If you want to start an online brawl and decide to ask fans which Mission: Impossible film is their favourite, you will usually get one of three answers: the purists name the first M: I movie as the best that the franchise has to offer – praising the elegance of Brian De Palma’s direction and the twisted plot. Others cite Ghost Protocol (2011), for its humour, the epic stunts on the Burj Khalifa and the unique aesthetic which stems out of director Brad Bird’s background in animation. Finally, you’ll find fans like me, who will cite Fallout (2018) as their favourite film of the franchise. While its director Christopher McQuarrie is no Bird or De Palma, a solid case can still be made that Fallout is the pinnacle of the cinematic series – just let me show you why.
Teamwork at its finest
Unlike other action franchises (the most obvious comparison being, of course, Bond), Mission: Impossible has always centred on a team of spies, and while Ethan Hunt takes most of the cinematic screen time, his teammates Luther (Ving Rhames) and Benji (Simon Pegg) have always had a strong presence in the saga. And of course, Rogue Nation brought us shady British spy Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), who has a complex relationship with Hunt and some impressive combat scenes.
Fallout does a near-perfect job of integrating this myriad of characters into the plot: the team is very present throughout Ethan’s adventure, with Luther and Benji able to do more than just some hacking – and the latter even gets to wear two masks! As for Ilsa, she keeps her own agenda, which made her so interesting and unpredictable in Rogue Nation (2015). Here, she butts heads with Ethan and his IMF team as they attempt to free evil mastermind Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) and exchange him for some plutonium spheres. Ilsa has been ordered by MI6 to kill the bad guy, but once again, her love for Ethan and moral compass get in the way.
As mentioned above, Fallout is centred around this myriad of characters, who all have something to do. The movie even adds in returning secretary Hunley (Alec Baldwin), and August Walker (Henry Cavill), a brutal CIA spy whose hidden agenda is revealed partway through the film. All protagonists and antagonists have distinct motivations and goals, and the IMF really feels like what it is – a team. On that account, Fallout’s third act is an excellent example of on-screen teamwork. It takes place in Kashmir, where the heroes attempt to defuse nuclear bombs planted by Walker and Lane. The final act is extremely well-constructed, and sees the entire team working hand in hand with Ethan’s ex-wife Julia to neutralise both villains – the perfect example of an ensemble cast smartly used in an action film.
Between change and continuity: the right action formula?
Among fans, Rogue Nation is generally a more divisive entry than Fallout. While I have a soft spot for RN, I understand why some viewers struggled with its anti-climatic ending (which does not feature any major stunts) and its much darker tone (almost reminiscing of films noirs), so different from Ghost Protocol’s goofiness. Christopher McQuarrie’s second entry strikes a better balance: Fallout’s plothas an innate gravity which makes its stakes believable, but also a cinematography and some large-scale stunts which remain true to the spirit of the Mission: Impossible franchise. Fallout might not be the funniest entry in the saga, but it also will elicit some laughs from viewers (many of which are due to Benji’s antics!).
The action in the film is also a standout, to the point where it would deserve its own article: the movie has some of the best sequences of the entire franchise, and their diversity is especially striking. It isn’t all chases and pursuits here, as we also get some breathtaking skydiving, tense bouldering (a nice nod to M: I II) and of course, many well-choreographed fights. What really makes Fallout’s action sequences impactful is their structure: they do not feel disconnected from the main plot and all have a purpose. On that account, Dead Reckoning Part 1’s stunts will be more divisive. While its chases remain well-crafted, they can get a little repetitive after a while.
In Fallout, the plot dictates the action, not the other way around, and the scenes thus feel more plausible and gripping. A perfect illustration is the pursuit throughout London, which has the always-running Ethan taking off on foot to stop August Walker (Henry Cavill) after realising the latter is nefarious terrorist John Lark. The chase takes place on the roofs and in the streets of the city, and has Hunt running, helped by Benji and his team aboard a van. On top of the incredible BTS story – Cruise broke his ankle on set and kept going – the sequence is breathtaking, and makes it into the pantheon of M: I chases thanks to a single shot. During it, Ethan realises that he is going to have to jump out of a window, and while standing on the edge, gets some encouragement from office workers who saw him burst into their open space. This short scene is perfect: not only is it funny, but it helps to make the action far more impactful. Seeing that even the great Ethan Hunt is afraid of jumping instantly renders the fall tense and meaningful. This is just one of many examples which make Fallout an incredible Mission: Impossible movie as well as an excellent action flick. If you haven’t watched it yet, you definitely need to – if only to get your own ranking of M: I films!
A look at how the Rambo franchise films stack up against each other today.
With the Rambo saga, Stallone built himself a monument right next to his Rocky films. In the 1980s he created three ultimate classics, and the trilogy was expanded twice with more badassery and explosive action. In this article, we will honor Stallone’s ultimate achievements and give you our ranking of his Rambo movies!
5) Rambo: Last Blood (2019)
The last chapter of the franchise attempted to provide a closure for its titular character. John Rambo has retired to the family ranch in Arizona where he lives with his friend Maria and her granddaughter Gabrielle. When Gabrielle travels to Mexico, she is abducted by a Mexican gang, and it is time for one last fight of Rambo vs. Evil. If you ever asked you how Rambo is as a private citizen, Rambo: Last Blood has the answers.
The film leans heavily towards melodrama and is a slow burn for a Rambo film, that often feels more like an entry to the Taken movie series. The finale brings back the spirit of the old days, when Rambo pulls out his entire armory to fend off a small army attacking his house, which he disposes of in classic ultraviolent fashion. And yet the film can’t shake off the impression that the Rambo saga fizzles out instead of going out with a bang.
4) First Blood: Part II (1985)
Stallone’s new take on his character in the sequel to First Blood was that of a stoic killing machine which defined the Rambo brand from that point on. Rambo is released from jail in exchange for going on an undercover mission in post-war Vietnam to investigate the fate of war prisoners still held by the Vietcong. The trip turns into a private war between him and the Vietnamese and Soviet military.
First Blood: Part II defined a whole subgenre of action that was ripped off countless times, but this film is the only one that really matters. A razor-thin plot, one-dimensional characters and stilted dialogues permeate this film, but we’re only watching it for Rambo’s rampage anyway. And the movie delivers some of the best action the genre has to offer. With an M60 that has infinite ammo seemingly fused to his body, Rambo leaves an enormous trail of bodies in the jungle. First Blood: Part II is as undiluted as an action film can get and has become an essential member of the action Olympus.
