Tag Archives: action movies

Is it time to retire James Bond yet? (Yes. Yes, it is.)

Last night I went to a screening of Spectre, the latest James Bond movie starring lumpy Brit Daniel Craig and directed by Sam Mendes. I am not by any means what you’d call a Bond superfan; I missed the last two movies, Quantum of Solace and Skyfall (or saw them and promptly erased them from my brain). I also didn’t know much about Spectre except that it had some fab (and highly publicized) leading ladies in Léa Seydoux, Naomie Harris, and Monica Bellucci as (finally, praise the lord) an age-appropriate love interest for 007; and that, per the Sony leaks, it had a shitty ending.

So I wasn’t expecting to love it, but I figured it’d probably be entertaining. So I watched it. And I am unashamed to tell you that I thought. It. Sucked.

Spoilers ahoy — you’ve been warned.

WOW was this movie not my bag. First off, it was almost two and a half hours long, which is one of my least favorite movie trends (along with studios remaking movies as “lady movies” to double their cash). Second, those much-ballyhooed leading ladies? Naomie Harris as Moneypenny is just there to do men’s secretarial work. Léa Seydoux, though she gets a couple badass moments, is still there mostly to wear clingy dresses and fuck Bond once before professing her love for him after they’ve known each other for like two days. And Monica Bellucci? One of the only “Bond girls” in more than five decades to be anywhere close to Bond’s age (51 to Craig’s 47, versus Seydoux’s 30), who would be far too hot for him at any age? She appears for maybe eight minutes of screen time, three of which are spent making out with Bond’s face wearing the suit she buried her husband in while he pins her against a mirror. It’s like these movies have the mentality of a horny teenage boy who thinks any two people left in a room together for more than five minutes are bound to start screwing each other, because that’s just what adults do.

Also offensive? This film doesn’t even have the decency to have an original plot. As I watched it, all I could think about was how it felt like a retread of this summer’s miles-more-fun Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation. A shadowy government agency is forced to shut down, as one maverick agent with superhuman capabilities stumbles on an evil multi-country plot to destroy the world and has to take it down with the help of his small band of loyal friends and a gorgeous woman. Even Spectre letting its female lead take down some baddies is something Mission: Impossible did already, and much, much better. I thought MI5’s decision not to have its leading lady go for a roll in the hay with Ethan Hunt was one of its best decisions; as I wrote after seeing the movie, “It’s a smart move by Cruise et al. to move his character away from dashing romantic lead toward more of a (no-less-dashing) mentor figure rather than having him stray into verging-on-creepy cradle-robber territory.” Sadly, the Bond franchise has most definitely not gotten the memo. (There’s also a villain who sounds like Woody Allen and a truly tiresome Bond backstory, about which the less said, the better.)

This is all bad, but it’s not even the worst part of the movie. No, the worst has to be how purely joyless, and airless, this ponderous thud of a blockbuster is. Things that should be exciting — Bond takes out three cars with a rapidly disintegrating plane! Bond uses his magic watch to escape his maniacal face-drilling sorta-stepbrother! Bond kills two goons while handcuffed and with a hood over his head! — instead feel rote and robbed of all their tension. Situations are introduced and resolved so quickly they barely have a second to let the audience feel the tension. Instead we’re merely left staring into the vacant blue of Craig’s eyes to contemplate how his expression barely flickers whether he’s contemplating yet another woman’s naked body or a man who’s just had his eyes gouged out of his head.

Spectre is no doubt intended to be a throwback to classic Bond movies; there are references galore, including a fluffy white cat that was my favorite part of the movie. But honestly, all they did was serve as a giant reminder of how outdated the whole idea of Bond is. This is, after all, a hero created in 1953. Hilariously, a big part of the plot of Spectre involves a character repeatedly pointing out that Bond — and the entire 00 program — is hopelessly outdated. This guy advocates for drone strikes and increased surveillance; granted, he’s in cahoots with an evil mastermind who wants to sow chaos and discord worldwide, but dude has a point. A drone doesn’t get tired. A drone doesn’t have to take a break to seduce a woman half its age before changing into another slightly-too-tight suit. A drone won’t steal your £3 million Aston Martin prototype.

So the question is: Why are we still making movies about this slick, womanizing, DGAF white guy when his fictional foes lampshade his obsolescence and the real-life star says he’d rather slash his wrists than make another one of these movies? He’s old-fashioned, but in the worst way, and all the modern technology in the world isn’t disguising it well. People have been making Bond movies since 1962. It’s time to shake things up. If the gadgets and the suit cuts can evolve, the gender politics sure as hell can. And when the same old mold is churning out duds such as Spectre, really, what is there to lose by trying something new?

