The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Dissecting Motivations proves to be Mission: Impossible

Written by: Rob Van Winkle, CC2K Staff Writer



Tom Cruise Presents: Tom Cruise IN: Tom Cruise

Well, the SUMMER BLOCKBUSTER MOVIE SEASON has officially begun, with the May 5th release of the ultimate popcorn movie: Tom Cruise: III.

Sorry, I meant to call it I Lost Felicity’s Alias

Shit. Mission Impossible: III.


The Cliff’s Notes version of my MI:3 review is that it is high on action and plot complexity, while low on character development and overall depth. It is, in other words, exactly what you expect and want it to be: fun.

Having said that, as I sat with my wife after our viewing and attempted to decipher the plot (with the added bonus game of picking specific implausible moments, and trying to see if we could find logical ways that they could have “really” happened, or if we had to dismiss them as filmmaker shortcuts), it occurred to me that while the end result of this movie was as clear as day, the deeper reasons for each person’s involvement was a lot more complicated.

You: Rob, what the hell are you talking about? Everyone’s motivations for making any movie are obvious! Money, fame, and/or sex!

Me: First of all, calm down. Second of all,  yes, those three things DO motivate everyone in the film industry (Why do you think we’re all Cin Citizens? The swag?). However, In order to get money, fame, and/or sex, film people can’t just be in A movie, they have to CONTINUE to make movies. Therefore, people who make movies should be seen as simultaneously angling for their next project. When you realize that, this movie gets a lot more interesting.

So, rather than risk overexplaining my thesis, why don’t I just jump in, with my:




Wait…who the hell am I again?

To keep their (not very) well-known faces in the public eye – I never watched Felicity, though I did catch the occasional snippet. Because of this, when watching the party scene at the beginning of the movie, even I recognized the “guy from Felicity”(If I told you his name was Greg Grunberg, would that ring any bells? I didn’t think so.) My wife did me one better, and remembered him as the pilot who dies in Lost. (Subsequent to this, and prior to writing this article, I looked him up and found that he has also appeared on Alias, and has been friends with J.J. Abrams since they were both in kindergarten. Hmmm…). Clearly, we have here one of those actors who will find a way to show up in enough things that you always remember his face, and therefore decide you like, even if his roles are largely forgettable. For an actor like this, there can be no better forum than a huge blockbuster summer movie, so millions of people can recall some other small part he once had, while millions more can be positive that they’ve seen him somewhere before, even though they can’t remember where. Notoriety like that is exactly what the Greg Grunbergs of the world strive for, and it ensures him a dozen more nondescript roles in years to come.

2. To Keep their (somewhat) well-known faces in the public eye – Two examples here:



The shearing that destroyed a career…until NOW!

It can’t be stressed just how much of a revelation Keri Russell seemed to be when she first hit the scene as TV’s Felicity (I know that she “officially” hit the scene in the New Mickey Mouse Club, but come on!) She was beautiful in a way that made her seem like the sort of girl that any man would fall for, and she had a celebrity name that made you swear she had been around forever.  Again, I never really watched this show, but I’m sure it was good enough…at least until THE HAIRCUT. Things never seemed to be the same for her after that, and once Felicity was cancelled, no one really heard from her again, until the opening credits revealed that Keri Russell was ready to make her triumphant comeback! My wife was ecstatic about this (BIG Felicity fan), until we saw the movie, and realized that Russell’s comeback basically consisted of three scenes, two of which had her made up to look like a victim of spousal abuse. Five minutes of screen time…and she’s billed ahead of Philip Seymour Hoffman (on IMDB, at least). Well, I guess she needed it more. Let’s see where it leads.

b. I don’t know why Billy Crudup is so forgettable…but he is. I suppose it might be due to the relatively few films he ends up doing, but the fact remains that I love Almost Famous, and I own Big Fish, and yet I still had no idea that he was in this movie…EVEN AS I WATCHED HIM PERFORM IN IT. Every moment he was on screen, I felt a sense of familiarity, but I more felt that he resembled someone I knew than that he was an actor in two of the best mainstream movies of this millennium. Clearly, this man needs as much screen time as he can get.

3. To become the next Sandra Oh – There are some startling similarities between the suddenly A-list Sandra Oh, and MI:3’s Maggie Q, that have nothing to do with their letters-of-the-alphabet last names. Both are Asian women who are filmed (and assumed) to be incredibly gorgeous, yet in both cases, I spend more time trying to convince myself that they are hot, than paying attention to what they’re actually doing on screen while everyone acts like they are. All this…AND they both have letters-of-the-alphabet last names.  Next up for Maggie Q: marrying and divorcing an award-winning indie director, then landing in a television series best known for resurrecting the career of an 80s heartthrob. Look out,  Paul Thomas Anderson, and get ready Corey Haim!

