotional core resonant. It may be the best iteration of this old Hollywood story, flaws and all.

Score: 3.75 / 5 – Good film. See in theaters.

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Mission: Impossible – Fallout; The Review

Released July 27, 2018; Written and Directed by Christopher McQuarrie; Runtime 2h 27m; Rated PG-13

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Let’s start with a word: Wow.

This is a fun movie – such a fun movie. We’ll get into why in just a moment, because I’d like to extend my thanks to J.J. Abrams and Christopher Nolan for laying the foundation that this franchise continues to build from. J.J. Abrams for hitting it with a defibrillator after John Woo’s erratic M:I:II, with the taught, well acted M:I:III. Sure, Brad Bird gave us the Burj Khalifa sequence, but other than whimsical set-pieces and faulty gadgets, his Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol can’t quite stand up after McQuarrie’s entries; Abrams’s M:I:III has a stellar villain, gifted to us all by the immortal Phillip Seymor-Hoffman. So it holds up where other films in the franchise cannot.

Why thank Christopher Nolan? Without his brand of cerebral, image and action-oriented storytelling, we wouldn’t have Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation or Fallout. Especially the latter – his fingerprints are all over it. From the in-camera stunt work, the measured escalation and logistical-mastery of action sequences, to the beautiful movement of the camera across a scene. The fact that the action is the story here, that very little feels excessive or particularly wasteful, and that Paris becomes a playground for the imagination (McQuarrie’s imagination), is all the product of a particular brand of filmmaking – one which Nolan and McQuarrie both subscribe to.

Now let’s break down the movie itself.


The Plot

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Is adequate. It’s exactly what it needs to be: A tightly wound web of intrigue and double-crosses. Don’t go plucking at any of those entangled threads, though, because it’ll unravel faster than you can keep up with the film’s aggressive pace.

I’ve often thought that Mission: Impossible movies were made backwards. The final showdown or set-piece is created first. I’s a real show-stopper, something requiring very real commitments from all the characters and with the highest stakes. If I had to guess, I’d figure that’s how McQuarrie and Cruise approached their latest outing. They build the finale, get their characters where they need to be, throw it up on the vision-board and get to work on motivations and the requisite plot-threads to get them there.

What makes this Mission better than any that came before it? As far as the story is concerned, it has to do with returning writer-directer Christopher McQaurrie, who resumes his roles from the previous film. This feels like a natural continuation, with momentum and character arcs continuing without any hiccups.

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Returning we have Alec Bladwin as Hunley, Cruise as Ethan Hunt, Simon Pegg as Benji, Ving Rhames as Luther, Rebecca Ferguson as Ilsa Faust, Sean Harris as Solomon Lane and Michelle Monaghan as Julia (Ethan’s former wife).

Newcomers include the striking Vanessa Kirby as White Widow, Henry Cavill as the mustachioed August Walker, and cold-as-steel Angela Bassett as new CIA Director Erica Sloane.

The cast does the heavy lifting here, figuratively and literally. The plot itself is fairly weak, even though it’s buried in a near indecipherable web of spy-jargon and info-dumps.  You have some information, a person, or some plutonium, and Tom Cruise has to chase after it with his buddies – some or all of whom may have differing alliances. All the details are window dressing.

Which is fine. The story here has to be simple. We need double-crosses and the simplest of motivations to accommodate those shaky alliances. Ethan Hunt, as we come to learn, just doesn’t want to let anyone down. It’s black and white, what’s good and bad always in clear view, with gray areas whenever the filmmakers distract us with something flashy or with a latex mask and some clever camera angles.

That’s it. And I love every second of it.

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We aren’t here for moral dilemmas, psychological puzzles, or much of anything other than what Mission Impossible is known for. We want stunts, we want excitement, white-knuckle chases through exotic locales, and a timer ticking down to zero. If the plot can provide those for us, justify each without betraying its internal logic, set up and pay-off its threads without derailing our suspension of disbelief – then it’s worth it.

Tell us what they’re chasing, why it matters, who’s after it, and let Tom Cruise off his fucking chain.

