Friday, August 3, 2018

Ready to Save the World Again: Heroes, Guardians or Spies?

Something got me thinking after my latest view of Mission: Impossible – Fallout, which made me relate it to the whole James Bond and the many heroes of the fictional spy world. It deals with the very last scene of the recent Christopher McQuarrie film, so I should advise to stop reading now if you don’t like to be spoiled.


Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is convalescing from his body wounds after the death-defying chase and fight he had with his enemies in order to avert a nuclear bomb going off. His former wife, Julia (Michelle Monaghan), is happy with her new husband and she thanks him for letting her be where she belongs and for the fact that, thanks to his work, they’re all safe and sound.

Remember that in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, we know that Julia had to break up with Ethan and became a “ghost” in order to preserve her life. In this new film, thanks to Luther (Ving Rhames), we know they were happy for a while until they realised they belonged to different worlds and that their marriage was avoiding Ethan to “save the world”.
In a similar way, we understand that a man like James Bond (despite being much more a loner than what Ethan Hunt is) can’t engage into serious relationships or think of a family because of his dangerous life. The two times he tried, the girl died, either gunned down by the villain (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) or committing suicide after revealing herself as a double agent (Casino Royale).

So, the question to debate is: what kind of heroes are Ethan Hunt and James Bond?
There’s often a mediatic manoeuvre or a popular culture feeling of placing spies, detectives, policemen, and any other kind of action heroes in the place of Batman, Superman or even Zorro. But at what point operatives belonging to government intelligence (or branches of it) take the place of justice seekers that are many steps above security forces or the army? Or even these agencies as a team?

Even tough Alec Trevelyan asks Bond if he’s “ready to save the world again” in GoldenEye, that doesn’t give him superhero qualities. While 007 is a successful professional and one has the feeling the world depends on him, he could perfectly retire one day and let someone else to do the job. The same goes to Hunt and he did it at the end of Mission: Impossible – III. The only reason he left Julia was, essentially, because audiences wanted a new M:I movie just like audiences wanted a new James Bond movie after On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Are we really assuming that these men didn’t have a normal childhood and teenage years and were adrenaline addicted since they were born, as the Young Bond novels often makes us believe? Of course, they’re not per se Bond adventures but we have a 13-year-old boy escaping captivity, getting tortured and averting a villainous scheme against the world, something highly trained operatives in their 30s or 40s failed to achieve just because of bad luck.

It’s not that I dislike –from a marketing point of view- the heroic qualities one gives to the big screen and literary secret agents, and that in the fiction it looks like they’re the only ones who can beat a lunatic man after an army has failed. But when that involves fiction, it all feels a bit cheesy.

Batman, Superman and Zorro have double lives, they have an inner feeling to save the world they live in and the whole nation or town depends on them, which makes the idea of the initial Alejandro-Elena break up in The Legend of Zorro, where he wanted to go back in action again because he seemed to be one step above the militia and the only one for the job.

But what’s the case of MI6 and the Impossible Mission Force? The British Intelligence Service has many operatives, some bearing the 00 number just like James Bond to perform an assassination in the course of the mission. This way, 009 was sent by M to kill Renard in The World Is Not Enough, 003 to recover a microchip from Zorin Industries’ plant in Siberia in A View to A Kill, and there are two occasions where M threatens Bond to have him replaced by 008: Goldfinger and The Living Daylights. That should leave the door open for James Bond (as a human being) to retire one day.

Likewise, the IMF is formed by a group of five or six operatives with a team leader: Jim Phelps in 1996’s Mission: Impossible and Ethan Hunt in the other five adventures, taking the place of Phelps when he was revealed as a traitor and killed in action.

His marriage with Julia Meade in the third film of the saga meant us believe he was leaving the field. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol let us know that she had disappeared of Hunt’s side to find a new life and in Mission: Impossible – Fallout, it looks like it’s thanks to that break up that the world is in safe hands because Ethan was doing the role of a guardian.

In the case of James Bond, the girls he loved turned up dead, so he came back to his life as a “hero”. In the case of Ethan Hunt, Julia was still alive, far from him and the safety of the world was bigger than the love he felt for her. The point is: if Ethan retired and stayed next to her, is there something that any of the other IMF team operatives couldn’t do? As spectators, we know that Hunt is the hero and is more capable than all of the others and has the role of a leader, but does that reasoning extends to each of the characters of the fictional world?

It feels a bit far-fetched to have supporting characters also believing the marketing propaganda of the movie they belong to.

Nicolás Suszczyk


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