Why does MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: FALLOUT work so well?

I’m no fan of Tom Cruise, so it takes a lot to (a) part with hard currency to to watch a Cruise film and (b) publicly admit how much that film rocks.

He did it with EDGE OF TOMORROW, one of the best sci-fi movies of all time. I could watch that thing every day, and the more you dislike Cruise, the better the movie actually works.

Hear me now and believe me later in the week: Cruise did the impossible again with MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: FALLOUT.

Why is this movie so good when the last Bond movie bored me to bits, despite my utter fandom for Daniel the Craig?

(1) Practical stunts beat the snot out of CGI nonsense

Yes, CGI is expensive, and it can create amazing spectacles.

Yet we’re used to it. The wow factor is gone.

When I see a hero take on a CGI monster, it doesn’t scare me at all.

Practical stunts, where real people do really dangerous things, still impress people. And this movie is packed with them.

(2) Surprises on top of surprises

Thrillers are about betrayals, secrets, revelations and surprises.

Action scenes are only a bonus, dessert after the starters and main.

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: FALLOUT gives the audience action scenes where the action is simply a setup for a betrayal, revelation or surprise. It’s a great way to move the story forward.

(3) Ruthless editing

This movie clocks in at two hours and 28 minutes. It doesn’t feel half that long.

How did the director and editor pull that off?

They ruthlessly cut the boring parts. Putting together a list of Scenes that Are Always Boring would require an entire post, though it would include Two Characters Talking as One Character Drives and my favorite, the Hero Types on a Computer.

The shorter, easier list is Scenes that Are Always Exciting, and that world champions on that list are (a) chases and (b) fights.

So if you make a movie that’s 90 percent chases and fights, with betrayals and surprises after every chase or fight, yeah, it’s going to be fast and fun. The trick is to avoid repetition. As a big fan of cheesy ’80s action movies, including everything Jackie Chan, Arnold and Jean Claude Van Damme ever made, I testify to the fact that most action movies believe, deep in their explosive souls, that the only way to mix things up for your audience is to multiply the number of bad guys facing our hero until the climax, when the producer has to bus in hundreds of extras and run the costume shop 24/7 to stitch up enough Expendable Bad Guy coveralls so they hero can wade through them all on his way to the Big Bad Guy.

That’s not to say there aren’t cliches and silly tropes in this movie. I pray to whichever gods that are listening, please, please stop Hollywood writers and directors from ever using stolen nuclear warheads as a plot device. I beg you. And the revelation that Clark Kent with a Beard is actually a bad guy came way too early for me.

But the nuclear MacGuffin in this movie doesn’t really matter. What puts us in those theater seats are the chases, fights and stunts, which are all spectacular. Well done, Tom the Cruise–now give us a sequel to EDGE OF TOMORROW.

Top 7 reasons why SPECTRE is average while SKYFALL soared

The latest 007 film misses the target—despite having the same ingredients as SKYFALL: great actors, great director, great action scenes.

Here’s why:

7) Biggest fight scene comes in the middle, not the end

Whether it’s a novel, a movie or a speech, one rule is absolute: End things with your strongest punch.

The biggest fight scene in SPECTRE is a train battle between 007 and that green shirtless guy from GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY.


So when the climax comes, the final confrontation is between Bond and the supervillain, who’s crippled and crawling away from his burning helicopter.

It’s a non-fight with no tension or suspense. There’s a 0 percent chance the villain will find a way to win and a 100 percent chance Bond is triumphant.

6) Bond goes to the villain’s lair with no plan

If a super villain keeps trying to kill me, and just sent a ginormous assassin on my train to say hi, why would I show up at his secret lair expecting dinner and a drinks?

This is exactly what Bond does. He has no plan other than to rely on the villain’s generosity and stupidity.

In SKYFALL, Bond does travel to Silva’s secret lair, but in that case he does have a plan: find the man, then activate Q’s tracker beacon to bring in special forces in helicopters and capture Silva.

When 007 manages to escape and blow up the entire desert lair in SPECTRE, it feels cheap. It’s also premature. The First Law of Secret Super Villain Lairs is, You can’t blow up the lair until Act 3.

5) 007 doesn’t suffer or sacrifice

In SKYFALL, you saw what happened when Bond gets shot and loses faith in his job. He’s not the same. He’s not even qualified, physically and mentally, to go back in the field.