3) Rambo III (1988)
Rambo III was the preliminary culmination of the one-man-army genre and became an action inferno of a gigantic scale. John Rambo is called from his retreat in Thailand to rescue his former commander Trautman from a division of Spetsnaz operatives in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan. If really you want to enjoy this film, you will need to fade out everything that happened between the US and Afghanistan since the early 1990s, as the plot really lays it on thick when portraying the Mujahideen as heroic freedom fighters who are besties with Uncle Sam.
Stallone is the ultimate action hero, doing impressive stunts and mumbling many bad-ass one-liners while firing off a megalomaniacal pyrotechnics inferno. The jaw-dropping action sequences have a scale, depth and clarity almost unsurpassed to this day. With Rambo III, Stallone created a pinnacle of blockbuster macho cinema, a perfectly choreographed ballet of destruction.
2) Rambo (2008)
Twenty years after Rambo’s last rampage, he returned with a blood-soaked bang. Once again, Rambo lives in voluntary exile in Thailand. When a band of Christian missionaries is abducted by a Burmese warlord and his sadistic soldiers, Rambo snaps out of his lethargy and crosses the border. The years have made John more cynical and monosyllabic with an ever-increasing sadness in his eyes.
But the shocking images of massacred villagers create a new enemy for Rambo that needs to be wiped from the face of the earth. The violence depicted in this film is unparalleled to this day in the action genre. Hordes of enemy soldiers are killed with bodies exploding and being ripped apart, the graphic detail rivals that of horror gore films. Rambo is one of the most intense and violent action films ever made and guaranteed to leave you in shock and awe.
1) First Blood (1982)
With First Blood, Stallone created a film that made the traumas of Vietnam veterans more approachable by casting it into an action thriller template. John Rambo returns from Vietnam, and while passing through a village gets harassed by the local Sheriff (Brian Dennehy). Their encounter escalates badly, and triggers Rambo’s PTSD as well as his killer instincts. The forest and mountains become his refuge from the state police, and soon the line between who is the hunter and the hunted becomes blurred.
The film is an allegory for the tragedy of so many soldiers who believed they were doing the right thing just to be forsaken when they returned home. This message is wrapped in a thrilling cat-and mouse game. The action sequences are flawlessly filmed and will keep you on the edge of your seat all the time. Stallone nails his role, excelling physically, but especially in the emotional moments of the film that range from melancholia to utter despair, and culminate in a heart-breaking ending. It cannot be understated what a masterpiece First Blood is, an ultimate classic not just of the action genre, but of American cinema!
Casino Royale was first published on April 13, 1953, only thirty-three days before Pierce Brosnan was born in Ireland. At this point, we all probably know about Brosnan’s long and winding road to becoming the fifth official Bond actor: his experience watching Goldfinger aged 11, how he lost the role in 1986 during his Remington Steele time, his marriage with For Your Eyes Only actress Cassandra Harris, and other things. But considering we have celebrated the 70th anniversary of both Brosnan and the literary Bond, let’s look at what a big screen adaptation of Ian Fleming’s first novel could have been with the fifth Bond actor.
The first thing we have to know is that Casino Royale is quite atypical from the other Fleming works: Bond is limited to defeating Soviet agent Le Chiffre during a baccarat game held at the title casino in Royale-les-Eaux, France. The man has been using SMERSH’s funds to recover himself financially, so Bond has to clean him out. This way, the organization itself will liquidate him. Bond triumphs, but the villain kidnaps Vesper Lynd, the secret agent’s love interest. Attempting to rescue her, 007 is also captured and horribly beaten on his sensitive parts before SMERSH expurgates the traitor with a single bullet in the forehead. The secret agent recovers as he shares a romantic time with Vesper, pondering to resign. This changes when Vesper commits suicide with a pill overdose, leaving a note revealing that she had been blackmailed by SMERSH into working for them and saw no other way out. A sad and enraged Bond is now determined to bring the organization down, and go after “the hand that held the gun and the whip, the threat that made them spy”.
Unlike future Fleming novels, little events take place outside a casino, a hotel and the beaches of northern France. The next Bond outings would deliver elements that would be the staple of any 007 adventure: ambitious villains, globe-trotting action, chilling moments of suspense and a romantic finale between Bond and the girl, to name a few. Despite being a first novel, Fleming reveals little about his character’s past throughout Casino Royale, only how he terminated two enemy spies to get to the Double-0 section.
This novel couldn’t be initially adapted into the official film series. Long before Dr No was released in 1962, produced by Albert R Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, Fleming had sold the rights to his first book to Gregory Ratoff. This allowed a small-screen adaptation of the book for CBS in 1954 as part of the Climax! TV show and, later, an extravagant spy spoof in 1967 when the rights reached the hands of Charles K Feldman. It wasn’t until the early 2000s that EON Productions finally took total control of anything related to the cinematic Bond, including the rights of that novel and 1983’s Never Say Never Again, the other “rogue” production.
Of the five pre-reboot actors, Pierce Brosnan was probably the closest to star in an official adaptation of Ian Fleming’s opera prima. Sean Connery could have also had that honour if Broccoli and Saltzman had reached an agreement with Charles K Feldman in 1966. Feldman was dismissed by Broccoli, and thus he decided to betray the source material by making it a spoof “suggested” by Fleming’s book, where David Niven’s retired Sir James Bond faced off his nephew Jimmy, played by Woody Allen.
But after the release of Die Another Day in 2002, the possibility of integrating this singular adventure into the official film series became a reality: the producers had the rights to the novel, and they were also contemplating toning down the profusion of special effects Brosnan’s fourth Bond film had.
The first rumours regarding an EON film adaptation of Casino Royale came by mid-2004 when sources connected to the industry reported on Bond fan sites that the Bond 21 script was “largely based” on the 1953 book. Some noted that it was being written for a generic Bond actor, yet screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade claimed that at one point they wrote it with Brosnan in mind. By that time, rumours that the Irishman’s run would end up with Die Another Day (or the Everything or Nothing video game, where he provided his voice) floated all over the tabloids with varied declarations of the actor. At times, Brosnan said Bond was “a lifetime” behind him, others that he was just tired of answering questions regarding his return, but that nothing was confirmed.
