Sometimes in mid-summer I have a desperate need to see a lightweight popcorn movie. Ant-Man certainly qualifies. It features, along with such likable actors as Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, and Bobby Cannavale, a goofy story about yet another threat to mankind as we know it. The trailers leading up to this film contain plenty of those: it’s clear that this autumn Fantastic Four and Superman v. Batman will have a lot of world-saving to do. But I suspect those films won’t reduce their heroes to insect size, nor will they call upon armies of helpful ants to defeat the inevitably bald-headed villain, played with a glower and a great wardrobe by Corey Stoll. (I’ve heard there are hair-challenged men out there who’re forming a new Anti-Defamation League protesting the assumption that all bald white guys are up to no good.) At any rate, if you like your derring-do tempered with deadpan humor, Ant-Man nicely fills the bill. Special kudos to Michael Peña as a lovably dim sidekick, and to Disney for its willingness to poke fun at its Marvel-ous connections. (It’s a small world, after all.)
Of course, some folks like their thrill rides to be a bit more realistically scary. I’m told that the brand-new Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation does a great job in that respect. Frankly, Tom Cruise scares me at the best of times, but (given his enormous physicality and his love for doing his own hair-raising stunts) he truly owns this particular genre. The weekend box-office numbers suggest that, despite his weird marital history and offbeat religious affiliations, Cruise must be doing SOMETHING right.
But of course it’s hard for me to associate Tom Cruise with Mission: Impossible. You see, I’m an old-fashioned girl. And when I think about Mission: Impossible, I’m remembering a TV series that ran from 1966 to 1973. All of us college kids were rooting for the Mission: Impossible team, covert operatives who each week thwarted bad guys on behalf of the U.S. government. There was stalwart Peter Graves, as James Phelps, the grey-haired leader. There was Martin Landau as smart, tricky Rollin Hand. There was Landau’s wife, Barbara Bain, as Cinnamon Carter, Hand’s equal as a master of disguises. There was the hulking Peter Lupus, the team’s designated muscle. Finally, there was Greg Morris. In that era, when civil rights issues were on everyone’s mind, it was important to have a black man on board. And he had to bely old stereotypes by playing a role that was intellectual rather than chiefly physical in nature. So Morris was the team electronics expert. I never knew exactly what he was doing as – under duress -- he switched wires around. But he’d always sweat beautifully, so it was clear that this was very hard work.
Of course, part of the thrill of Mission: Impossible came from Lalo Schifrin’s throbbing theme music. And the series also had a weekly opening that was ripe for memorization and parody. After an exciting montage featuring a burning fuse, Peter Graves would play a mysterious tape recording briefing him on the job at hand. It always contained the words, “Your mission, Jim, should you decide to accept it . . . .” (I certainly don’t recall fearless Mr. Phelps ever turning anything down.) Then came the best part: the tape, as promised would automatically self-destruct.
Years later, when phone machines were new and exciting gadgets, my voice recording told callers that their mission (should they choose to accept it) was to leave a message, or risk automatically self-destructing. Well, it seemed pretty clever back then.
Speaking of threats to the world as we know it, here’s a link to a piece I just published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (yes, really!) on the very serious matter of nuclear radiation, as it pertains to Nevil Shute’s novel (which became Stanley Kramer’s film), On the Beach.