And when he goes out there, he does suffer and sacrifice to win. Silva destroys his family home and M dies.

In SPECTRE, Bond breaks the rules by breaking half of Mexico City, and getting sacked by M doesn’t affect him at all. Q and Moneypenny help him out. He still gets his cars and gadgets. To win, Bond doesn’t suffer or sacrifice one bit.

4) No femme fatale

There’s a great stinger ending in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE where the femme fatale, a Russian spy, has to choose between shooting her mentor, the evil woman with the poison-tipped shoe, and shooting Bond.

There’s real suspense there. It matters.

SKYFALL had a wonderful femme fatale, and I’ll always remember the tremble in her lips as she tried to smoke a cigarette and keep it together once Bond asked about Silva.


SPECTRE has no femme fatale.

3) The cinematography feels average compared to SKYFALL

Any movie or TV show can have amazing special effects now. What made SKYFALL so good was the beautiful colors and framing of every shot and the mood created. Cinematographer Roger Deakins made that happen.

Deakins is also the cinematographer for THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION and NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. Check out this story for how Deakins worked magic in ten iconic shots.

Every 007 film costs $250 million or so, right? Spend an extra couple million, every time, to hire Deakins.

Great cinematography is also the secret behind the success of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD.

Great actors + a brilliant cinematographer = a classic film, something you’ll happily watch again and again.

And that’s my acid test for any movie: Would I pay to watch it again?

2) Predictable and boring betrayal from within

Thrillers are about betrayal. Always have been, always will be.

Half the fun is trying to figure out who the traitor is and how the hero will escape the trap.

They stole Moriarity for the betrayer in SPECTRE, and he was great standing up to Benedict Cumberbatch. In this movie, though, he’s obviously a bad guy from the first seconds you see him, and he’s not scary at all.

In the end, Bond doesn’t take him out. Voldemort does. Always a bad story decision, having a sidekick do the work.

1) The best villains are multi-talented

Average 007 movies split up roles: (1) a smart villain with an army of minions, (2) a tough killer and (3) a traitor from within.

Once you watch Bond slay the tough killer, you know it’s a cakewalk to mow through the army of minions, punch out the nerdy super villain and blow up his volcano base.

Bad 007 movies split up those roles and divide them even more, with two villains, three different killers, four femme fatales for Bond to sleep with and two different traitors from within.

Brilliant 007 movies combine those roles into one juicy package for the villain.

Silva from SKYFALL was the criminal mastermind, the deadly assassin and the traitor from within.

006 from GOLDENEYE (Sean Bean dies again!) was the main villain, just as tough as Remington Steele and a traitor you didn’t see coming.


Both those movies saved the biggest fight for the end, with Bond versus the villain in an even fight. Doing this right is the difference between ending the film with a shrug or a bang. I believe 007 deserves to end movies in style.

More goodness about 007:

007 marathon: Just say yes to DR. NO

tinseltown tuesday meme morpheous

DR. NO is the first 007 movie, the world’s introduction to Sean Connery and an instant classic packed chock full of win — right?

Well, the first two things are true.

The last part isn’t. This film is imperfect.

It’s a rough draft of a rough draft, with big pleasures and big flaws and a lot of cheesy nonsense that you’ll recognize as the first fumbling gestures to what will become glorious 007 movie staples that will change movies FOREVER.

So DR. NO isn’t a perfect film or the amazing classic we all think it is. 

You should watch it anyway.

I just did. As part of a 007 movie marathon — we bought the boxed set of Every 007 Movie Known to Man — I’m watching each movie, in order, with our 11-year-old son who has never seen a Bond movie before.

DR. NO was our first. It will not be our last, nor will it be our favorite Bond movie of all time. Yet there’s something about the first that’s always worthwhile and interesting and magical, even in the bits that are a bit undercooked.

Sean Connery, the Best Bond Ever?

Not in this movie.

Sure, he’s got charm and a sense of menace. He’s instantly credible as Bond and fun to watch.

Best ever? Nope.

Connery in DR. NO beats the pants off Roger Moore any day of the week. Daniel Craig crushes Connery’s first whack at Bond, and I’d even give Remington Steele the win in GOLDENEYE versus Connery in this one.

