Saturday, December 31, 2011

A rant on MI:4 that is, apologetically, all over the place

Here is something of a post-match analysis of the latest film in the Mission Impossible cash cow. I strongly disliked Ghost Protocol, with one of the main reasons being that I simply didn't care about the central crisis of the story: a madman who is intent on blowing up the entire world. On the surface it would appear that there could be no more wicked act than the extermination of all of humanity, but the reality is that wickedness is most truly wicked when it is particular. If the madman was intent on exterminating every female from the face of the planet, or every Muslim, and it showed his brutal treatment of these particular people, then that would be something to get enraged over. But to simply want to get rid of everybody is a perverted form of equality.

In pains me to say it, but the James Bond approach to crisis in action films -- a madman hell bent on world domination -- doesn't work any more. This might go some way to explaining why the last three or four Bond movies have been quite dreadful. In our age of globalization, we need something particular to care about. It is this narrative of the particular -- and not the fight choreography that the latest Bond film shamelessly imitated -- that makes the Bourne action series work. It is one man's search for his true identity in the midst of a very sinister side to U.S. foreign policy (Chomsky might argue that that's the only side). We learn that Jason Bourne is a pawn in the hands of powerful American bureaucrats who are playing a game that "ends when we've won" - a game that costs the lives of innocent civilians. They have named Jason Bourne like they have named everything else, and they have used that power to serve their own political and economic ends. Foucault talked of power as knowledge - those in power declare what the facts are, what constitutes knowledge; those in power get to name things "Jason Bourne" and "good" and "axis of evil".

In Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and James Bond, the bureaucracy and their pawns are actually the good guys. The evil that they will do anything to stop -- even if it requires evil means -- is some entity that they get to name as "mad" or "evil" or "terrorist" or "threat", and we're given nothing that would bring such labels into question. This idealogical narrative worked on the back of the particular conflict that got named World War II -- a conflict where the line between the good guys and the bad guys was reasonably clear -- but it works no longer because that narrative has been exposed as a fallacy weaved by powers more intent on world domination than the powers they are trying to stop in the name of "good". U.S. collaboration with Nazis post-war blurs any kind of line that had been previously drawn.

Except of course maybe the narrative does still hold credibility and appeal, because Ghost Protocol has a 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Smooth action sequences get you a long way these days.

Perhaps my initial statement is wrong. Perhaps MI:4 is deeply flawed not because it deals with a world domination/destruction that is too big and too general to care about, but because it completely fails to see who is most likely to bring such a scenario about.

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