Update: I wrote about how the Bond franchise by taking a few lessons from Mission: Impossible for Vox; you can read it here.

 

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A few thoughts about Mission: Impossible after seeing the fifth (!) movie

The fifth installment of the Mission: Impossible franchise came out July 31 this year, 19 years after the original. Tom Cruise, 34 in the first film, is now 54, and perhaps a tiny bit wrinklier around the face (thought not so much the torso, as a pointed shirtless scene reminds us). I saw Rogue Nation in the theater — paid $13 for it and everything — and it was a freaking blast.

I haven’t seen movies three or four, but this latest one at least purposely leans hard on the very “impossible” conceit inherent in the title: After 19 years, Ethan Hunt has basically achieved superhuman status, to the point where his associates toss him increasingly insane feats of physicality (“So all you have to do is hold your breath for three minutes”) like they’re giving him a particularly stubborn jam jar to open. It’s a smart way to poke a little fun at itself and give some humanity to unstoppable badass Ethan.

But perhaps the best part about Rogue Nation is that though he is still very much the star of the film, good old Tommy Cruise is more than willing to move aside and let his costars have a turn. Simon Pegg, the bumbling, goofy genius in more than one big-screen franchise, gets to take down a baddie himself; Jeremy Renner’s IMF director backs up his wayward agent with hardly a question asked. And most surprisingly, Cruises’s female lead gets to be a sexy, killer spy without having to bed Ethan at any point. Okay, the movie can’t resist the idea completely — one eye-rolly scene has Ilsa beseeching Ethan to run away with her — but she also gets whole action sequences without Ethan, taking on opponents twice her size and even saving Ethan’s bacon in the aforementioned three-minute underwater challenge. It’s a smart move by Cruise et al. to move his character away from dashing romantic lead toward more of a (no-less-dashing) mentor figure rather than having him stray into verging-on-creepy cradle-robber territory. Rebecca Ferguson/Ilsa might return in a later movie — which would be great — and she and Ethan might then wind up in bed together, but for this film at least she escapes in a hot car with all her professionalism intact.

The other great thing about the M:I movies is how their plots are now basically 100 percent pure MacGuffin. In that, they remind me of the other massive action franchise of a similar time period: the Fast & Furious movies. Both have been impressively performing hits, managing to bring back the same leads every few years to create something reliably entertaining. Beyond the ever-more-ridiculous stunts and set pieces, F&F’s appeal hinges on the chemistry of its main ensemble, while M:I rests on Cruise’s muscled shoulders and toothy grin. Both are wildly, hubristically American — F&F distinguishes whole cultures by a few shots and slightly different kinds of house music; M:I insists that the fate of the world lies in the hands of one American agent, who radiates so much goodness and importance that a total stranger working for a rival agency refuses to let him die on principle. It’s hilarious and soothing at the same time: Here, in these film universes, America occupies its proper place as the unquestioned, unbeatable leader of the world, with the superhuman movie characters as the essence of the American Spirit — unkillable, undefeatable, daring, and above all, righteous.

After I got home from the movie theater I put on the original Mission Impossible and found myself dazzled, as always, by young Tom Cruise’s pure charisma. At 34 he crackles with vitality, impossible handsome, unfailingly intense, the perfect encapsulation of a modern American movie star; nearly two decades later he’s still handsome but has mellowed slightly into the role. That might sound odd for a character who spends the entire film on the run from baddies of various nationalities, affixing himself to the sides of planes, and kicking the shit out of a man who looks like a mutant NBA player and is nicknamed “the Bone Doctor” — but it’s true. He carries himself like a man who knows exactly who he is — and, for that matter, who you and your mother and everyone you’ve ever met are, too.

Ethan Hunt may only feel truly alive when he’s nearly killing himself, but he is completely at home with himself, as I imagine Cruise is with these movies. The suspense doesn’t come from whether Ethan can pull off stunt after wildly improbably stunt, because we, and he, know he can. And the plot, the original of which required many repeated viewings for me to wrap my head around, barely matters this far along the line. There’s a shadowy agency controlled by Britain’s prime minister that’s an evil polar opposite to the IMF? Sure! To save Benji from being blown to smithereens in a café Ethan memorizes a massive list of precise names and dollar amounts in the time it would take you or me to floss? Why not! It’s a weird corollary with these and, again, F&F: As the stakes ostensibly get higher and the action even more action-y, it’s easier for us to settle in with our popcorn and just enjoy.

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