MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL
*** (out of ****)
I literally looked up the word “sequel” on dictionary.com before I started writing this article. I would never do something as cliché as begin a piece of writing with a definition, but I’m not sure we’re using the term “sequel” correctly. Back to the Future, Part II is a sequel. The Godfather, Part II is a sequel (and a prequel!). Is Quantam of Solace a sequel? Is Charlie Chan and Some Appropriate-For-the-Time-but-Today-Feels-Like-Racist-Bullshit a sequel? This is a good question. Wait. Is this even a good question? For that, I will look up “good question” on dictionary.com.
OK, so this apparently isn’t a good question, but I think answering it may allow us to predict which franchises we need sequels for, which franchises we need “further adventures of” for, which is what I would call the James Bond movies, and which franchises we just need to fucking die, never to be heard from again.
The biggest difference between sequels and FADs (further adventures) is not their genre, but the existence of at least one major throughline. In Die Hard With a Vengeance, one line is given to the fact that somewhere a woman named Holly Gennaro exists in the world. If it’s your first Die Hard film, then you probably won’t even notice it. At no point while watching Vengeance will you think “What the hell is going on here!?! I’m so confused.” In fact, you’re most likely to be confused if you’ve seen the first two, wondering how all of this shit could happen to one NYPD.
(I understand that the Jeremy Iron’s fake motivation in Vengeance is that Bruce Willis killed his brother, but it’s hardly necessary to know that in order to understand the film.)
If Back to the Future Part II is your first Back to the Future film, nothing is going to make sense. The Godfather Part II would probably make sense having never seen the first, but almost nothing in the movie would have the emotional impact that it would to someone who watched the first and patiently waited for the second.
Let’s discuss two of today’s franchises, and stop dating ourselves. Christopher Nolan has stated that The Dark Knight Rises will be the end of the trilogy, and the rest of his career will be Batman-free. For the sake of the argument, we’ll believe him. Now Warner Bros has to figure out who is going to direct Batman 4, right? Wrong. There’s no way in hell they would be that stupid. They have two options: drive a Uncle Scrooge’s gold coin silo to Nolan’s house and cross their fingers, or suck it up, wait a decade, and then give the franchise to someone else and have them reboot it. (I understand how wishful it is thinking they will wait a decade. I give them six to nine months.) The throughlines in the Nolan’s Batman might not be glaring, but they are there. Also, Nolan has created a world all his own, and anyone who tries to come in and copy it, even the wonderful Zack Snyder, will crash and burn. There are themes Nolan is tackling that serve as throughlines, and I believe him when he says that when it is all said and done, he will have a complete, if not overrated, trilogy. And then we have the Mission: Impossible series, something I should have probably already mentioned by now.
Brian DePalma, John Woo, J.J. Abrams, and Brad Bird. What do all four of these directors have in common. Literally nothing. The movies they make are so wildly different that even mentioning them in the same sentence seems outrageous, almost that it should come with consequences that at first seem absurdly disproportionate, but, after the dust has settled, all parties come to the understanding that everything that happened happened for the best. Not to mention the fact that all four men have directed a Mission Impossible movie.
The first Mission Impossible movie featured a short haired Tom Cruise discussing complicated plot points while using crazy spy technology like explosive gum. Not gum that had explosive flavor, like Orbitz. He used gum that literally exploded. That kind of thing was that movie’s bread and butter, probably because the TV show it was based on did things like that. I don’t know and there’s no way to find out.
Mission Impossible 2 gave DePalma the boot, replaced him with John Woo, and replaced Tom Cruise’s short hair with that long hair that only Tom Cruise could pull off without looking terribly homosexual. Woo had less time for those fancy gadgets, and instead turned it into a John Woo movie, but one that people would actually go and see. It was dumb, but hey, it was worth a shot.
With Mission Impossible 3, we have officially abandoned anything that strings the series together, except Tom Cruise. We can just change the name of the movies to Tom Cruise: Action Movie, or of course, The Further Adventures of Ethan Hunt. Abrams, director of MI3, took a cue from Woo, and used the opportunity to say “This is what Tom Cruise: Action Movie would be like if it was directed by J.J. Abrams.” I don’t know if Abrams is better than Woo, but MI3 was definitely better than MI2, and confirmed that this would be the direction of the franchise for the foreseeable future. Which director would next take the “Direct a Mission Impossible movie” challenge?
The cool thing about this strategy is that you can skip “episodes” of the series when you don’t trust the director. If Michael Bay is directing MI5, and Woody Allen is directing MI6, I can skip 5 and countdown the minutes until 6 comes out, just to see what the hell that is all about. There was no way I’d skip Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (finally), on DVD and Blu Ray today, after I found out that it was directed by Brad Bird. Bird, in case you haven’t heard of him, has directed three of the greatest movies of the last decade and a half. Ghost Protocol isn’t one of them, but the fact that it’s his first live action film is more than enough to get my ass in the seat.
If Brad Bird brings one thing to the franchise, it’s re-affirming that this should have always been closer to a smarter, car-free Fast and Furious, then The Bourne Trilogy and the Daniel Craig Bond films. This strategy might keep it from being great, or particularly deep, but the movie stays consistently fun the entire time, and sometimes, that’s equally important. The plot stays breezy enough that it doesn’t get bogged down like the first one, and Bird never fully reveals the fact that this series is, and always will be, an exercise in action movies for the director, which means it doesn’t get bogged down like the second one did. Its goals are clear: get to the set-pieces, make some jokes, throw in some surprises, have a stupid sub-title. Cross them all off the list.
Shane Black is set to write and direct Iron Man 3. No one is scared of the box-office potential for Iron Man 3. I’m sure it will do fine. But Shane Black and Jon Faverau could not be more different as directors. This means that Iron Man 3 will determine whether or not the Further Adventures of Iron Man (let’s not give Faverau so much credit that we would call them sequels) will be like the MI films or the Bond films. I hope Black can come in and make his own movie. If not – if Iron Man 3 feels just like the first two – then we have a franchise that is just asking paint-by-number directors-for-hire to do what they’re told, instead of making the movie that they want. It’s of course entirely possible to be successful if this is the case, but it’s pretty hard to be interesting. I’m already thinking of the possible directors for MI5.