spy film

REVIEW: Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team race against time to find some missing plutonium. As his team travel around the world on the tail of a terrorist organisation, they encounter old enemies and old friends and Ethan begins to doubt who he can trust.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout is the sixth film in a franchise that has been going for 22 years now. This is the first film in the series that has a returning director, Christopher McQuarrie, and it’s the first one that’s more of a direct sequel. Generally, the Mission: Impossible films can stand apart from one another as the only connecting features are Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt and Ving Rhames’ Luther Stickell, and while you can certainly follow what’s happening in Fallout without seeing Rogue Nation, having that prior knowledge adds extra depth to characters and their motivations.

This is a franchise known from its stunts and in many ways, Fallout is one thrilling set piece after another. There’s electric fight sequences – the standout being Hunt and CIA Agent Walker (Henry Cavill) against a suspected terrorist in a bathroom – chase sequences that go from a car chase to a motorbike chase seamlessly, and there’s Tom Cruise jumping from buildings, dangling from helicopters and doing a HALO jump from 25,000 feet. These are all edge of your seat stuff. The action sequences and stunts are all shot well, there’s no shaky cam here, and knowing that it’s Tom Cruise who is putting himself in dangerous situations to entertain adds to the drama.

The stunts are spectacular and jaw-dropping, but thanks to the script and performances Fallout isn’t style over substance. There’s a lot of heart in this film, as Ethan is a man who has his regrets and his principles, mainly not wanting to trade the life of one person for the lives of millions. The relationships Ethan has formed over the course of this franchise are a major part of his motivations and the story as a whole.

The plot itself is full of twists and turns, some more obvious than others, with many characters having hidden agendas. Isla Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) returns with her own mission while head of the CIA Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett) doesn’t trust Hunt so puts Walker, a trained assassin, on his team. These combinations of characters, new and old, lead to some brilliant dialogue and chemistry. There is humour to be found from Fallout, and it’s not Simon Pegg’s Benji being comic relief. The humour here is very natural, coming from characters finding themselves in increasingly unpredictable situations, and the laughs never take away from the moments of tension or drama.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout is a tense, relentless action-packed thrill ride. It’s a technically brilliant film, from Lorne Balfe’s score to the beautiful cinematography from Rob Hardy. Fallout is a film where every aspect of it shines. 5/5.

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REVIEW: Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)

When the IMF is dissolved, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is on a mission to find out the truth about the Syndicate – an international rogue organisation as highly skilled as the IMF were. As he tries to track down a mystery figure, he encounters Isla Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), a woman with her own agenda. Ethan and the remnants of his team are unsure if they can trust her, but they may not have a choice as the Syndicate steps up their dangerous game.

Rogue Nation starts off with one of the biggest stunts in the series which is a thrill ride and shows you just what the Mission Impossible series is about. Unfortunately, the film can never really top that. It’s still a well-paced action film with some great fights, car chases and stunts and it’s also a lot of fun.

Rogue Nation has more of a spy thriller feel to it that the first Mission: Impossible had. It has shady agents with their own agendas, there’s the head of the CIA Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) breathing down Agents Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and Dunn’s (Simon Pegg) necks, as they try and aid Ethan without being detected, and a villain who is more like a ghost that Ethan is constantly chasing after. Rogue Nation does a good job blending together the action spectacle and the espionage thriller aspects to make an entertaining and exciting film.

Isla Faust is a fascinating character. She’s not just the female-version of Ethan Hunt (which she so easily could’ve been), she has her own motivations, flaws and personality. She’s a skilled fighter, she’s smart and is the kind of character that you believe is a badass secret agent.

The final showdown in Rogue Nation is more of character-driven one rather than a spectacular action sequence. This makes it tense as it involves characters you’ve seen across a number of films now so have seen their relationship grow. 4/5.

REVIEW: Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)

When the IMF is implicated in the bombing of the Kremlin, it’s shut down and all agents are disavowed. Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team are on their own as they race against time to clear their organisations name and stop a potential nuclear war.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is a thrill ride from the very beginning and the action never really stops. It does so many things right. The humour, which generally comes from all the fantastic characters and their interactions, lands every time, giving you a short rest bite before the next tense action sequence begins.