The later Pierce Brosnan Bonds get a bit cheesy, and he gets massive demerits for all the invisible car nonsense in his last 007 film and singing ABBA songs in that movie with Meryl Streep, so Connery edges Brosnan overall.

Also: Timothy Dalton is under-rated, and gets mondo bonus points for appearing as a glorious bad guy in HOT FUZZ.

Also-also: George Lazenby just doesn’t count.

So here we go, ranking the 007s in order:

Daniel Craig > Sean Connery > Pierce Brosnan > Timothy Dalton > Roger Moore > George Lazenwhatever

The Bad Guy

DR. NO’s villain is a mysterious mad scientist named who lost his hands to radiation experiments or some such thing and belongs to SPECTRE, which he carefully explains to Bond stands for something like Some People Who Are Really Smart and Choose Crime Because It’s Way More Fun to Have Secret Lairs in Volcanos and Such, except he makes it spell SPECTRE.

Dr. No lives on an island with a ton of henchmen, a sweet underground lair and all kinds of fancy prison cells connected by the most awesome airduct system ever.

Basically, Dr. No is a trendsetter for supervillains to come: a rich, disfigured foreigner with some kind of nuclear / doomsday device in his underground lair and all kinds of henchmen who wear matching jumpsuits.

Related post: Out of fairness, I dissect my favorite genre, thrillers

The Bond Girls

There’s a random dark-haired girl in the beginning who Bond meets at a card game. She breaks into Bond’s apartment, which somehow endears him to her instead of making him fill her full of lead as a possible KGB assassin.

There’s a bad girl photographer working for Dr. No and another bad Bond girl at the British consulate who’s a double-agent for Dr. No and flirts with Bond before eavesdropping on him. So naturally he asks her out and winds up going to her place, which is an ambush. Ugh.

At this point, I’m yelling at the screen, “If you see any pretty girl, Sean the Connery, turn around and RUN FAR AWAY.”

Finally, we’ve got a blonde he meets on Dr. No’s mysterious and forbidden island: Honey Rider, the main Bond girl, who’s on the beach hunting for shells. Beautiful girl? Yes. Good actress? Nah. But it works alright.

The Gadgets

None, really. M makes Bond swap out his original gun for a Walther PPK because it has more stopping power.

Bond does have a neat little shoulder holster and displays some tradecraft when he plucks a hair and sticks it over his hotel closet door as a way to check if anybody comes looking around his room.

The Story

The opening sequence is a bit lame compared to later 007 movies. There’s a long bit with British men in a club, talking a lot, before anything really happens. Sean the Connery doesn’t really appear on screen until FOREVER.

What DR. NO does right is set up the basics of a 007 story: a suave secret agent traveling to interesting places around the world to sneak around and uncover plots by intriguing villains.

Dr. No himself gets a great build-up. You don’t see his face for a long time. The first scene with Dr. No, you only hear his voice. The second scene, his body and metal hands. Great stuff. My only quibble is when you finally do see his face when Dr. No dines with Bond and Honey Rider, it’s a let-down. The actor is pretty wooden. I wanted to be even more impressed, to keep up the momentum and menace.

Some of the sidekicks are simply bad story. There’s a boat captain who’s almost — not quite, but close enough — the Jar Jar Binks of Dr. No. The ominous man following Bond from the airport isn’t a bad guy, but a friendly CIA agent, which was a little too cute.

Overall, though, the first Bond story sets up a nice template for all the other movies. Big hero, big villain, big stakes.

The Verdict

This movie won’t blow you away. You’re not going to see the credits roll and shout “Again again!” like a crazed Teletubby.

Despite the rough edges, for any real fan of 007, this is required viewing. You’ll see the seeds of future bits, the origin of characters and tropes that will show up in film after film.

Grade: B+. There’s tension, action and excitement, and at the time, this was ground-breaking stuff.

What made SKYFALL so insanely great?

Yes, the cinematography was beautiful. Just watch the trailer, which is packed with great shot after great shot.

But that’s not why.

Also: cinematography is just a fancy word for “hiring the right dude to actually work the camera and stage amazing shots, because the director is really the Big Boss of the film and not the guy behind the camera, though papers of news will confuse you about this by talking about the man behind the camera when they talk about directors.”

