So I went to the flicks yesterday, despite having no money, as it was a Bank Holiday and I felt I should do something so went to my favourite which as most of you know is the IMAX. I love the IMAX it reminds of what films used to be like when you were a kid: big, imposing and overwhelming. I wasn’t actually that fussed with seeing Mission Impossible 4 to be honest what I was interested in, as anyone who knows me will have gathered, is that there was the 6 minute prologue to the new Batman film attached to the beginning. Unfortunately my preconceived notions about both of these was reversed by the end which is an uncomfortable position to be in for a life long Bat-Fan. Why? I shall explain…
Mission Impossible -
Let’s get this straight first, I really like Mission Impossible 1. It was well written, fun, exciting, well directed and return to the traditional ‘European’ school of spy thrillers. Brian De Palma did a great job and I thought Tom Cruise and Jon Voight were great. The other two I also like. They weren’t amazing but they were decent enough action flicks (2 having a particularly fun third act) so in general I like them but I doubted whether it would stretch to a fourth film.
Brad Bird takes the helm to Direct, this being his first live action film having only directed all my least favourite PIXAR films prior to this. Oh yeah and Iron Giant which is great. *ahem* Point being its a bold move for the producers (Cruise himself and previous director JJ Abrams) to dump him in the driver’s seat and to be honest it was a bad move.
You see M:I 4 is a strange one. There are so many bad things about it I should hate: AWFUL dialogue, crap performances, lousy editing, poor directing but weirdly all these are cancelled out by the things it does right. I’ll try to explain; The dialogue is dreadful but the plot is a lot of fun, the villain is non-existent and in no way threatening but the stakes are high and it really drives the plot, the actors in the team are ALL dreadful but Tom Cruise is actually really good (still macho as all hell but brings some of his very real charm to the role), the action sequences are badly directed and confusingly edited but the set pieces themselves are really original and very exciting, there are cheesy lines (“Mission Accomplished!”) but they then get skewered by a funny line (“You actually said that?”) and both female characters in the film are hot but one is a much better actor and interesting character than the other.
You see it becomes this weird vortex where all the really shitty bits are cancelled out by the genuinely really good bits creating this weird balance of an okay film. It is not fantastic but seeing it on IMAX helped the experience a lot (the breathtaking ‘tower heist’ section is a lot of fun). The biggest problem I think was putting the (to be blunt) inexperienced Brad Bird at the helm. I don’t like him as a Director anyway but this honestly does not help his case. The plot and set pieces (which are what drive a good action film) are solid, very good in fact but due to a Director who seems not to like the weird fleshy things on the screen and who subsequently cast actors who are about as interesting and deep as a puddle of spit, it falls way short of being a really great film. Either way, I enjoyed it just for the set pieces and fight scenes which are great fun and for the same reasons I used to hate Brad Pitt I have now acknowledged Tom Cruise is actually a pretty good actor, no matter how hard he tries to hide it. Definitely worth a look.
The Dark Knight Rises prologue -
Okay, let’s get this straight first. I love Batman. In any form. Comic, cartoon, film, computer game, action figure I love the daft, tight-wearing, mopey bastard and forgive him all the stupid things he does (Batman & Robin mainly) so it’s a small knife in the back when I am yet again let down by him, not least also let down by one of my favourite Directors Christopher Nolan.Admittedly it was only six minutes but there was too much going wrong in those six minutes for me to say I enjoyed it.
There was a lot of hype prior to it about it being “amazing” and “spectacular” but the set piece it leads into is not as amazing as everyone had me believe. It involves an audacious aeroplane heist reminiscent of the corridor scene in Inception and Hong Kong heist in Dark Knight. In short my problem is Nolan is repeating himself in this regard, he has never been great at action but the prologue for Dark Knight was so much more entertaining and edge-of-your-seat. Being confronted by the guy from Queer as Folk was weird too.
Then there’s the editing. I know it’s an exciting hook to start the story but there is a LOT of exposition Nolan is trying to get across in a very short space of time and he has crammed it in waaaaay too tight. Much has been made of Bane’s indecipherable dialogue (more on that in a minute) but to be honest everyone’s dialogue raced past so quick I didn’t get a lot of it. This is not, as many nerds are claiming, creating an exciting ‘race to catch up’ with the plot, this is unclear story telling. Fine he may explain it all later in the film but Nolan is better at signposting than this, see Memento and Prestige. Inception roared ahead like a freight train and had a brain melting plot but everything was clearly and concisely explained every step of the way. This scene is not.
The sound mix. This is the real problem with this scene. Sound is the most underrated part of film yet also the most essential. An audience will tolerate bad picture, they will not tolerate bad sound. To begin with Zimmerman shoves a bassy rumble in the mix so loud the seats shake. Now bass frequencies are impressive because you feel more than hear them but it can be over powering which this one was. Even through a great sound system, which IMAX has undoubtedly the best, and a good three band compressor you will blast out the other frequencies if it is too loud. The rumble of the aeroplane and whistling wind are given WAY to high a precedence, as such dialogue is smothered. It is not just Bane who suffers, all the characters in the scene do but for one small detail. The human brain can get away (particularly when watching films) with not hearing everything, in the same way it can understand a sentence and not read every word, so long as it can lip read. Bane, with his mask, is at a disadvantage – you can’t read his lips but his voice is as loud as everyone else’s, louder in fact (Nolan probably predicting the complaints).
In short it races through things loudly and brazenly with none of the pacing or beats of the Dark Knight prologue. My big worry is this is due to pressure from Warner Bros. They want another Dark Knight/Inception level hit which they ain’t gonna get but means they are probably exerting more pressure on poor Nolan for the same amount of money as the last one. I am hoping he has not caved because this felt rushed and incomplete for a Nolan film.
There are three things that keep me interested, however. One is the ‘Transfusion’. During the frantic mid-air heist, Bane begins a blood transfusion which was clearly dealt with and quite arresting creating an actual cliffhanger. I do really want to know what that was about. The second was the pleasant absence of CG which the trailer had me worried about, mainly that awful shot in the stadium. The third is very obvious and to be honest, kind of saves the whole thing.
Tom Hardy is absolutely magnetic. Despite having a muffled voice and half his face covered he leaps off the screen and is totally absorbing. You know immediately who and what he is and he is honestly as scary if not scarier than Ledger’s now legendary Joker. He manages to project beyond the mask and really engage you. Unlike Brad Bird, Nolan clearly knows how to cast a film and Hardy is shaping up to be a great character actor. This prologue made me want to see this film if only to see more of Hardy’s performance. Bane has always been a divisive character and this looks set to be his best outing since Knightfall (it’s the comic this one is based on).
In summary, Mr. Nolan, I hope this was a rush job and you will re edit and remix this section between now and the Summer. In the meantime my breath is still very much held.