With Ethan this time are Agents Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and Jane Carter (Paula Patton), and analyst William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) who has his own secrets. These four characters gel together very well, and the chemistry between the four of them makes them feel like a solid team. And they need to be a solid team as just about everything that can go wrong with their mission does. The tech is faulty, they must improvise, and they have no back up.

The iconic stunt in Ghost Protocol is Ethan scaling the side of the Burj Khalifa and it looks incredible. The heights he’s at is enough to make anyone feel queasy. The whole sequence in the Burj Khalifa, both the stunt itself and everything else that happens in that building, manages to be tense, funny and exciting. It’s not just the big stunts that look good, the fight sequences are all well-shot and easy to follow.

While naturally Ethan Hunt is the lead, and Tom Cruise is the star, of this franchise, Ghost Protocol is the first film in the series where the team does indeed feel like a team that solves the problem together. Each character has multiple times to shine and show off their skills which is great. It’s not only the core team that are relevant and interesting, it’s the secondary characters too. Naturally some get more screen time than others, but you’re never bored when Russian agent Sidorov (Vladimir Mashkov) or assassin Moreau (Léa Seydoux) are on screen.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is fantastic. The characters are brilliant, the action sequences are gripping, and it’s a film that never really slows the pace. It’s a non-stop action thrill ride with likeable character who you want to see succeed when all the odds are against them. It’s the best. 5/5.

REVIEW: Mission: Impossible III (2006)

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is trying to balance his life as an IMF agent and his attempt at a normal life with his fiancée Julia (Michelle Monaghan) when manipulative arms dealer Owen Davian (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) who is set to steal and sell an item known only as the Rabbits Foot comes onto the IMF’s radar.

Mission: Impossible III is a good mix of intrigue, action and more emotional depth when it comes to Ethan Hunt. Ethan has semi-retired and is in love and wants to settle down with nurse Julia. While it would’ve been nice to see these two meet and fall in love, Cruise and Monaghan’s chemistry more than makes up for that. Also, Julia isn’t stupid, she knows there’s something up with Ethan and his “business trips” but she trusts him enough that he will tell her what’s going on with him when needed.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman is satisfyingly menacing as Davian. He’s calm under pressure and always seems to be a few steps ahead of Ethan and his team. Davian plays underhand, threatening people Ethan cares about including Julia, and is an intimidating presence even when he’s not on screen.

The action sequences are exciting, especially the showdown on a bridge. One of the main set pieces in Mission: Impossible III is when Ethan and his team infiltrates the Vatican. That sequence shows off all the spy tech and how good these guys are at their jobs. Mission: Impossible III definitely spaces out the action, instead focusing more on the characters and the idea there’s people at IMF that might not be trusted.

Mission: Impossible III is a good action flick with solid performances from Cruise, Monaghan and Hoffman. Ethan’s team does get left by the wayside during the final act and the Rabbit Foot is a McGuffin which causes the characters to act and it really is a surface level plot point. At its heart Mission: Impossible III is about Ethan and Julia and it’s probably the most character driven film of the series. 3/5.

REVIEW: Mission: Impossible (1996)

As the latest film in the Mission Impossible series is released at the end of July, I thought I’d rewatch the series and review them all, posting a review a week leading up to Fallout’s release.

When his team is killed, and he’s presumed to be a traitor, Agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) must discover and expose the real traitorous spy without the help of his organisation.

Mission: Impossible is great because it feels like an old-fashioned spy thriller rather than a full-on action film. It focusses on the mystery behind who is the real mole in the organisation and while the set-pieces it has are gripping, it’s very much a character driven film.

The settings also make it feel almost timeless. The way the foggy streets of Prague are lit gives the scenes there an almost film-noir feel. Those scenes introduce the team, led by Jim Phelps (Jon Voight), showing how each of them fits into their roles, and some of their cool gadgets too, and how things can quickly unravel when there’s potentially a traitor in their midst.

The iconic sequence midway through the film, you know the one – Ethan Hunt is hanging on a wire, into a room where he cannot make a sound or touch the floor – is fantastic. It’s so tense and thrilling and a large part of that is due to the fact that there is no music. As soon as Hunt enters the room, it’s just the sounds the characters make that you can hear, nothing else. This cranks up the tension to almost nerve-wracking levels.

