Tuesday, August 4, 2015

What the Hell, Britannia: Minions AND Mission Impossible Spotlight London

I don't often partake of the summer movie madness, but I happened to see Minions and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation on one weekend, trying to beat the heat and get some deluxe air conditioning.

Mild spoilers ahead.

I saw Minions first, and I was charmed.  As many have said, the story is not that compelling, but spending time listening to the delightful gibberish and unquenchable √©lan of the distinctive little yellow ones more than makes up for any weakness. I like this description from The Guardian:

A ramshackle band of capsule-shaped, banana-yellow incompetents babbling like an unruly congregation of helium-sucking Esperanto-speakers don’t seem like your average celluloid heroes.

What I did not know before I went was that the plot centers around the arch villain Scarlett Overkill wanting to steal the actual Crown Jewels, right off the head of Queen Elizabeth II if necessary.

That brought our heroic trio--Kevin, Stuart, and Bob--to London for an extended sequence of lots of British humor/gags, including TV presenters having ubiquitous cups of tea in china cups; the trio popping out of the sewer at "Abbey Road" just as the even more famous quarter's legs are walking over it; Buckingham Palace; the Royal Corgis; the Tower of London; Bob assuming the throne (albeit shortly), and the Minion hordes landing on Albion's shores and taking afternoon tea in their bowler hats. It hits every cliche, I mean icon.

As charming as it all is, it seemed culturally tone-deaf for an American audience of elementary kids. Certainly seemed that way for the urban kids (of all races) I saw it with, and I don't know what kind of resonance all the Brit stuff is having in the Heartland. Although the solid gold soundtrack of classic British rock from The Stones, Kinks, Turtles, Who, and of course the Fab Four is timeless, and a great way to introduce the next generation to that collective brilliance. Illumination Entertainment, the production company, is based in Santa Monica. It was written by Brian Lynch, a guy from New Jersey. So again, I don't know what the Anglophilia was all about. (If they had based the plot around a surfing story a la Beach Boys, that would have made a little more cultural sense for the home team).

And Then There's Ethan's London

A mere 24 hours after the Minions, I was transported back to London in an Imax theater experiencing M:I. The IMF goes to Casablanca and Vienna, but London is given pride of place: the key action starts there, and the extended, clever ending sequence is British to the core. (One note: they could have had Ethan and Ilsa pass by some Pearlies as they are running through the backstreets. Maybe next time.) IMAX brought stunning aerial shots of London at night that truly transported the audience into Ethan's hyper-real, elite world.

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation is a terrific action movie: funny, smart, sexy, it pays off in every small way you want it to. For me, the icing on the cake was the great use of the original TV music theme whenever the action became especially MacGyver-like on steroids (if I may mix my TV references).

A tale of two Londons: that of the Minions, and that of Ethan Hunt. Both slick, each idealized, a real moviegoing treat to see them both in one weekend. But it was a surprise to see that London, of all the world capitals,  is so front and center in the summer 2015 movie zeitgeist.

Oh, and a cautionary note for that other London film coming to the US in November. You had better step up your game, Mr. Bond.  Ethan Hunt has you on the ropes. And if MI beats Spectre in fan popularity and box office, then, in the immortal words of Alec Baldwin/Alan Hunley, it will "set US/UK relations back to the Revolutionary War." Oh yes, "KING BOB!"


Bill Chapman said...

I’m disappointed that the babbling of the Minions is linked here to Esperanto. I am one of many people who for decades have argued quietly that wider support for Esperanto as a lingua franca could bring many benefits to the world.

Ellen O'Neill said...

Bill, thanks for adding this perspective about Esperanto, outside of the glib pop cultural impression about it.