I won’t bother elaborating on that. Fallout is basically this: Hunt, Benji, and Luther screw up a deal for Plutonium, former members of The Syndicate called the Apostles steal it, and it’s a race from there to get the plutonium back before bombs are made and deployed.

From there you’ll have to see it for yourself.


Craft

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From a logistical perspective, this film is mind-blowing. What does that mean? Short-answer: Knowing in the back of your head that the mayhem playing out on-screen had to be planned, arranged, and filmed with real people and props in real locations. McQuarrie and Cruise are on a mission to provide for us the most audacious set-pieces they can while keeping everything grounded and in-camera. What does that mean? It means that the stuff you’re seeing is really there. Limited use of green-screens and CGI, both used only to scrub out wires and restraints, as well as gussy up some images.

When Cruise and Cavill are fighting someone in a bathroom, they really are throwing themselves through plaster and bathroom stalls. Tom Cruise really is jumping rooftop to rooftop. He really is sprinting, full-tilt, across London. The guy is an animal, obsessed with providing the entertainment on display in this movie. It’s bliss.

Fist-fights are clearly composed, shot with minimal post-production interference (read: shaky-cam), and are well-choreographed. You can imagine that these are special operatives hammering away at one another. Each strike has a counter-measure, a block and reversal. It’s an idea that permeates the entirety of the film.

For every vote of confidence, there’s a betrayal. For every bad-guy beaten, there’s another pulling the strings from afar.

Some of them will surprise you, and others may infuriate you. Grow accustomed to characters shouting, “He planned this all along! That’s what he wants us to do!”

But the balance of power is constantly evolving. Down to the individual frames of every chase sequence in the film.

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Acting is fantastic, especially between Cruise and Ferguson. They have sure-fire chemistry that never once fails to deliver, no matter which side of the conflict they fall on. It gets a bit sentimental near the end, but never goes so far as to have her fawn over him. The movie spares us that much, at least.

My only qualm would be Henry Cavill. The delivery of his American accent requires a stoicism, fitting for someone like Snyder’s Superman, but juggling lines with Alec Baldwin? No. Baldwin chews up nearly everyone on-screen with him. It would’ve been great to see more of him. Also missed is Jeremy Renner, who was an excellent foil to Cruise in Ghost Protocol and ally in Rogue Nation. Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames have more than enough chemistry, Angela Bassett and Vanessa Kirby enough screen-presence, and Sean Harris enough breathy portent to round out the supporting cast without any help. Michelle Monaghan even carves out some time for herself near the end.

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Coupled with the infallible charisma and daring action-sequences, is a superlative attention to artistic detail. Paris feels alive, its very architecture implemented into the action of the lengthy car and motorcycle chases through its streets and alleyways. Colors pop, symmetry abounds, and no light is wasted for dramatic effect.

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Add to this the placement of the camera in the film’s most exciting moments. We are exposed to everything, every crash and crunching bone.

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And sometimes we are just left lingering by the wayside to absorb the sets on their own.

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As for sound? Superb. Punches land with authority, glass breaks and beaks again on the floor, and gunshots hammer against the side of your head. This is as close to technical perfection outside of Mad Max: Fury Road as you can get.

The music feels borrowed, though. From Hans Zimmer, probably. It just sounds familiar, but with enough of that Mission: Impossible brass to keep you smiling.


The Verdict

There are flaws. For as adequate and exciting as the plot and action are, respectively, the dialogue itself occasionally fails. There’s a pattern to the film that becomes apparent early on – a juggling act between exposition and action that feels at once arbitrary, then later a painful necessity. It doesn’t drag on, however, not at all. And from a visual stand-point, it’s the smartest movie you can see in the theaters right now.

This movie, should you choose to accept it, will put a big goofy grin on your face for a little over two-hours and keep it there for hours afterward. So long as you don’t subscribe to picking through its narrative with a fine-tooth comb, it’s a great time at the theater. See it on the biggest screen possible.

If you’re like me, you’ll still be humming the theme song to yourself a few days later.

4/5 – The best action movie since Mad Max: Fury Road, but lacking anything fresh in its dialogue and plot.

This review will self-destruct in five, four, three, two…

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