Mission: Impossible is a great spy thriller with a lot of twists and turns. The few action sequences are great, though the finale is a bit over the top. That being said, it’s a finale built on the revelations that Hunt, and the audience, has been seeking throughout the film, so it’s pretty satisfying. 4/5.

REVIEW: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

My original Captain America: The Winter Soldier review from April 2014 is here.

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is attempting to make a life for himself, working for Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and SHIELD when an assassin from history known only as the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) resurfaces.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a brilliant film. It combines spy thriller with superheroes who are really down to earth characters, so well that it almost goes beyond being a “simple” comic book movie. The superheroes here are all very human, and besides Steve Rogers himself who’s pretty strong but still human, they are all people who get hurt and bleed.

Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) is a spy who’s used to showing people what they want to see, so her developing friendship with Steve is quite special. They are almost moral opposites in how they see the world, but they find a common ground and seeing them work together is great. Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) is a brilliant character, he’s a soldier like Steve but he’s never been a part of SHIELD so is someone Steve can talk to and trust. Because that’s the thing with SHIELD, it’s a super-secret organisation where everyone has their own agendas, you can never be sure who to trust.

Secretary to the World Security Council Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) is new character who personifies SHEILD’s shady agenda. He’s an old friend of Fury’s but being at the top of the SHIELD hierarchy means he definitely knows more than he lets on. Captain America: The Winter Soldier presents the idea of an organisation with almost limitless control thanks to its surveillance and ability to act outside of the law – this is political thriller territory and it handles it all incredibly well.

The fight scenes in Captain America: The Winter Soldier thrilling and generally well-shot. There’s a lot of hand to hand combat sequences and while there is quick editing and a variety of shot types, there’s moments where the camera tracks whoever’s fighting or there’s a wide-shot, so you can actually see the actors go at it and it makes the whole thing feel more real and tense.

There’s so many stand-out scenes in Captain America: The Winter Soldier but one of my favourites is the attack on Nick Fury’s car and subsequent car chase. Not only does it show off SHIELD’s technology and what a badass Fury is, but it’s tense and exciting and you get worried because Nick Fury is not a man who’s supposed to be able to get hurt.

I can’t not talk about the Winter Soldier. He’s one of the most ruthless yet interesting villains in the MCU. The music when he’s on screen, ‘The Winter Soldier’ composed by Henry Jackman, is haunting as well. It has this low bass rumble and these mechanical sounds that are almost like screams, you can imagine this is what the Winter Soldier hears in his head. It’s a great piece of music and the whole score is one of the most memorable from the MCU.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is magnificent. It’s got the usual spectacle but with its characters who are so relatable and human, it makes it a superhero film for the ages. 5/5.

REVIEW: The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

sM6KRdyCIA’s finest Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) is forced to team up with the KGB’s best Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) to stop a mysterious terrorist organisation who are attempting to build and sell a nuclear weapon.

The plot is relatively simple, infiltrate the bad guys and stop them, but that doesn’t stop there being some twists along the way – it’s also full of spy film cliches but it does them so well I can’t really complain. The simple plot might not work for some people but by having a simple spy plot, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. can revel in its action pieces. Being set in the 1960’s it’s all very glamourous, the costumes and the set design are beautiful (the music is also great) and by being in the 1960’s it allowed to be more tongue in cheek and fun compared to other spy films.

The action scenes are great, the boat chase, the opening sequence with the car chase, the shoot outs all are very slick and stylish and the use of split screens as the action is happening is both a refreshing take on the action and makes it more fun and interesting.

The chemistry between Cavill and Hammer is what really sells these two characters and their antagonistic relationship that slowly becomes something like a grudging respect. Cavil is great as the thief turned spy, full of charm but is also rather cocky while Hammer is full of controlled rage that isn’t always so controlled. The bounce off each other wonderfully and also with Gabby (Alicia Vikander) the asset Solo and Kuryakin use to make contact with the terrorists. Gabby is really a part of the main trio and is just as smart and capable as the two men.

The supporting cast is great too, Victoria (Elizabeth Debicki) is the mastermind of the villainous organisation and is quite happy to use her beauty to get what she wants and to dupe men into thinking they know more than they do. Waverly (Hugh Grant) is kind of smarmy and the sort of guy who knows everything – or at least pretends to.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a lot of fun but the main enjoyment comes from the chemistry between the three leads. For once I’ll say, I really would quite like a sequel. 4/5.