Fresh from the release of Kill Bill: Volume 2, Quentin Tarantino expressed Sci-Fi Wire his desire to turn Casino Royale into Brosnan’s fifth and final Bond film. Earlier in 2003, he shared that vision with The New York Daily News: the film would be shot completely in black and white and set in the late 1960s, right after On Her Majesty’s Secret Service with a Bond devastated by the loss of his wife Tracy. While this plan seemed in line with something Brosnan would have liked to explore –the character’s widowhood– it would have felt off to have him losing a love interest in such a short span, considering Vesper Lynd commits suicide in the finale.
The long chapter of the Casino Royale adaptations was finally closed in 2006 when it served as a reboot for the series starring Daniel Craig, but considering that Purvis and Wade had written early Bond 21 drafts with Brosnan in mind, how could have that worked? A reboot or an origin story was quite out of the question with the same actor we’ve seen in the past four films, so, could it be that this Casino Royale was most likely an integration of this atypical Bond novel into the well-known formula?
We know that the 2006 film directed by Martin Campbell introduced characters that weren’t in the novel: arms dealer Dimitrios and his wife Solange, bomber Mollaka, Le Chiffre’s mistress Valenka, and set pieces in Madagascar, Nassau and Miami before the core of the book’s plot was adapted, set in Montenegro instead of France, and replacing baccarat with Poker Hold’em. There is a chance that these original characters, or earlier versions, could have had their origins in the 2004 drafts, just like that script “largely based” on Casino Royale but with a different title may have had a major gambling scene between Bond and the villain, but how would have things like the torture scene or the death of Vesper played into a formulaic 007 instalment? Were those even present?
We don’t know the answer, and we don’t even know how close or far that pre-Craig Casino Royale was to the novel. Film adaptations of You Only Live Twice, Diamonds Are Forever or Moonraker have vastly differed from the source material, retaining a few locations and characters only. Others, like Dr No and Goldfinger, were much closer to the books regarding their structure but still had notable differences.
Here comes a bit of speculation…
Taking out the reboot elements, Casino Royale starring Pierce Brosnan would have definitely started with the gunbarrel opening. The sequence where Bond prevents a terrorist attack in the Miami Airport could have made a very good pre-credits sequence, leading to the main titles and then to the usual mission briefing scene with M.
Bond learns the terrorist attack he foiled in Miami was backed up by Le Chiffre, a banker of the world’s most dangerous terrorists. On the knowledge that he is a compulsive gambler and needs to recover his client’s funds after major setbacks, M gives her spy an unusual mission: to beat him at cards. This way, he’ll be marked for death and MI6 would give him sanctuary in exchange for valuable information that could prevent future hits. Bond’s contact would be Vesper Lynd, an “unlicensed to kill” agent 3030, and both will begin a short relationship before the game.
Things progress more or less like the novel, with Bond and Vesper captured, although the carpet beater scene might have to be toned down or not even get to start. A semi-naked 007 would overpower the villain, but before he can give away valuable information, Vesper reveals herself as a mole, takes a gun and shoots them both. Initially, she would be another of Brosnan’s villainesses (three out of his four adventures had evil girls in the dramatis personae) but there could be surprises later.
Bond recovers in a hospital, surprised that Vesper didn’t kill him. He learns Le Chiffre is positively dead, and traces Vesper to a residence near Lake Como. In a similar way to The World Is Not Enough, he corners her on a terrace, gun in hand. There, she confesses the reason for her betrayal, probably greed or power. Before Bond can bring her in, she says: “I love you, James.” Then she jumps off the terrace and dies. “The bitch is dead,” reports 007 to MI6. Putting his feelings behind, he goes through her cell phone, which leads to a terrorist attack plotted by one Mr White at an opera house in Austria.
Giving the film an explosive action finale, the last third would see James Bond preventing the attack aided by a team of enforcers. Capturing White alive, he would insinuate the existence of a powerful, bigger organization behind everything, and would die instantly under the effect of a kill chip (a tactic 2010’s Nikita used frequently). Back at the MI6 HQ, M debriefs Bond. After combing every residence associated with Lynd, MI6 found a recorded DVD inside an envelope with the words “For James”. Getting some privacy, Bond pours a glass of whisky and pops in the disc. It’s a pre-recorded message from Vesper, revealing that she fell in love with him and that’s why she disobeyed the orders to kill him along with Le Chiffre. The organization, or the government, would go after her. She had no way out. In the same message, Vesper would hint at the organization as people with “tentacles everywhere”, giving Bond actual information on everything she knows about them. Their main target would be the West and they do not tolerate failure. She finishes her message with a teary-eyed “I love you”. That makes Bond load his Walther P99, place it on his holster, adjust his tie, put on his suit jacket and walk towards the screen, determined to run down this organization and echoing Fleming’s final words of the Casino Royale novel.
With this ending in mind, the Pierce Brosnan tenure could have gone on for another two films with a new version of SPECTRE as the main antagonist, perhaps with a finale mimicking the events of the literary You Only Live Twice novel with a gruesome hand-to-hand combat and escape from a Japanese castle.
The excess of special effects and extravagance of Die Another Day was frequently blamed for causing Brosnan’s unexpected axing from the role, although the 2002 movie was a commercial success and MGM was keen on keeping the actor for at least one film more. Producer Barbara Broccoli initially agreed with the executives, but then had a sudden change of heart throughout 2004 and decided to go with someone else. While the studio owns half of the Bond cinematic rights since Saltzman left the series in 1975, selling his share to United Artists which was eventually bought by MGM in the 1980s, and every creative decision on the films (like the casting of Bond) is taken exclusively by the producers.
Considering the excess of special effects in the second half of Die Another Day, having Casino Royale as the starting point of a trilogy to conclude the Brosnan era and reintroduce SPECTRE as a subtler, modern-day terrorist organization would have been a boon, opening the path for a darker, crueller side of Brosnan’s Bond to seal his days. There is a brief moment in Die Another Day where Bond shows regret at seeing Miranda Frost’s dead body (cut short by a Jinx one-liner) that is frequently overlooked along with the many positive things the 2002 film has. That looks like the pain of an older, wiser gentleman at seeing someone so young dying for having picked the wrong side, more than the pain of losing (or having to kill) a loved one as it happened in The World Is Not Enough.
