Sunday, September 20, 2009

Memo to JJ Abrams

To: JJ Abrams
From: Brian O'Rourke, A Moviegoer Of Little To No Importance
Date: 9/20/09
RE: Mission: Impossible IV

There's been a lot of buzz recently about two sequels: Star Trek 2 and Mission: Impossible IV. Mr. Abrams, you are no doubt receiving more advice, ideas, and feedback than you know what to do with regarding Star Trek 2, so I won't burden you with more of the same. I was wondering, however, if you'd care to listen to some advice on how to make the next installment of the bumpy and uneven series that is Mission: Impossible into a really good movie.

To begin with, let's recap the series thus far. 1996's Mission: Impossible turned the concept of the TV series on its head. In the first twenty minutes of the movie, Ethan Hunt, our hero, watches helplessly as each member of his team dies pretty a horrific death while on a very important mission. To make matters worse, after Hunt has seen all this happen, the brass accuse him of the murders and of being a double agent, selling secrets on the side. I say this movie turned the series on its head because Mission: Impossible the TV series had always been more of a team show. The better episodes employed intricate plotting, where each character had an important role in the mission, and thus the stories had many moving parts. This really amped up the suspense and the fun of the show. By virtue of killing off Hunt's team in the beginning of the 1996 film, the movie necessarily became more of a one-man show. On the whole, the first film is well-shot (of course it is, because the underrated Brian DePalma directed it) and well-acted, and the opening thirty minutes of the movie create a real sense of paranoia in the spy world of smoke and mirrors. There is a great set piece in the middle of the film, too, where Hunt manages to break into the CIA, which has been parodied time and time again in the ensuing thirteen years. It's a decent film that comes off the rails toward the end because of hopelessly convoluted plotting and the ridiculous final action set piece.

Without exaggeration, MI: II is one of the worst movies I've ever seen in the theater. The sequel essentially turns Hunt into an American James Bond, a somewhat roguish agent who bickers with his handler, and who of course manages to find the time while on a mission to meet and fall in love with a beautiful woman. John Woo sticks to his own rule of having at least three chase scenes in every movie he makes, and really does little else. The mask trick is overused in this movie and that unfortunately carries through to the next film. And gone again is the team aspect that made the series so cool: Hunt, a larger-than-life super spy, braves it mostly alone throughout. and the usually cool Ving Rhames is along for the ride only to remind us of how dangerous and cool Hunt is.

MI: III is the best of the series. Its plot is more plausible than the first film; the action, while over-the-top, isn't overblown like in the second film; and Abrams allows most of his characters to develop into people with real interpersonal relationships. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laurence Fishburne make the most of relatively small parts, and the plot has some really good turns. Still, though, Cruise dominates the story, and much of the plot is devoted to Hunt balancing the demands of his career with a normal married existence. The film could have been called Family Life: Impossible, and the title would have been just as appropriate.

So, what do I have by way of advice for MI: IV? If you haven't already guessed it, here it is: go back to the concept of the TV show. Make the mission the most important thing going on in the plot and allow it to dominate the second act. Make this next film into more of a team effort, where every character has an important job to do, as opposed to just waiting around for Hunt to work his magic and scrambling to keep up with him while he's working. Put all of the characters in danger. Make us think the mission could go wrong at any juncture, not just when Hunt is involved. Make it so the mission really does seem impossible.

Each movie so far has shown Hunt at odds with his administration. Let's not go there again. Let the focus be on the enemies from without, as opposed to the enemies from within. A good old-fashioned good guys versus bad guys scenario will actually be a breath of fresh air in this series.

Finally, you transformed super spy Hunt into a seemingly real person in MI: III. Bravo, well done. That was a nice counterpoint to the cartoonery of MI: II. But we don't need any more of that. If you want to continue the spy managing a real home life thread, by all means do so, but don't make it the point of the movie. If you want, turn Hunt into the next Jim Phelps, a character the series has been sorely missing, a true leader, not a maverick agent who occasionally needs help from other spies.

Or, just go ahead and do what you want because you seem to know exactly what you're doing, if Star Trek's box office is any indication.


seana said...

I think you're absolutely right. but do I think any of this will happen in MI:IV? Nope.

My dad went to college with Barbara Baine, by the way. He wasn't a close friend, but he was in a dramatic revue of some kind with her. We all used to enjoy watching the orginal show together. It was unique, which the movie versions, however effective as stories, aren't. And I think the different kinds of skills needed made this more of a show that girls could relate to than the standard thriller fare of the day.

Brian O'Rourke said...


Wow, that's pretty cool. Where did your dad go to school?

As you can tell, I'm a fan of the original series and, though I enjoy two of the three movies, I really miss the team aspect that drove the show. And you're right - they're probably not going to change the formula of the movies, since at least two out of three have been box office successes.

seana said...

University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.

He graduated in business, though, and there lies all the difference.

adrian mckinty said...

This is my memo to JJ Abrams:

Screw you, asshole. You made Lost up as you went along, the MI franchise was rubbish, your Trek movie destroyed the entire mythology of the franchise and wasnt half as good as everybody thought it was (How the hell did he find Spock on that whole planet?) except for Uhuru, the young Spock and McCoy who were all brilliant. You're a slick director but you have no heart, a C Division Stanley Kubrick.

One more thing can I have a job?

Brian O'Rourke said...


Is it me, or does everyone in Corporate America nowadays try to get an MBA? That seems to be a very diluted degree anymore.

Anonymous said...
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Brian O'Rourke said...


If you're feeling generous, can I have a job too? I'll write M:I 4 for you for a pittance of what the studio is probably paying the screenwriters.

Phil Stiefel said...

How bout if they must absolutely make a fourth go ahead and use your idea of focusing on the group by going back to one of Hunts first missions with a team as a member of someone elses team and show his growth into the team leader he is... and ps I loved the third one the best and when a third installment is the best it normally means it is time to stop making them... and me loving a Tom Cruise movie is saying something bc I cannot stand Tom Cruise... PSH saved the movie for me.

Brian O'Rourke said...


PSH is one of my favorite actors of all time. The guy can get into any character he wants. He was awesome in Capote and great in Boogie Nights.

seana said...

Hoffman usually does save the movie though, doesn't he?

I don't know about MBAs--in my neck of the woods its an excess of MFAs mainly. My dad was a Depression kid whose mother got all the kids off the farm by stressing practical paths. My dad probably would have been happier if he had been more connected with either the arts or politics. Business wasn't really his milieu. Unfortunately, he then told us all to follow our bliss or something to that effect, where I probably should have gone into IT or something and made some money. The bright side is that I probably would have invested it badly, with Madoff or someone and been exactly where I am right now. Except I'd be a lot more bitter.

One of Adrian's problems is that he doesn't ever let you know what he really thinks about anything, wouldn't you say?

Brian O'Rourke said...


Interesting that it's MFAs who are overabundant in your neck of the woods, and it's MBAs out here, but it does make sense right?

Just think, if you had gone into IT, you might have possibly turned into Susie and been controlling this universe all along...

That Madoff story really is incredible. I read somewhere that Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick number among his victims. That's unbelievable.

If only Adrian would learn to speak his mind. It's a shame too because I'm sure deep down he has a lot of interesting things to say.

seana said...

Susie may be running this whole show. Even I wouldn't know that.