Mission: Impossible and Feminism

It’s hard to imagine being able to use a spy-thriller series to talk about feminism. Even the most progressive James Bond films still have the women in distress or wanting to bed Bond, and more often both.

But Mission: Impossible is an interesting case study, because the series has consistent stars and producers, but it’s been going for 22 years.

What I’ll do here is break down the major female characters and see if there’s a trend to be found.

Mission: Impossible — There are really only two women of note in the film: Claire (Emmanuelle Beart) and Max (Vanessa Redgrave). Max comes off better, as a self-possessed arms dealer with an agenda and the means to bring it about. Claire, on the other hand, is a pawn of both Jim and Ethan as the story progresses, and her only moment of defiance is when she begs Jim not to kill Ethan (because, I guess, she loves him?) and gets killed for her trouble. This is clearly a mixed bag for the women.

Mission: Impossible II — This film has but one woman: Nyah (Thandie Newton). Her opening shows her to be a gifted thief who has no problem walking away from Ethan. But soon enough she’s mooney-eyed over him. Then she finds out she’s needed, not for any skills she has, but for her past relationship to Ambrose. She makes some noise about how that’s unfair, but she still does it. She manages one decent pickpocketing, but then screws up the return of the thing she stole. Her big moment is injecting herself with the virus, rather than handing it over to Ambrose. That feels like the character exercising her agency, but the only result is that she’s left as the damsel in distress for the third act. It’s starting to look a little better.

Mission: Impossible III — We’ve got a bunch of women in this one. One is a gung-ho agent named Linday (Keri Russell) who has some serious skills–and is then killed. Ethan’s new fiance is Julia (Michelle Monaghan). She gets to do some medical stuff and shoot a couple of people at the end. So that’s pretty good. Lastly, we have Zhen (Maggie Q) who is an actual female IMF agent who survives the film! (A first for the series.) Unfortunately, her job seems to be to wear a slinky dress to the Vatican that one time, and other than that she blows up a lot of stuff.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol — For this film we have one woman who’s a good guy (Jane, played by Paula Patton) and one who’s a bad guy (Moreau, played by Lea Seydoux). Part of me thinks it great that Jane has an actual story arc. Then part of me is annoyed that her story arc is about the dude she thought was cute getting killed. Moreau is an effective antagonist, and the fight she has with Jane is brutal, and only involved their clothes getting ripped once. So that’s something. I guess.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation — Now we introduce Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) who breathes life into this franchise. The film has no problem showing off her body in slinky dresses and bathing suits, but it isn’t central to her purpose in the story. She’s an agent no less effective and lethal than Ethan, and she even gets to save Ethan in one pretty spectacular sequence. Her final fight with the lead henchman is hers and hers alone; Ethan is off doing something else. If only there were any other women of note, we might have had a truly feminist entry into the series.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout — Sadly, Ilsa doesn’t fare quite as well in the next film. She’s still a bad-ass with her own agenda. But she’s also largely defined by her attraction to Ethan. Every time there’s anything mentioning or showing Julia, there’s a cut to Ilsa looking sad. Julia comes off a little better, I’d say. She has a new husband and while she still has a connection to Ethan, it’s not like she defines herself by her relationship to him. White Widow (Vanessa Kirby) is basically a copy of the Max character from the first film, which is great. And they add Angela Bassett into the mix as the CIA Director (?).

All in all, I think there’s a clear trend line (at least after M:I2), from movie to movie, toward more feminist portrayals of women. An argument could be made that Fallout is a dip on that trend, but the sheer number of women, all of whom have something to do in the story, is worth valuing.

Anyway. There you go.


Ant-Man and the Wasp

The best thing about Ant-Man and the Wasp is that the trailer lied to us. There was a line in the trailer about Ghost (the bad guy) wanting to take over the world. I don’t know why that was in there, but thankfully, Ghost’s motivations aren’t quite so dire. In fact, the stakes for everyone in this film are much more personal and relatable than anything we saw in Infinity War.

