my particular fondness for the mission: impossible series goes back pretty far; it's this series and shane black that really defined the beginning months of my Movies Era (up until i somehow took a hard pivot into akira kurosawa). 2016 was the year; i must have been looking at recent releases to dig into when i found out about M:I-5 and decided to earn my way up to it. since then, i've had it in my head that mission: impossible's second trilogy, mad max: fury road, and john wick were the Big Three of original action cinema of the 2010s.

it's been forever since i saw any of them, so it seemed tasteful to more thoroughly revisit the era (though i ultimately decided to not post a writeup on either of them here). now, i'm not maintaining this website for a living, i'm doing this because i'm a guy fucking around on the internet. but if i was going to make a definitive assumption about 2010s film canon, i should at least do some cursory research, right?

so, the short answer: i flicked through a couple of top 10 lists, and pretty easily confirmed my suspicion that this was in fact the true holy trinity: fury road as the instant (if under-performing) classic, john wick as the sub-cultural (read: redditor) touchstone, and mission: impossible as the blockbuster franchise.


i went into letterboxd, pulled up 2010s action films, and decided to check where my Big Three fell when it came to sorting by popularity. i figured it would make a easy visual metric to block out all franchise cinema and see what remained. the rules were as follows:

this produced some pretty dire results:


but, you know, i'm an idealist, and it's possible things have always been this bad. out of curiosity i retried this experiment with the 00s:


now, so far i'd looked at the top 72 on letterboxd, and that might reflect filmic significance moreso than financial success. (not saying letterboxd is infalliable, but i think it's a decent sample size for pretension.) so, for thoroughness, i repeated the experiment: the top 100 action movies for the 2000s and 2010s, as sorted by box office on IMDb. a very similar picture:

you'll never guess which is which!


the process began as blocking out MCU -> superheroes -> franchises, but i ultimately set franchises as the defining variable here. superheroes just happen to be the flavor of the era, the same way we used to love zombies or cowboys. they're not inherently artistically bankrupt as a genre. what i do think is true is that superheroes have always lent themselves to interconnectedness and keeping up obsessively (hello true believers), and that the MCU set up the blueprint for making gangbusters through cinematic universes. every studio that doesn't have the means to comic book rights to spare can dig in their back catalogues for cultural iconography to revivify (and be spared the arduous setup. you either die the mummy (2017) or live long enough to see yourself become jurassic world dominion.)

let's back up for a second; why do i consider the second M:I trilogy "original" action cinema? am i not currently writing a franchise retrospective? well, let's step away from the numbers for a second and play with semantics. the impetus to watch the M:I films is not to "keep up" (in terms of continuity, the series up until four has little-to-none, anyways), or anything else like what the franchise age insists upon. the main selling point for M:I-4 onwards is this: "watch tom cruise do some sick shit that almost kills him". john wick and fury road are also, at their core, about doing sick shit.

ok, franchises are swallowing hollywood, art is dead, everyone knows this, i just made the same point again more elaborately. this does place things in perspective for the Big Three, though. on letterboxd, john wick and fury road made the top 35 action movies (and top 10 original action movies), but M:I-6 barely made it at 69. box office-wise, though, all three M:I movies hold steady presence in the 2010s: the highest is M:I-6 at 55, and the lowest is M:I-5 at 69. meanwhile, fury road barely slides in at 99, and john wick: chapter 3 is the only entry in the series to break in at 87.


i've seen people discuss the death of the movie star (or perhaps its evolution, in the face of internet fan culture), and i've seen various people christen various actors as "the last movie star". there's a lot of factors to consider with a title like that; who, for instance, can sell a movie with their name alone these days?

tom does, baby. did you see top gun: maverick? i'll bet. even as a sequel to a well-loved classic, i'm really bewildered by how well it did, considering how many other sequels to well-loved classics we're working with these days. the front page of google provides conflicting theories on why it did so well, but i definitely think tom cruise's star power is non-negligible; not just looking at maverick, but the performance of these M:I movies.

pretty fascinating, considering the state his star was in around M:I-3!