There isn’t too much to elaborate on the romance in the Bond-Frost relationship, since they barely shared a brief sex scene and their interaction was quite chilly (no pun intended at the fact they do it in an Ice Palace room), but a discreet running theme of the Brosnan/Bond and Vesper Lynd romance could be the disparity between a young, rookie agent and an experienced Double-0, letting the public know something on the activities of the other agents without a license to kill as well. Without making Brosnan look old, just experienced, a woman in her mid-20s would have been perfect to play this Vesper. Thinking out loud, Eva Green would have been ideal as she is definitely one of the pros of the 2006 production.
Speculations regarding an official version of Casino Royale stopped in 2006 when it became the 007 series reboot with Daniel Craig in the leading role. The gunbarrel wasn’t placed right at the beginning and the James Bond Theme wasn’t heard until the end credits for stylistic and plot reasons. While the film was a success, it was from that point on that most of the traditions that cemented the character began to wane dramatically.
Nicolas Suszczyk has recently updated his 2019 book The Bond of The Millennium: The Days of Pierce Brosnan as James Bond. Visit the book’s official site here.
Warning: this article contains major spoilers for Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One
Over the course of its seven instalments, the Mission: Impossible cinematic saga has featured its fair share of badass women, and while some could have used more screen time, many remain memorable and helped make the franchise what it is today. Many of these ladies are iconic fighters, while others are just trying to survive in a chaotic world. Let’s give them the attention they deserve!
5) Lindsey Farris (Keri Russell) – Mission Impossible III (2006)
If you’re looking for the definition of a one-scene wonder, look no further: the young Lindsey is Ethan’s protégée and one of the IMF recruits which he has personally trained. She is Hunt’s favourite, and the opening of M: I III perfectly outlines why. When the film opens, Farris is held captive in a derelict German factory, but once injected with adrenaline and rescued by the IMF, Lindsey proves to be one of the most competent fighters of the entire team. Her touching relationship with her mentor is visible in the few scenes that they share, but what really scarred most M: I III viewers is Lindsey’s death. She is killed by the explosives implanted into her brain, right as it seems like she has been rescued and will be a valuable addition to the team. Her brutal demise can seem like a waste of potential, as Lindsey was incredibly competent for her young age, but Ferris’ death cements her as a tragic hero.
4) Grace (Hayley Atwell) – Mission Impossible Dead Reckoning Part 1 (2023)
Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning’s most important newcomer is pickpocket Grace, played by Hayley Atwell, a “destructive force of nature” according to director Christopher McQuarrie. A Catwoman-like thief, the stylish Grace plays by her own rules, but bites off more than she can chew when she gets involved in a race to control the Entity, an all-powerful AI. Her character seems simple enough, but Atwell brings a nice amount of energy into the franchise: Grace is neither an almighty spy nor a damsel in distress, but rather a survivor whose moments of panic feel believable. It is always difficult for a character to serve as an audience surrogate. They can easily end up quite bland or seem like a burden, but Atwell holds her own for most of Dead Reckoning and brings her share of secrets to the franchise. Grace feels like she comes from a different universe, but never looks like she is in the wrong movie, and Dead Reckoning Part 2 will hopefully reveal more about her.
3) Julia Meade Hunt (Michelle Monaghan) – Mission Impossible III (2006 and Fallout (2018) + a cameo in Ghost Protocol (2011)
Ethan’s first and only wife Julia has a central role in the franchise despite her limited screen time. First seen in M: I III, Julia is very much a survivor, as well as the only woman for whom Ethan ever considered leaving the IMF. She helps him to defeat sadistic Owen Davian in the saga’s third instalment, but what really makes the character iconic is her return in Mission: Impossible Fallout. Julia was originally supposed to have died off screen, but director Christopher McQuarrie deliberately kept her alive. In Fallout, she has become a doctor and is working in a remote region of Kashmir. In just a couple of scenes, we learn that Julia has a new husband and rebuilt her life outside of the spy world. This competent physician is doing well for herself, and adds a welcome touch of realism to M: I’s over-the-top universe. When Ethan and Julia meet again after years of separation, she is nothing but kind to her ex-husband, and even helps him to diffuse a nuclear bomb – a true everyday hero!
2) Jane Carter (Paula Patton) – Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol (2011)
Among the M: I fandom, it feels like Ghost Protocol’s agent Jane Carter drew the short straw: Jane isn’t often cited among the favourite characters of fans, yet she is definitely an excellent deuteragonist. Carter has her own subplot and quest throughout the movie. After her boyfriend, agent Trevor, is killed by French assassin Sabine Moreau (Léa Seydoux before Bond), Jane is determined to avenge him and off his killer. Carter’s personal grudge against the henchwoman makes her character interesting to follow – especially as it is pretty rare to see a woman avenging her dead male lover – and offers a nice call-back to Ethan’s own situation in M: I III. Couple that with good fighting skills and the ruthlessness that befits an IMF agent, and you’ll see why some of us fans hope that Paula Patton will reprise her role (even for a cameo) in M: I Dead Reckoning Part Two.
1) Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) – Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation (2015), Fallout (2018) and Dead Reckoning Part One (2023)
This won’t be a surprise, but Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust tops this list: possibly the most iconic character of the M: I cinematic saga after Hunt himself, Ilsa has become a fan favourite and the poster child for badass women spies. Affiliated to MI6, this British agent is working undercover for terrorist organisation The Syndicate when Rogue Nation begins, even serving as the right-hand woman of its leader Solomon Lane. This is possibly the best testament to Faust’s fighting abilities and her nerves of steel: M: I 5, 6 and 7 never have to tell us that Ilsa is a total badass, she proves it in every scene. Competent women spies aren’t all that common, but what really keeps Faust ahead of the game is her unique character : she is Ethan’s counterpart, but also has her own agenda and muddy loyalties, meaning that she never feels like a rip-off or rival to him. Her death in M: I Dead Reckoning has deeply divided the fanbase, to the point where many viewers hope it is a fake and will be reversed in Part 2. Whether her demise proves real or not, Ilsa’s final fight in Venice doesn’t do her knife skills justice. To get more of Faust’s sick moves, you can always rewatch her brutal brawl to save Benji against her ex employer Lane in Fallout, and her cold slaying of torturer the Bone Doctor in Rogue Nation. A badass with brains and an excellent spy with a soft spot for Ethan, Ilsa Faust is definitely the saga’s most iconic woman.