This movie takes place two years after Civil War, and only a short time before Infinity War. Scott (Paul Rudd) is finishing up a two-year sentence of house arrest. Watching how he interacts with his daughter when he can’t leave his home literally made me tear up. (I guess the fact that I have a daughter very nearly the same age has something to do with that.) Scott really wants to finish up his term and rejoin the world.

But Hope (Evangeline Lilly) and Hank (Michael Douglas) have other ideas. They’re still on the run from the government. (Those pesky Sokovia Accords!) And they need some help from Scott to retrieve Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the quantum realm. (She is Hank’s wife and Hope’s mom, in case you were curious.)

Ghost is just the nickname of Ava (Hannah John-Kamen), a young woman who has her sights set on stealing Hank’s quantum tunnel for personal reasons. She’s the closest thing we have to a “big bad” in the film, but really, there’s lots of antagonists to go around. There’s a rival scientist (Laurence Fishburne), an arms dealer (Walton Goggins), an FBI agent (Randall Park), not to mention Scott’s ex-con friends from the last film (Michael Pena, T.I., and David Dastmalchian). Everyone wants something different, and collisions between the characters abound.

The Wasp is a nice addition to the franchise. Hope is clearly better at being a superhero than Scott, and pretty much steals the show during the action sequences.

It’s all funny and exciting and even, at times, heartwarming. It’s good to know that not every film in the MCU has to be about some potentially world-ending trial.

Customer Service

This a sort of catchall post to discuss some of the customer service I’ve experienced in the past couple of weeks. Let’s start at the top and work our way down, shall we?

University Volkswagen — I recently bought a new Tiguan from these guys. The process wasn’t entirely devoid of the “buying a car” cliche annoyances, by any means. I still got the last-minute high-pressure sales pitch for extra warranties. I haven’t bought a car for ten years, so this part was a little crazy to me. Not only extended bumper-to-bumper warranties, but also warranties for the windshield, the undercoating, the tires, the wheels, and even the paint on the nose of the vehicle. I was half expecting a warranty on the new car smell. That aside, the process was mostly pain-free, I got a good deal on my trade in, and they’ve been very responsive with questions I had in follow-up. So, thumbs up!

Bekins — My parents moved from Chicago to Fort Worth with Bekins… in 1970. But that was enough for me to call them up when I was helping my aunt with her move. They got me a local rep with a local number, the quote was reasonable, and the service has been great. (We’ll see if the move itself goes as well, but that’s less about customer service and more about the service you’re contracting.) Thumbs up.

UPS — When we thought we could accomplish the move with a package delivery company, I spoke several times with UPS, and they were uniformly knowledgeable and helpful. Sorry, guys, but we had to go with professional movers. Still, thumbs up.

FedEx — The other company I talked to about shipping was FedEx. Every person I talked to had a slightly different take on the process. Which amped up my annoyance remarkably efficiently. When the last guy tried to explain the difference between “Ground” and “Home Delivery”, I got lost and said to him, “I’m sorry. I don’t understand.” His response was “I don’t know any other way to say it.” Thumbs down.

Dish Network — I’ve never been a subscriber of this service, and I know people who swear by it. But I had one simple task: return the device to Dish because my aunt is moving. First, they gave us the wrong address for the return. Then, after I corrected the address on the internet… there wasn’t anything there. It was a parking lot. So I called the number. Dish answered, but it was a sales number. When I tried to get help, they said, “Write this number down,” and switched me over to a recording. Of course, I was driving at the time, so I couldn’t write anything down. (But I’m sure I’m in the minority of people who don’t have pencil and paper at the ready every time I’m on the phone.) So I found another location on the internet, and called again. This time I said, “I’m trying to get to you. Can you help me.” Despite the fact that this was a Sacramento area code, the guy said, “We’re in Ohio.” And he dumped me to the phone number recording again. This time I took note, and called this new guy. He was helpful, and gave me the address of a local retailer who would accept the returned hardware. I thanked him, drove over there, and was told that, no, they didn’t accept hardware. No one does. It has to be mailed back to Dish. Terrible, terrible customer service. Thumbs way down!