Mission: Incomprehensible

· 300 words · 2 minute read

So, the defining characteristic of spy film villainy (vs. their early Cold War literary precursors/source material) is that the villains are non-state actors threatening a global balance of power that we might not like — that is terrifying and anxiety-inducing — but that we definitely do not want upset. That was just market forces: You’ve got to sell them globally, so the bad guys need to be de-aligned.

The Mission Impossible series doesn’t break from this tradition: It is also worried about non-state or rogue state actors in the classical non-ideological vein. The newest one also has a non-state actor for a villain, so “check,” but its villainy is framed as its capacity to use misinformation. That makes it sort of reflective of post-2016 American anxieties. That’s interesting, in a way, because the classic ’60s-era spy films went explicitly and pointedly non-ideological, and sometimes even paired heroes with Soviet partners to drive the point home. They didn’t even register as anti-communist allegories.

The new MI movie has a definitionally non-ideological villain, but its post-2016 anxieties about misinformation seem at least political if not ideological, and there’s an explicit tie to Russia that lost me a little, but feels like maybe it’s meant to sketch an association rather than point an explicit finger — at least not one you couldn’t unpoint with a little selective localization when you go to the global market.

Anyhow, it was a very long movie that got pretty tedious and felt weirdly self-satisfied. There was so much “finally, back to the movies! Tom Cruise is our last movie star!” rhapsodizing about Top Gun: Maverick it was impossible to watch this one and not feel like Tom Cruise’s publicist should’ve just hid his clippings, because there’s something insufferable about this movie. I just wanted it to end.