A look at how Rambo III stands tall as Stallone’s pinnacle of blockbuster macho action cinema!
The Rambo saga defined the one-man army genre and Rambo III was its preliminary culmination in 1988. In the year when Die Hard shifted the baseline for what it meant to be a modern action film, Sylvester Stallone made no concessions. So let’s check out how it holds up today!
John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) lives a secluded life in Thailand. His former commander Trautman seeks him out and asks Rambo to join an undercover mission in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan. Rambo refuses, but when Trautman is captured, he goes into the country to rescue him from a division of Spetsnaz operatives.
God would have mercy. He won’t.
Rambo: First Blood Part II removed any sense of realism from the Rambo character. It turned the traumas of veterans into R-rated popcorn cinema, and the third part hits in the same vein. We can criticize Rambo’s transformation from tormented soldier to a superhuman killing machine for the CIA, but let’s not to be too harsh, there’s nothing wrong with a full dose of patriotic kitsch as long as it’s entertaining.
The USA and Afghanistan have a difficult relation since the early 1990s, to put it mildly. You will need to fade out this part of history at least for the duration of the film if you really want to enjoy it, as the plot really lays it on thick when portraying the Mujahideen as heroic freedom fighters who are besties with Uncle Sam.
“Who are you?” “Your worst nightmare.”
Stallone is at its physical best, looking inhumanely jacked and doing many impressive stunts himself. Never relenting, Rambo seems to get more exhausted from speaking than from firing machine guns from the hip. Despite not being strictly serious all the time, Rambo III’s martial one-liners were sincere bad-ass statements back in the Reagan era (and also now).
The first third of the movie has the flair of an adventure film, with panoramic shots of a desert spectacular landscape, and Rambo getting acquainted with the local rebels and their customs. After that, we step onto a rollercoaster that spirals completely out of control. A suspenseful camp infiltration sequence escalates into all-out war between Rambo, Trautman and the squad of Russian elite soldiers who have several tanks and helicopters at their disposal.
“This is not your war.” “It is now.”
The budget was huge, and it was spent well for jaw-dropping action sequences of a scale, depth and clarity that is almost unsurpassed to this day. John Rambo is a master of explosives, the Russians not so much, even though everything they shoot at explodes as well. This results in a pyrotechnics inferno with explosions on a megalomaniacal scale. And there’s more: plenty of shootouts, vehicular carnage and the massive Soviet Hind helicopter hovering over the battlefield like a behemoth in a monster movie, raining death on the battlefield.
Rambo III delivers a massive overdose of 1980s cliches, but we should appreciate its sincerity, and it never becomes cheesy apart from a few moments. It has the best action sequences of all films in the franchise, even though it can’t compete with the over-the-top gore of the fourth installment. Stallone created a pinnacle of blockbuster macho cinema, a perfectly choreographed ballet of destruction.
The original and best action hero of the 1980’s is back. 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark is quite simply the greatest movie ever put to celluloid and gave us the greatest character of pop culture in Indiana Jones. Out of the mind of George Lucas came an adventure of what we were told the serials of the 1930’s were. It was directed by Steven Spielberg, who just got turned down for the second time to direct a James Bond movie. The stars aligned to give us a two fisted, gunfighting, whip cracking, globe trotting adventurer that is part scoundrel and all action hero. So how does Indy hold up in his fifth movie in the series, The Dial of Destiny, in this modern age of moviegoers?
An Ultimate Review of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny
The first twenty minuted featuring a de aged Indy belong in the best parts of the original trilogy. Set at the close of the war in 1945, the Nazis are looting everything they can get their hands on including a train full of ancient artifacts that belong in a museum. Indy and his compatriot Basil Shaw played by Toby Jones have infiltrated their ranks in pursuit of the Spear of Destiny, the lance that pierced Christ’s side as he hung on the cross. Disguised as a Nazi wearing a uniform with a suspicious bullet hole where the heart should be, Indy gets captured, tortured and escapes as he makes his way aboard a speeding train bound for Germany. Also on board is a Nazi rocket scientist named Voller played by Mads Mikkelsen, who is after another artifact on the train called the Dial of Destiny that is supposed to give its owner god like powers. The pursuit of the two ancient artifacts collide atop the train. When a Nazi draws a bead on Professor Jones and his whip comes out of nowhere to level the playing field, you know the outcome has all but been been guaranteed as Indy wins his fight against a train full of Nazis and the Allies go on to win the war.
Now we cut to 1969 and find that history has not treated our favorite adventurer well. Society has stopped looking to the past for answers as it looks to the stars after the first moon landing. Indy is drinking himself to sleep every night in his tiny apartment, surrounded by the counterculture as Marion is in the process of divorcing him and he is about to retire knowing his best days are long since behind him. Into his life walks his goddaughter Helena Shaw, whom he hasn’t seen in eighteen years. She shares her fathers Basil’s obsession with the dial in the same way Indy shared his father’s obsession with the Grail. Years ago, Indy promised to destroy the half he possessed. It turns out Indy couldn’t bring himself to do it and has it hidden among all the relics he recovered over the years. When he digs it out, Helena is joined by none other then Voller, whose now working for NASA as a rocket scientist- and his Nazi goons. It turns out Voller never stopped looking for the dial and didn’t know who that daring adventurer atop the train that defeated him to claim the dial was. And Helena just lead him right to the dial. But then Helena reveals her true colors and betrays Indy and leaves him behind to be killed as she grabs the dial and takes off with everybody in pursuit and this movie is off to the races.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge as Helena Shaw
So let’s address the elephant in the room in Phoebe Waller-Bridge and her birthmark’s portrayal of Helena Shaw. She is the Jar Jar Binks of the Indy franchise. And this from a franchise that once gave us the perfect girlfriend in Marion Ravenswood and then went on to prefect the irritating female sidekicks in Willie Scott and Elsa Schneider. She is the grave robber to Indy’s professor of archeology with the intention to sell the artifacts to the highest bidder on the black market. She is so unlikable a character she left Indy behind to be killed and we are expected to grow to like this character? Can she handle taking over an action franchise? Well, watch her run across a rooftop and you’ll have your answer. And I can assure you that it is safe to go see this movie as the rumored scene where she spins the dial and becomes Indiana Jones and takes over the franchise was not in this cut. But look at the finale and don’t tell me it wasn’t a hasty reshoot based on negative screenings. Hopefully Kathleen Kennedy doesn’t follow trough on her threat to spin this character off into her own franchise. But she does manage to move this story along.