4. To bask in the glory of mainstream media dollars (for the first time) – Jonathan Rhys-Meyers has been a successful working actor for years, though you might not have known it. He was in a ton of BBC projects, before he started to get some movie roles. For all intents and purposes, he was introduced to American audiences in Bend it Like Beckham, where he played the dreamy soccer coach lusted after both by the gorgeous lead, and some actress too skinny and tall to ever get cast in anything ever again, I’m sure. Then, last year, he found himself in Woody Allen’s Match Point, another movie that was much better than it was successful.  So now that he’s conquered the low-budget world, the next step is to play sidekick number three in Mission: Impossible. This is probably the best career decision he ever made. Sure, he went from projects with artistic integrity to a role that consisted largely of silent smirking and one allusion to being a male whore, but now millions of girls all over the world can start lusting after him, instead of the mere hundreds of thousands who do now.  That is the kind of attention that gets studio execs drooling and reaching for their wallets. Ten years from now, we just might be looking back at this movie as the one where one generation’s uber-heartthrob passed the gauntlet on to the next.



Badasses do not smile. This is the closest you get. Fuck you.

To bask in the glory of mainstream media dollars (once again) – There was a time when Laurence Fishburne must have felt like Hollywood royalty. His performance as Morpheus in The Matrix allowed him to kick major ass in one of the biggest movies of the 90s, and it (if only for a time) made him surpass Samuel L. Jackson for the mantle of coolest black man in Hollywood.  This role also got him two automatic sequels that were guaranteed to kick major box office ass (and, we could come to learn, suck) and keep him in the upper echelon of Hollywood cool. How much it must have hurt then when his first project after the Matrix movies, Assault on Precinct 13, bombed.  (I don’t know that it did…but did you see it? Me either.) Since you’re only as bankable as your latest project, I can see the sweat that must have formed on his (and his agent’s) brow, as he tried to plan his next move.  When the call came in, offering him a relatively small and ultimately blasé role in MI:3, I bet he jumped. Now, when this movie makes its obligatory billion dollars worldwide, Laurence Fishburne can walk into his next contract negotiation trumpeting that he had something to do with that. And he’ll be right, in every way except truthfully.

6. To become the biggest badass alive – Philip Seymour Hoffman has maybe the greatest career arc I’ve ever seen.  He started out in small roles in smaller projects, and soon became known as the actor’s actor. Every choice he made was correct, every performance he gave was flawless, and if you disagreed with that, it was assumed that you knew nothing about his craft (an understandably irritating truth, made all the worse because it was true.) Once he became the guy who made every project better, then he started to take on lead roles, like Truman Capote. Hoffman reacted to his Academy Award nomination as though it was about fucking time that someone recognized him for his talent, and sat through the Oscar telecast with his arms crossed on his chest, and a huge scowl on his face, as if to convey that he will deign to accept the award, but why should he be forced to sit amongst the mere mortals.  So what next for the actor known for brilliant performances in challenging roles? A villain in a blockbuster! The only thing more surprising than Hoffman taking on this nonsense part, is how much he fucking rocks in it. Man, I don’t even WANT to like this guy anymore…and yet I find myself just another fawning sycophant on the altar of PSH. After this, he’s bound to become an acting God, known throughout the land as being able to pull off any role, in any movie, at any time. Right now, he’s like either actor from Midnight Cowboy, right after Midnight Cowboy, and both of their career arcs are available to him. He can either become Dustin Hoffman, and spend his career finding challenging roles that forever add to his legend (as he currently does),  or he can become Jon Voight, and find himself sucking at Hollywood’s teat, using his cachet to get into any piece of Hollywood pap he can find, from Anaconda to Mission: Impossible (as he currently does). Either way, the choice is clearly his.

