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May 23, 2022

Is This Something?
Answer: Yes, This Is Something

Trailer for new Mission: Impossible movie, Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One.

I knew they were filming two movies back-to-back; I didn't know it was supposed to be one big story.

Eh. I don't love that part of it, but I think they're just doing that because all of their plots are the same plot (guy is going to blow up the world) and here they've come up with a new wrinkle on that plot, and making the two movies two parts of one story lets them use that same plot twice.

That plot?

Well, check out the trailer.

For those of you who don't feel like watching it, the evil plot, fronted by McKittrick (the CIA chief from the first Mission Impossible movie, way back in 1996 or whatever) is that the New World Order has decided it wants to decide what "truth" is forever more, and they're telling Ethan Hunt he can either get on board with The Regime or he can get dead.

It's like they made this movie for me.

Quitting James Bond was never so easy. (I still haven't seen No Time to Die and someone sent me the Blu-Ray; I could watch it, but I just don't feel like it.)

And I don't know how much I trust Grace Randolph but she squeed over Top Gun: Maverick.

She's not alone; it has a 96% Rotten Tomatoes score, and since this is a near-zero "Representation" movie (it's almost all dudes), it can only be earning that score the old fashioned way: Through industry payoffs.

Or, possibly, the second-oldest-fashioned way, because it's good.

I might actually see it in the theaters.

By the way, I bought the UHD version of The Northman. Apologies for hyping this movie in the sidebar after just seeing a few reviews. It's... not great. I'd say it's interesting, maybe admirable. It's daring and defiant in that it flouts all of the current rules of political correctness and social responsibility...

But it's not great and it's not fun.

The movie is based on the Viking legend of a vengeance quest, the story that inspired Hamlet (though that was much-changed for the play). But the director, how do I say this, subverts your genre expectations by making the quest for vengeance as ugly, bloody, brutal, ignoble, cheap, deflating, and unsatisfying a thing as possible.

Just a quick example. From the trailer, you know that the bad guy killed his father and seized his throne. Well, when Amleth, the son of the murdered man, comes of age and sets out for vengeance (why did he wait so long? dude's like 30), the bad guy is no longer a king or earl or whatever he was. King Harold of Norway didn't like that he had killed the former king and so had kicked him out of his throne. The bad guy actually wound up fleeing and is, per a report Amleth hears, "now just a sheep-farmer in Iceland."

That's not exactly true; he's more like a colonist attempting to build a homestead and grow his own little mini-kingdom.

But right there, early on, the bad guy is taken down in stature from the King Who Stole My Father's Crown to someone who has already had the stolen crown taken back from him, and been forced to flee his own country, and is now... just raising sheep with a small household and a dozen armed men under his control.

Sure Amleth still wants his vengeance but the bad guy isn't exactly Darth Vader any more, is he? There is no longer any idea of "freeing a kingdom" here.

It's not just "Now it's personal." It's now, "Now it's only personal."

And the movie does that deliberately. And throughout the story, it deliberately subverts the expected tropes of the vengeance story.

The first time we see adult Amleth, he's a berserker with a Viking tribe conducting a raid on a peaceful village in Russia. And they're just killing villagers to plunder them.

And, while Amleth himself does not participate in the nastiness that follows -- he just kills the men who are valiantly defending their village from raiders -- the rest of the Vikings do what Vikings do with captured women.

They also enslave able-bodied young people and sell them into servitude.

And they execute young men and little boys, presumably to make sure that none of them get any of their own ideas about vengeance.

As I said, Amleth is not an active participant in that stuff, but he also doesn't object. And it's no surprise to him -- he's been doing this a while, he knows what the post-victory procedures are.

Some may appreciate this kind of non-prettified, non-Hollywooded-up look at the brutal reality of life in 895 A.D., when a moose bit my sister.

The hero is deliberately made not a hero. He's an anti-hero.

He's also not very interesting.

It's hard to find a real rooting interest here.

Also there's not much action here. There is some scattered brutal violence, but little action. The distinction I'm making is between "action" as a sort of combat sport in which both sides in the contest have a realistic chance of winning, so the outcome is in doubt, and so there's tension and excitement.

A fair fight, in other words.

Violence, on the other hand, includes killing a drunken guard by surprise. It's not a fight, it's just butchery. I don't object to it -- most of the people killed live by the sword themselves, and would not refrain from killing a drunken man by surprise themselves (or a woman or child, for that matter) -- but there's no excitement or tension in it.

The director is attempting to tell a "realistic" vengeance story, and a "realistic" take on what the story that inspired the legend really might have gone like. (Well, except for the constant real-not-imagined intercession of the Norse gods and Norns and witches.*)

And while I can respect that, I am sad to say that an emotionally, morally realistic vengeance story is not a very exciting, engaging, or exciting thing to watch.

I have to also stress it's not a bad movie. I think it's smart and well-made. I don't object to what Robert Eggers is attempting here and I do admire his guts in doing it.

But... having really hyped this in the sidebar, I feel I have to offer up a review and take that hype back.

As I said, no fun. It's not bad. If you're interested, watch it. Just don't take any special pains to watch it and don't pay a lot of money to see it.

Just watch Conan the Barbarian again. You might think that's brutal, but notably, Conan never attacks an innocent in that. Even the camel had it coming.

* And speaking of Conan: Here's another subvert-genre-expectations thing he does. In Conan, the gods are kept off-screen and magic is kept pretty minimal, with one big exception (Conan's resurrection). That's because the filmmakers there wanted to make this fantastic world seem real to you.

In The Northman, the film throws much more magic at you, and magic intrudes a lot more than it does in Conan. That's because the director has the opposite goal that John Milius did in Conan: Milius wanted to make the fantastic world realistic and seem like a world you know, but here, Robert Eggers wants to make the real historical world seem like a fantastical world that you don't know at all, and a strange, alien place.

It's interesting but I don't know if I love it. And no, the magic can't just be in Amleth's head or something; he gets specific direction and prophecy from supernatural guides that are accurate and point him correctly to things he needs and places he must go.

Also, one more fun Conan thing: There is a scene here directly, and I do mean directly, out of the Conan movie. Though it's such a classic sort of fantasy scene that I'm sure it came from a dozen other stories.

Anyway, Amleth goes on a brief mini-quest that is straight from the Conan movie. But in the Conan movie, the supernatural element was only briefly suggested, and probably didn't even happen at all, whereas here, oh baby, they turn it up to 11.

I just find it interesting that Eggers keeps doing this, turning the "Fantasy Supernatural" dial up to its highest setting in a story that takes place in the real world.

digg this
posted by Ace at 03:50 PM

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