As far as the action is concerned, Indy is showing his age as you would expect. At one point, even he is complaining about his knees and shoulders and getting shot seven times. An escape from the Nazis across the streets of New York is followed be a tut tut chase across Tangiers leads to Scuba diving off the coast of Greece and finally trough a fissure in time as the dial is finally fired up. Another of my issues with this movie is why Indy doesn’t access a firearm until the final act. Is this another capitulation to the writers antipathy to the second amendment? Because a couple of gunfights would have led to a much needed shot of adrenaline to this movie.
But How Ultimate is it?
I would also like to address why Hollywood feels the need to emasculate our action heroes of old. Look what they did to Luke and Han in the Star Wars sequels. Wolverine was reduced to laying low and changing Professor X’s diapers. As if Linda Hamilton wasn’t enough, the Terminator even had to be flanked by another female sidekick. John Wick was a suicidal sad sack until they killed his dog. Hell, even James Bond was closing down the bars before they flat out murdered him in his last adventure. Hasn’t Hollywood figured out these characterizations just are not resonating with audiences? Sadly, this Indy movie isn’t going to find any new fans in this generation of moviegoers. But maybe pop culture can finally be rid of the curse that is Kathleen Kennedy over at Lucasfilm and bring the Star Wars franchise back from the brink of extinction.
Let’s give Indy a rest before the inevitable reboot with probably Chris Pratt as the new Indy. I don’t know about the rest of you but I could set trough a new Crystal Skull every three years I so love this character. And the Indy movies have always given him the best endings. From riding off into the sunset to marrying the love of his life. Dial of Destiny continues that trend. So buckle up and enjoy the final ride and make it your mission in life to introduce the younger generation to the history of Professor Henry Jones Jr.
An insane adrenaline rush that successfully bridges the gap between modern and old-school action.
Social media can be bad for us, who wouldn’t agree. But an app that allows you to watch deadly duels between insane criminals live on your phone is unthinkable, right? Jason Lei Howden, who landed an incredible debut with the horror action comedy Deathgasm, embraced this macabre promise and created Guns Akimbo from it. Let’s check out if his sophomore film delivered the goods for action aficionados!
Miles (Daniel Radcliffe) doesn’t get much excitement out of his life apart from “trolling the trolls” on the user forum of Skizm, a criminal organization that broadcasts videos of armed killers going against each other in the city. His online efforts earn Miles a visit from the Skizm crew, and a few hours later he wakes up with two guns bolted to his hands. He is forced to join the game, and put up against Nix (Samara Weaving), a coke-sniffing, trigger-happy maniac.
We’re Gonna be the Starbucks of Murder, the McDonalds of Massacre!
The overarching plot is a variation of the Running Man scenario, that is updated with some scathing commentary on the state of people’s minds in the age of social media. The modern gladiators go for likes, and the hate-filled online abyss is the perfect place for Skizm to conduct its business, where the worst things are just a click away.
The audience laughs at the losers, admires the winners, but above all, craves the killings. In a time where almost everything you can find online has become mundane, watching the Skizm matches becomes are rare source of true excitement. The film moves at such a breakneck speed, though, that you won’t get much time to reflect on all this, maybe in a second viewing.
Radcliffe is great as mild-mannered IT nerd, who gets a whole load of unflattering millennial cliches attached to his character. The vegetarian, oversensitive and unassertive Miles is a fan of old-school action movies, and enthusiastically pitches the comic book character Man-Man to his girlfriend.
You could go dick shot, then head shot, then dick shot, mix it up a little
These contradictory attitudes are suddenly resolved when he forcibly gets a huge boost in manliness by having two loaded guns bolted to his hands. While being great for quickly killing lots of adversaries, the transformation is not convenient for normal life activities. This gives rise to many practical jokes, when Miles tries to use his phone, put on his pants, or goes on the potentially castrating endeavor of using the toilet.
Psycho killer Nix is the antithesis to Miles, and Samara Weaving nails her character with a fantastically extrovert performance. This cynical bad-ass is the real action hero(ine) of this film. Miles’ and Nix’ interactions are terrific, two worlds that clash violently, but slowly converge towards each other as the film progresses.
I’ll sit you down nice and easy, and then shoot you in the fucking brain stem
Nothing is subtle about this film, definitely not the action. The many shootouts are filmed with hyper-fast and furious editing in the vein of classics such as Crank and Hardcore Henry. Nix and Miles kill hooded minions by the dozens, and thanks to the comic-style violence we get lots of laughs out of people dying in incredibly bloody ways, at least I did. Nothing is really groundbreaking regarding the action sequences, but they are shot with a lot of creativity and quirky visuals. The industrial setting, a dark neon look, and a Synthwave/Industrial Rock soundtrack create the perfect vibe for all the mayhem.
With Guns Akimbo, Howden created an insane adrenaline rush that successfully bridges the gap between modern and old-school film-making featuring brutal action, corny jokes, and traces of food for thought.
Warning: this article contains major spoilers for Dead Reckoning Part One
Reviewing a movie which lasts close to three hours is no mean feat: Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One is filled to the brim with fights, chases, characters and more characters. Here, we follow Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team as they face an AI gone rogue, nicknamed the Entity, and Gabriel – an enemy from Ethan’s past – who serves it. Throw into the mix some CIA agents, a group of arms dealers led by the returning White Widow (still masterfully played by Vanessa Kirby) and a pickpocket named Grace (Hayley Atwell), all looking for the key to control the Entity. Add in a bonkers car chase in Rome, a motorcycle cliff jump which took 500 skydives to practice, shake well and enjoy!