i like movie stars more than franchises, but i don't want to act like they're the holistic alternative. the age of the movie star has thrived for decades in india, and the culture of celebrity worship has suffocated popular cinema alive in its own terrible way. that's a big tangent though. (remember how in the early days of this diary i kept talking about making a longform post? this was that.) perhaps cruise is not just the last movie star, but the ideal movie star. the (younger) public's conception of him has no misgivings about his parasocial qualities or upstanding traits, but we certainly still enjoy seeing him. allowing ourselves to be taken in by the spectacle, in full awareness of the fact that it is an illusion.




though it's not quite up there in the best of the decade, i thought it'd be worth it to look at the first McQ and tom cruise (McCruise? McQruise?) collaboration before they linked up again for M:I-5.

honestly, thought i would really like this at first. the dry political espionage mystery aspect is cool. i get a sick satisfaction out of being documentary-bored. it reminded me to give the day of the jackal another go. but then tom cruise shows up and it's suddenly, like, a movie-star movie. he does a bunch of movie-star things, like winning a 5v1 street brawl, and photographically memorizing years on coins. and there's other goofy stuff too, like the stooges that accidentally bonk each other while trying to beat up tom, and werner herzog playing a glass-eye bond villain. not that any of these are bad things to have in your movie, just kind of throws me off.

actually, knowing who he is as a person, herzog's villain is completely believable. i think he would chew off his fingers to survive in real life, too. there's precedent.

i was wondering if this was tonal dissonance was what didn't make the movie work, this combination of blockbuster delights and procedural conspiracy-unraveling. but the hunt for red october gets away with the same combo, so...? the M:I franchise is one big identity crisis, too, but i think it settles into a decent mold for McQ to fill by the time he gets there for number five. i'd like to place the responsibility for this on M:I-4, but let's put a pin in that.

evidence that, despite my best efforts, i have the soul of a STEM major: i always really enjoy a lack of background music. and there's a couple of car sequences in here that aren't diamonds in the rough or anything, but they're shot without any background score. there's something about that negative space that kind of elevates their nitty gritty smashing and revving, whereas a musical score might have smoothed them over as generic. at the same time, though, i'm wondering if a reliance on the soundtrack and a consequent overall genericism might have unified the contrast clanging around in this thing. the banana in the smoothie, if you will.

i've been noticing this thing with a couple of movies where they come right up against criticizing the military and then give them the slip by saying that the bad guys are the private for-hire armies, specifically. for example, this movie. another example: i rewatched avatar, and while i'm not too interested in rehabilitating its reputation, i was about to give it a few points for being incredibly blunt about the american war machine's acts of destruction for the sake of capital. apparently people did get mad about this when the movie dropped (and, hey, a hit dog will holler), but subsequent interviews have cameron apologizing and pointing out that the mecha-military "are mercenary troops, who are clearly stated to be acting as corporate security contractors". okay, man. it's a line that's easy to miss, but it's also yet another blockbuster that apparently had quite a bit of DOD oversight.

i'm not too good at research, and i'm having trouble finding reading about this specific propaganda phenomenon. but i did find an article about how the nebulous political identity of private armies prevents them from facing proper consequences for most things. (as opposed to the military, which doesn't have this problem ever.) presumably these people are being paid enough to be fine with playing the bad guy in a tom cruise movie; seems to be a pretty easy scapegoat. if only we knew who was hiring these guys. hmm.


sorry for the extended silence. fortunately this is my website and not yours. the weekend before last i was home alone and enjoying having the house to myself (coincidentally going on a little tom cruise bender), and last weekend i had relatives visiting. and then i realized it had been a month.

luckily i wrote the bulk of the pre-epilogue portion back when i was still working on part one. there's selections and exclusions i've changed my mind on-- i'd like to have reconsidered some sequels as soft reboots-- but i'm not gonna stress about the minutiae, because that's what Big Cinematic Universe would want me to do.

also, wow, 10k views! thank you to the fans, and the haters, and the undercover fans disguised as haters.