Also-also: the dialogue and writing was much, much better than your typical Bond film. But that’s not what made SKYFALL so excellent that it may be the first Bond film in the history of modern civilization to get nominated for Oscars.

So what truly made SKYFALL so good?


Story is the reason that Michael Bay can waste $250 million apiece on movie after movie about robots that change into cars or whatever, movies that only 12-year-old boys really enjoy watching.

Story is the reason THE KING’S SPEECH — made for about $20 million — crushes any Michael Bay explosion-fest known to man.

As a big fan of cheesy action movies, I appreciate ones that embrace their cheesiness. They make it more fun. When you start taking a movie about robots from outer space too seriously, it shows on the screen and stops being fun.

SKYFALL rocks so hard because it takes something else seriously: story.

Just for comparison, I watched a typical 007 movie from the Roger Moore era: THE SPY WHO LOVED ME.

Here’s the trailer for that piece of cinematic trash:

SKYFALL and this Roger Moore thing have the same ingredients: (a) suave spy for the British Secret Service who (b) can’t walk down the street without tripping over 27 beautiful women, half of whom are (c) trying to kill him because they work for (e) some insane villain with pet sharks and a secret lair inside a volcano. There will be (f) glorious gadgets and (g) amazing chase scenes and (h) witty one-liners.

That formula means nothing if you — the audience and the director and the actors — don’t care about the characters.

Bond has typically been made of cardboard. Oh, he’s got the tuxedo and the charm and the gadgets. He gets the girls. But what makes him tick? Does he ever suffer and sacrifice and change?

Roger Moore never really suffered or sacrificed or changed.

Daniel the Craig definitely suffered and sacrificed in CASINO ROYALE. And he bumped that way, way up in SKYFALL.

Sidenote: A big reason that A QUANTUM OF SOLACE stank up the joint was the Hollywood writer’s strike meant the writing and story was thrown together by the director and Craig, on set. Not a recipe for success. 

The more brilliant move by Sam Mendes and his writers was to give serious character arcs not just to Bond, but to the traditional supporting cast at MI-6, the characters who are usually just pieces of scenery.

In the old Bond movies, M was just a boss behind the desk and Moneypenny was a pretty secretary that flirted with Bond as he hung up his coat and went in for his next assignment.

In SKYFALL, Moneypenny is an amazing driver who shoots somebody you don’t expect. She’s actually important to the plot.

Even a minor character played by Ralph Fiennes goes from bureaucrat and enemy to courageous ally. He gets a story arc.

And this time, M is absolutely crucial to the plot.

Crucial to Bond, who suffers quite a lot because of a decision she made: “Take the bloody shot.” Crucial to the villain, Silva, who suffered just as much, if not more, because of M.

Finally, M is crucial to the film’s story itself. You could argue that it’s her film.

Sam Mendes gives us a movie that’s not just chase scenes and gadgets and Bond girls — he makes us care about the characters. He takes us on a journey with them, with each of them forever changed.

And that’s the power of story.

007 music video montage

This weekend, I saw SKYFALL with my peoples for a second time, and it was just as fun as the first time. I like it, I love it, I want some more of it.

Also: we watched THE SPY WHO LOVED ME using this ancient technology called Dee Vee Dees, and no, those Bond movies starring Roger Moore were not as cheesy as you remembered. They are filled with far more cheese than you can possibly imagine, making you appreciate what they’re doing with Daniel Craig all the more.

I hope, and pray, that Sam Mendes comes back to direct the next 007 film. Daniel Craig is reportedly signed up for at least two more.

And here you go: a sweet musical montage with Daniel Craig’s first two Bond films.

SKYFALL song and trailers, for all you 007 fans

The new Bond film is coming out – SKYFALL – and of course it has a song, by Adele.

Here’s a trailer for the film from the UK, because I love the UK and somebody told me both Daniel Craig and Bond are supposed to be all BRITISH or something.

So I have questions. Will you see SKYFALL — or would you rather watch TRANSFORMERS 5: ROBOTS VS GI JOE OR CARE BEARS OR WHATEVER?

Who is your favorite Bond villain and Bond girl, and why can’t they be the same person more often, just to save on Hollywood salaries and such?

And who, other than Daniel Craig, would win in a fight between all the actors who played Bond?