One step forward…
Yes, all of the elements of the M: I formula are present, and for his third outing as director, Christopher McQuarrie proves that he has mastered it. The action scenes are simply breathtaking, and varied enough for viewers to not feel like they are watching the same sequence five times in a row. A special mention goes to the car chase in Rome, which features a handcuffed Ethan and Grace trying to escape through the city in a yellow Fiat 500 (Bond fans will be reminded of Four Your Eyes Only’s yellow 2CV). Hot on their trail is Pom Klementieff as Paris, the villain’s right hand woman, who has a blast running over as many cars a possible with her Hummer (and is a pure maniacal delight throughout the film).
As expected, the set pieces are nothing short of amazing and immersive. Behind the scenes footage really outlines the effort put into bridging the gap between reality and fiction, in order to make the action as palpable as possible (the crew built a real train just to derail it!), and this can be felt on screen. The movie’s cinematography remains as good as in the previous two instalments, with interesting changes in colouring as the characters embark on their journey.
…and one step back
While Dead Reckoning totally delivers in the thrills department, its plot isn’t as tight: Fallout was especially well structured, with every team member playing a part in the main mission. Conversely, Dead Reckoning struggles to introduce all of its (ever more) numerous characters and give them something to do, and has to resorts to flashbacks. The M: I saga has never been renowned for its dialogues, but they feel really expository here – sometimes slowing down an otherwise good pacing. The one who suffers the most from this “bloating” of the plot is the main antagonist, Gabriel. The villain completely disappears behind the all powerful (and vaguely defined) AI. It’s a shame, as Esai Morales brings a threatening aura to the character, but he is never properly developed.
Of course, the most divisive plot point of the film will Ilsa Faust’s death. Played by Rebecca Ferguson, the mysterious agent seemingly meets her end at the hands of Gabriel in Venice – a demise which angered a lot of M: I fans who loved this badass spy. While Ilsa’s character arch did come to an end (she seemed to be close to joining the team in Fallout, and has skills which are very similar to Ethan’s) her death does feel quite underwhelming. It doesn’t do justice to her fighting abilities, and has little impact on the plot, as she is quickly “replaced” by Grace. Hopefully Part Two will bring us some proper closure on the matter – whether Ilsa’s death is confirmed or not.
This feeling of a cheap feminine replacement – not an aspect of the old Bond movies that needed to be copied – doesn’t help Grace to start off on the right foot, but Hayley Atwell still steals the show: she is neither an ultra-competent spy, nor a powerless damsel in distress, and feels believable as a charming thief trying to make her way out of a web of lies.
Going full circle
No matter which of his three entires is your favourites, Christopher McQuarrie can be praised for trying new things every time: after Rogue Nation’s neo-noir style and Fallout’s sober elegance, Dead Reckoning gets back to the franchise’s roots. It definitely has more jokes and a goofier atmosphere than the past two instalments – and can be compared to Ghost Protocol. But most of all, McQuarrie and his team offer some subtle (and not so subtle) hints that the film is tied to Brian De Palma’s first entry in the franchise. From the omnipresent Dutch angles to the magic tricks, going through Ethan losing a loved one on a bridge and meeting Eugene Kittridge (Henry Czerny), the film is filled with smart homages to the first M: I. Even Lorne Balfe’s main theme sounds more similar to the original this time around!
What can we make of this? Well, Tom Cruise has expressed interest in making more Mission: Impossible films after the second part of Dead Reckoning, but it does seem like this adventure will be (at the very least) the end of Ethan’s character arch as we know it.
A mission you should choose to accept
Let’s conclude with the movie’s ending: the film smartly avoids the usual cliché of having a part one ending with a victory for the villain – which can leave viewers feeling dissatisfied. Instead, it does feel like its stands on its own two feet and offers a story which – while not as compelling as Fallout – will take your breath away in several instances. Dead Reckoning was made for the big screen. Tom Cruise has never hidden his intention to bring viewers back into cinemas, and Dead Reckoning’s stellar action makes it the perfect summer blockbuster for it. When it comes to judging it as a M: I movie and not as a regular action flick, the film can feel like a step-down, but remains highly enjoyable. Some of its issues could also be corrected by Part Two, but in the meantime, the first half of the mission is complete. Dead Reckoning Part Oneis both a great action flick and another solid entry in the M:I franchise.
We sometimes take for granted that certain aspects of human life are dictated by the fictitious events we witness in movie theaters. Were people afraid of sharks before Jaws? Sure, but only to an extent. Spielberg’s 1970s masterpiece, as well as the novel it was based on, brought the idea of a shark attack home, causing many of us to fear what lay beneath the water.
National Geographic took aim at this phenomenon, pointing out that shark deaths (about nine per annum) are about ten percent of the rate of deaths by jellyfish globally and just a tiny fraction of the deaths caused by fishing accidents (200,000 annually). If you want to take it further: Note that you have more chance of being killed by your doctor’s bad handwriting than a shark. But Jaws captured our imagination, and thus provided an outsized fear relevant to the threat.
The 1970s saw nature on the rampage cinema
While Jaws is more of a fable than a movie about a shark, it is no coincidence that it arose in the fertile ground of 1970s, when movie-makers had a penchant for terrifying audiences with all kinds of threats from animals, particularly insects. Often B-movies, the appetite of audiences seemed to be insatiable, and we might argue that many of these movies help shape the phobias we have today.
Perhaps most pointedly, there was the raft of ‘bee’ movies that hit screens (both in theaters and television) in the 1970s, including Killer Bees (1974), The Savage Bees (1976), The Bees (1978), and The Swarm (1978). These movies vary in quality. The Bees is considered a cult classic, whereas The Swarm, which has an ensemble cast that includes Michael Caine and Henry Fonda, has been voted one of the worst movies ever made. The Swarm actually features in a Wikipedia page dedicated to collating the worst films ever, sitting alongside contemporary titles like Movie 43 and That’s My Boy.
The humble bee has been rehabilitated
Nonetheless, the use of bees so frequently in the 70s is interesting because we can largely say that the bee has been rehabilitated as a threat. Right now, we are more likely to see positive depictions of bees fostered by documentaries like Colony. Animated films like Bee Movie or honey and bee games like Beellionaires are more likely to be on your cultural radar than killer bees. Why? Well, one might argue that the rehabilitation of the bee is linked to global campaigns to stress bees’ environmental importance. The little guys were always misunderstood, and cinema is now catching up with that.
