Action redux (Rogue Nation vs. Spectre)

I recently re-watched Mission Impossible-Rogue Nation and was happy to realize it not only rewatched well but that I’d likely watch it again down the road. On the other hand, it made me also realize that I’ve no real interest in rewatching one of the other, big action films of the year, Spectre.

It was a surprising revelation for me, not because my reactions to the films in theater didn’t suggest that may be the case, but because it highlighted for me the difference between the two. MI is full of huge stunts and danger and great visuals. But it is also full of humor, often subtle or understated. Spectre takes itself so seriously that it is almost maudlin, and certainly dour. Pretty and full of stunts? Sure. But Spectre reminded me of the beginning of Casino Royale… but never quite getting beyond the brilliant black and white opening sequence. Without humor the story just lacks heart.

And that is the piece missing in Spectre. Even though Bond is driven from a dark place coming out of Skyfall, he has no sense of reality around him. Mind you, Craig’s efforts were underwhelming as well; it felt like he was just going through the motions. Cruise’s Phelps, however, not only enjoyed the adrenaline rush and the game around him, but also struggled with decisions, pain, and the darker aspects of the story. Yes, MI is lighter overall in mood by its own nature, but it certainly has meat on its bones.

This almost becomes a Marvel vs. DC conversation. I’ve learned, to my surprise in recent years, that I’m much more a Marvel kinda of guy than a DC. I appreciate DC, but for cryin’ out loud, they are so serious. Even Shakespeare knew you needed comic relief in the midst of tragedies. Without those levels it just makes it all one note.

Another Cruise film comes to mind in this conversation: Edge of Tomorrow (aka Live. Die. Repeat.). It is the humor that makes that story sail. The stakes are huge and the relationships tangible… eventually, but the film makers, and even the characters, don’t lose track of the absurdity of the situation. It is a necessary human coping mechanism. Even the most serious plots tend to have moments of respite, be they joy or humor, to help balance and contrast the horror around them. Those films that don’t tend to get numbing. And while there are times where that is the right intent, I would argue that it shouldn’t be for a piece of action/entertainment, even if that story is aspiring to be something more, for lack of a better word, literary.

There won’t be a lot of rewatching of anything for the next several weeks; it is awards season. Expect a lot of new reviews leading up to my annual guess-fest for the Oscars. This is one of the least obvious fields in a long time–at least so far–should be an interesting few months of announcements ahead.

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