My thoughts on MI6. It works, but why?
TL;DR — Forward momentum. Emotional tension. Plot stakes that are mirrored in the action and acting. These are why MI6 works. I could not care less about the plot…plus Tom Cruise’s willingness to live in his movies, rather than depend on CG.
While I won’t touch on how the movie functions as a film, (others much more qualified than me have talked endlessly about this) I’m going to focus on what made me want to watch this PARTICULAR rendition of the action franchise that’s missed my radar, almost all my life.
Let’s start from the top. My mom is a huge action film junkie. Her ideal man is somewhere between Bruce Willis and Bruce Lee. Tom Cruise is her permanent #mcm and any chance she gets, she’ll go on forever and ever about how these guys really put themselves on the line for the movies she gets to watch from the safety of her chair.
This of course had a huge impact on me. I love action for my own reasons, but growing up in a house that always had explosions and flying fists was definitely an influence on me. In fact, it’s one of the reasons I don’t actually watch action films as much anymore: it reminds me of a time where I watched things indiscriminately without a critical eye for things.
Now, I know the movie is going to make everything turn out for the better. The point of the story is how you make me believe otherwise, even for just a second. I have to feel like maybe, just maybe it might not work out.
As I got older and wanted to see stories that I couldn’t guess the ending or twists for, my love for action faded. Complexity overtook spectacle, and eventually I gave up on the genre as a whole. Then, one day I stumbled upon Donnie Yen, starring as Ip Man in a biopic that released the same year as The Dark Knight and Ironman. 2008 was a moment for action.
The movie showcases Donnie Yen as the titular Ip Man, really living in his role. The physicality of the role isn’t limited to the fight sequences, of which there are PLENTY, but the performance is strongest in the quiet moments between scenes, right after a horrendously violent display and that’s what impresesd me.
Ip Man is not an invincible powerhouse of a human being. He is a father, a husband, someone who just wants to live a life of peace. His character is quite well fleshed out, but it brings the myth and legend of the real person into a place where we believe what we see on screen. From the moment the movie started, I couldn’t look away. The framing, the choreography, writing, acting, it was all there. The violence was brutal, beautiful and impressive. There were real stakes, villains whose motivations were personal and meaningful.
The best part about the movie was that nothing felt like a caricature of reality. Yes, the movie heightened the elements of believability, but it was all grounded in a sense that these were real human beings, doing real things. The origin of the myths were on display, and I could completely understand how Ip Man became a larger than life name after seeing the movie.
Cut to the present. Having just watched Mission Impossible Fallout a few weeks after watching Ghost Protocol just to recap, I can say that everyone is right. This movie is the franchise’s best entry, hands down. The reason why? It feels real.
I’m not comparing Donnie Yen to Tom Cruise in terms of acting or action chops, but I do want to draw a parallel. I wasn’t really sure who Yen was before his role in Ip Man but what he brings to the screen is something Cruise has plated exquisitely for the latest Mission Impossible. Donnie Yen has gone on to continuously impress me in roles, while for Tom Cruise he’s barely been able to hold my attention in movies. Barring Edge of Tomorrow, I have not watched any recent Cruise movies.
Cut to: Fallout trailer drops, I see superman in his mustachioed glory, along side our boy TC, in a bathroom fight that had my eyes absolutely glued to the screen.
SO, I deceided to give MI6 a chance.
The movie opens with our team LOSING 3 nuclear devices. Now, I know the movie is going to make everything turn out for the better. The point of the story is how you make me believe otherwise, even for just a second. I have to feel like maybe, just maybe it might not work out.
This movie does just that. I have no reason to belive that the movie won’t end well, the world will be safe and all will be well. Yet somehow, they did it. Anytime the plan is in motion, there are logical and reasonable obstacles in the way of our heroes. While I did find my attention wavering between action sequences, the work of the script, actors, camera people, everyone involved, really sells the idea that things are just not working out and there may not be another mission after this. The stunt work is impeccable and while the action is great, those scenes also offer the heaviest narrative weight.
In one scene, our main villain is revealed and Ethan Hunt has to give chase. He is quite literally faced with obstacles larger than life and must scale them just to be one step behind his objective. The famous Tom Cruise running makes its appearance and I am absolutely SOLD on the fact that Hunt is giving his all to catch the bad guy.
If we’re talking action, then the bathroom scene is literally one part of amazing and gripping fight choreography. When we see the difference in physicality of Henry Cavill and Cruise, versus their target, it’s clear why they are diametrically opposed. Hell it’s even in the dialouge. Angela Basset says that while Hunt is a scalpel, her man is a sledgehammer.
While the scenes of dialouge do lower the sense of tension (just because I can’t bring myself to care about the whole world anymore), we the audience are reminded why Ethan Hunt is the best one for the job. He cares about saving everyone, but he starts with small actions.
There’s a moment, just post the BMW sponsored chase sequence as Hunt and crew are about to get reported by a police officer. While our boy Superman slides a gun out of his sleeve, we see Cruise try to talk down the situation, eventually convincing the police officer who was shot by Hunt’s assailants to call the cops on their location so that she can get help. It’s this pathos that connects us to Hunt. He is out there saving the world, one person at a time. Contrast that to the shadowy CIA, whose actions are borderline criminal themselves.
We care about our hero, we empathize, and even if we find the plot confusing well…sometimes he does too. Hunt and his team are literally and figuratively fighting an uphill battle against someone who just wants to see them burn. There’s something to be said about ideological opposition in 2018 film, especially with February’s Black Panther and Fallout in particular.
Both films espouse the idea that you can have two characters, whose conflict grows and grows the more they are forced together. Two characters whose core beliefs are at opposition, not just their position in the plot. These beliefs influence their actions and that’s when the physicality of the movie bursts onto the screen. The most interesting stories come from a place where people’s desires push them to very different paths. Then you pit those characters against each other, testing their will, their desire and their own beliefs until someone comes out on top.
In Fallout, when we see cruise free climbing a mountain side to get the thing that will stop the world from exploding, THAT IS REALLY HIM. When he limps away from a stunt, THAT IS REALLY HIM. When we see him figuring out how to work a helicopter and not crash, and then try to crash into the villain, THAT IS REALLY HIM.
Cruise’s willingness to really sink into the action element of these films is what sets the stakes. We see him do exactly what he needs to. He delivers his lines with levity and gravitas when the moment needs either or. The way he carries each scene is dependent on how well he sold the last one and to me, that’s what makes this the best Mission Impossible film.
We know the world will be safe. We know Tom Cruise is gonna save the day. But we see him work for it. We see him battle the odds in phenomenally directed action scenes, each one building momentum until the end.
While Fallout is not perfect and definitely succumbs to the, “save the whole world” plot, that’s not what keeps our attention. We care about how our guy is gonna get out of this scene. Forward momentum. Emotional tension. Plot stakes that are mirrored in the action and acting. These are why MI6 works. I could not care less about the plot of the next one (if there is another) as long as it’s made equally competently or more than this one. It’s a high bar, but it’s the one for action franchises to beat right now.