The point about the bees is that our perceptions can change. Right now, as we see news reports of orcas attacking boats, you can be sure that a screenwriter somewhere is picking up the idea of orcas as antagonists, whereas we were always informed by the cinema that they were our friends. In the 1970s, the antagonists were so often insects. Bees came out on top in terms of frequency, but they were closely followed by ants, which appeared in films like Phase IV (1974), Empire of the Ants (1977), and It Happened at Lakewood Manor (1977).
The spider is relatively new as a cinema threat
Perhaps surprisingly, spiders appeared as antagonists in very few movies of the 1970s. The only major release with eight-legged threats was Kingdom of the Spiders (1977), which starred Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner. The film made a fair impact on audiences, but its biggest legacy is arguably inspiring Archanaphobia (1990), of which Spielberg was one of the producers, incidentally.
Arachnophobia feels both like a homage to the era of 1970s “nature on the rampage” cinema (as the sub-genre is called) and the final act of this type of film. Sure, there are attempts at reviving the genre, including parodies like Lavantuala and Sharknado. But the fabulistic storytelling has been largely replaced by the promotion of action, horror, or comedy. Nature on the rampage, nor insect attacks, won’t die off completely on screen, but the impact of killer bees, giant ants, and other dastardly bugs, was most felt in the 1970s, warping our perceptions of the insect world for generations.
A good action franchise like Mission: Impossible needs not only one, but many memorable villains to make us feel like the threat persists over several movies. The upcoming Dead Reckoning will be featuring Esai Morales as Gabriel, a mysterious antagonist who has no qualms about putting Ethan Hunt and all of his teammates in danger. Morales’ fans were thrilled to see him land the role, and should Gabriel live up to the hype, he will be one more interesting villain in a saga full of cool antagonists. As we await the seventh installment, here is a ranking of Mission: Impossible’s five best villains. This list doesn’t include the sidekicks and secondary antagonists (they deserve their own ranking), or morally ambiguous characters like the White Widow – only the unabashedly evil masterminds belong here!
5) Kurt Hendricks – Ghost Protocol (2011)
Kicking off the list is Ghost Protocol’s Kurt Hendricks, an over-the-top terrorist played by Michael Nyqvist: the perfect villain in what is arguably the franchise’s funniest episode (so far). The Swedish man known as Cobalt is a genius nuclear scientist, who also proves quite apt at designing complex plans. When he isn’t framing the IMF for his misdeeds, Kendricks enjoys negotiating his way out of any situation and dreaming about a worldwide nuclear conflict. Cobalt’s final fight against Ethan solidifies him as a strong antagonist, and it is only Ghost Protocol’s villainous overload which prevents Kurt Hendricks from being ranked higher on this top 5.
4) August Walker/John Lark – Fallout (2018)
Having two main antagonists – a villainous hydra, if you will – in just one action film is no small challenge, and Fallout’s duo of bad guys deserves specific praise. Its first half is the traitorous anarchist August Walker, who was off to a good start with an actor like Henry Cavill. This moustachioed villain totally delivered: Cavill is excellent as Hunt’s doppelgänger, and his charisma and fighting skills make him a really unforgettable antagonist. His climatic fight against Ethan on the edge of a cliff, which involves machine guns, helicopters, and acid, is brutal perfection. Walker is even a great source of inspiration for memes (type “Fallout arms reload” in Google and see for yourself), and the only reason why he isn’t higher up on the list is because his betrayal seemed a tad too obvious.
3) Owen Davian – Mission Impossible III (2006)
Entering the top 3 with a bang is Owen Davian (the brilliant Philip Seymour Hoffman), an arms dealer with a sadistic streak, who faces Ethan in the third movie. Davian’s ruthlessness earns him a place in the pantheon of M: I villains: while he isn’t the only cold-hearted murderer of the franchise, he is definitely the one who takes the most pleasure in toying with his victims – and he enjoys taunting Hunt about the pain inflicted. Davian’s introductory scene is simply iconic, as he threatens Ethan’s wife Julia and categorically refuses to negotiate. While there is an even darker villain at the top of this list, Owen Davian still takes the cake as the most sadistic mastermind of the franchise, owing to his unmatched love of psychological torture.
2) Jim Phelps/Job – Mission Impossible (1996)
Some great villains are even cooler in context: putting the first evil mastermind of the franchise high up on the list might seem obvious, but it is well-deserved. Turning Jim Phelps (Jon Voight) into a bad guy was an extremely bold move on the screenwriters’ part. Once the hero of the beloved series, Phelps was revealed to have offed his own teammates and even his wife after the end of the Cold War pushed him over the edge. Job’s real identity remains obscure for the two-thirds of the film, but Phelps’ final showdown against Hunt is worth the wait. Job isn’t the franchise’s most badass or impressive villain, but the extent of his betrayal and his former role as Ethan’s mentor make their brawl a lot more personal and interesting to watch. Phelps’ double-crossing is still iconic twenty-seven years after the film’s release, and since it’s unlikely that Cruise will betray the IMF in M: I Dead Reckoning, it remains the coolest plot twist in the franchise.
1) Solomon Lane – Rogue Nation (2015) and Fallout (2018)
Unsurprisingly, the only returning antagonist of the franchise tops this list: Sean Harris, an actor mostly known for his roles in TV shows (and who had explicitly asked for his character to die in Rogue Nation!) is evil mastermind Solomon Lane, a deformed reflection of Ethan Hunt and leader of crime organisation The Syndicate. From a screenwriting perspective, a good villain needs to have a unique relationship with the hero: looking for the same MacGuffin is fine enough, but truly great antagonists are the ones who force heroes to question their own beliefs and perspectives.
As a former MI6 agent, Lane’s anarchist tendencies and his lack of respect for human life perfectly mirror Ethan’s blind dedication to his cause. His nihilistic views almost drive Hunt to madness, and their relationship in Fallout gets even more interesting: the mirror effect is reversed, and this time, it is Lane who has a personal grudge against the super spy who locked him up. Solomon Lane’s intelligence and ability to design plans which easily outmatch the IMF already made him worthy of the top 5. Coupled with Sean Harris’ creepy behaviour and sarcastic politeness, they really make Lane the franchise’s most memorable bad guy.