7. To finally get to play with the big boy toys – Let me preface this section by saying that, of all people in Hollywood today, the person whose career I’d most want to emulate is that of J.J. Abrams. He broke onto the scene pretty early in life, and almost immediately gained notoriety and fame as a writer and storyteller.  There is not a dud on his resume (assuming, of course, that he failed to put Gone Fishin’ on that resume), and each project seems to be more successful than his last.  His screenplays led to the greenlight of Felicity. Felicity led to Alias, and while he was working on his next network show, ABC came to HIM and asked him to create Lost. God I am so fucking jealous of this man. But I digress.  When I think of Alias (granted I know it a lot less than Tony or Red Baron do), I think of pretty kickass action sequences, done on a moderately large television budget. Ballpark, I’m guessing that he was given around two million dollars per episode, and used it to make each show as action- and special-effects- packed as possible.  I think it’s safe to say that this was true for all of his directorial pursuits; he was by NO means handcuffed to bare bones budgets, but he certainly couldn’t cut loose as much as he might want. However, with his feature debut of MI:3, he was given a 150 million dollar budget.  That kind of money in the hands of the creator of Alias, results in shots like:
-Ethan Hunt running up a wall, followed by a camera on a crane, and the shot resolving itself into a gorgeous view of the fucking VATICAN!
-A helicopter fight and chase scene taking place within a wind-generator plant, in Germany (as far as I can tell, the only reason why they went to Germany at all).
-A fight on a bridge that includes a caravan of cars, a helicopter, and a drone fighter plane firing missiles.
-a full forty-five second tracking shot of Ethan Hunt running down a street in Shanghai, complete with locals and landmarks to prove its authenticity.

J.J. Abrams must have felt like a kid in a candy store. His giddiness is palpable in the result. This film will go down as the next great leap for him, and if it hasn’t happened already, Hollywood will be completely unable to say no to him, for anything he ever wants to do, from now on. J.J., if you’re reading, drop me a line, buddy. I think you rock.



Look! There’s fire! and long hair! He’s SO not gay!!

To again, once and for all, definitively, and without question, be the true king of Hollywood – Has anyone ever seen anything like Tom Cruise before? I honestly can’t think of another example of a person who is considered by everyone to be mentally unhinged, as well as the subject of constant scorn and ridicule, and yet still manages to be at the very top of his game. (Maybe George W. Bush, circa 2003…but he’s the only one.) In Cruise’s case, his personal life is an absolute joke (His “faith” causes him to shout nonsense on national television,  he makes ill-advised “jokes” about eating after-birth, and no amount of starlet fucking can convince most people that he’s straight). And yet, throughout all this, he can’t seem to make a movie that fails at the box office.  His power is almost unparalleled in Hollywood, and the Mission: Impossible franchise is the perfect example of this. As far as I can gather, Cruise himself decided that M:I would make a good vehicle for him, and so he bought the rights to it himself. For each film, he has had a hand in the script, hand-picked the director, and had a producer credit on the final product. Truly, he IS the M:I franchise. I think this is clear if you look at each film, through the lens of what Cruise needed to get out of them.  In the first movie, Tom was looking to make himself the ultimate movie star, bigger even than Schwartzenegger, Willis, et al. This was his first all-out action movie, and as such, they pulled out all the stops. There were explosions, car crashes, fight scenes, and special effects, with Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt as the cool and controlled master of ceremonies. It had everything…except, mind you, romance. When the second movie came out, there was talk that Cruise was something of a pretty boy. He had done several “soft” movies consecutively, and his marriage to Nicole Kidman dissolved, leaving people to speculate anew about his sexuality. Thus, with the second movie,  there were changes. In a VERY well-publicized move, Cruise did most of his own stunts, including a mountain climbing scene that to this day is the only part of that movie that I remember at all. The plot was much simpler (there were complaints that the first one was too hard to understand), involving a lot of masks and a bad guy who lost his chance to be Wolverine. And there was a woman.  Yes, this plot revolved heavily around the intrepid Hunt’s love of a good (looking) woman, and say what you will about the movie, Tom Cruise sure as hell looked strapping and virile. Mission, as it were, accomplished.  Flash forward to today. Cruise has been blemished (to put it kindly) by the whole Katie Holmes situation, which was made more complicated (to put it VERY kindly) by the new flare up of the whole Xenu thing. And with MI:3, we see two things worth noting. First, it is balls to the wall excitement, with Ethan Hunt again cool, confident and in control. There is nothing but competent sanity in him, and he does the right thing from beginning to end, even when forces above and around him conspire against him. Second, Cruise comes off as great husband material! His love and devotion to his betrothed is on display from beginning to end, and two women both confess that, given the chance, they’d marry him too. I can only imagine what will happen in five years. Tom Cruise, now pushing 50, will be fighting off rumors that he’s become impotent on Scientology engram sessions, and that somewhere on his body, there’s a wrinkle. MI:4 will have Ethan Hunt fucking his way around the world, as he is forced to pass himself off as a 24-year-old  moto-cross champion. Mark my words.