Thus spake my great nephew-in-law, Nate, 4, after recently seeing his first movie in a theater, "Incredibles 2." His other inquiry was whether or not the lights would come back on when the film concluded.
Well Nate, in answer to your first question, we've been working on that since time immemorial, both in real life and in fiction, and we have some theories ... none conclusive. Some scientists believe it's bad mommies and daddies that make bad people. And then there's the bad seed concept: the matter of an aberrant gene causing one to think they have not only the right, but nay, the obligation to bully people and shade the world from sunlight. Got that? You'll learn all about the competing ideas of nature vs. nurture in college. I'll be curious to hear your thoughts.
Nate's quandary came to me as I watched, discerned, parsed and moderately enjoyed Tom Cruise's latest bit of thespic derring-do in "Mission: Impossible-Fallout." It is typically convoluted, doubtless a result of the screenwriter's inability to creatively enhance a plot that lazily relies on the timeworn but nonetheless reliable gimmick that Hitchcock dubbed the McGuffin. It's the thing that people are after, the profoundly iconic example being the Maltese Falcon. Of course, over the years, the bone of contention has greatly inflated in consequence.
In this colorful, travelogue-like landscape, smugglers, powerbrokers, mad ideologues and guv'mint agencies of nearly every stripe fall over each other in dire attempt to gain ownership of nothing less than the (drum roll, please) plutonium cores. It takes no great leap of the imagination to foretell that before closing credits roll, said potentially world-destroying bombs will be wired to a timing device, and that there'll be a death-defying race to the finish like no other ... until the next time.
But while hackneyed to the point of looking like a film school example of the hoary cliché, there is a certain comfort in its mindful integrity, a pleasant whimsy in its "is what it is" chutzpah, a hyperbolic homage to action movie mechanisms forged in the silent era. And while Cruise now exhibits a bit of poutiness that makeup can no longer conceal, he nevertheless brings this modern throwback across the goal line, and will probably do so three or four more times before transitioning, like Gable, into roles more becoming a man of his years.
That bit of catty gossip disseminated, this cast of villains and good guys mirrors, whether by accident or design, much of what we're witnessing today, replete with scurrilous brigands rationalizing their behavior in the name of the greater good and despotically informing that anyone opposing them is our enemy. While the basic storyline has seen-it-before stenciled across it, we are kept busy between torrents of formidable daredevilry, trying to figure, sans scorecard, who's who. In addition to the fiendish factions duking it out, so, too, are several secret agencies.
Gut feeling, we figure the Mission Impossible franchise isn't going to go rogue on us. And for gosh sakes we've got to hitch our hopes to something in this hodgepodge of players who may or may not be what they purport to be. So we trust that Cruise's Ethan Hunt wears the white hat.
Alas, the flaw is not in his character, but in the, ahem, fallout of his world-saving goodness. Like Fredric March's wealthy, charity-minded media tycoon in "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit" (1956), Ethan's driven altruism makes loving him a dangerous liability. Just ask his ex-wife.
Still, there's time for levity amidst the business of pondering the price of decency and keeping no-goodniks from despoiling the planet for sadistic fun and profit. Comedy relief is achieved in this overlong film courtesy of the heroic Mr. Hunt's IMF sidekicks, Benji Dunn, played by Simon Pegg, and Ving Rhames's Luther Stickell, both of whom rise to the occasion despite a nervous patter that regularly threatens to prove otherwise.
Judging by volume alone, you get a lot for your money here. There's shoot-em-up thrills and spills aplenty, a panoply of swindlers, cutthroats and international double-dealers to render us aghast, and, getting back to Nate regarding the nature of humankind, sub-phylum bad people, a raft of philosophical conjecture to that concern. So Nate, while Ethan Hunt fights them one by one, we would-be heroes will keep trying not only to figure out what creates such individuals, but what, as sadly evidenced of late, makes certain folks rush blindly to their support.
Hopefully, by the time you're old enough to see this film, we'll have it solved. And then, as you saw at the end of "The Incredibles 2," the lights will come back on not only in the theater, but in the whole wide world.
"Mission: Impossible-Fallout," rated PG-13, is a Paramount Pictures release directed by Christopher McQuarrie and stars Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill and Rebecca Ferguson. Running time: 147 minutes
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