Simon Pegg

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015, Christopher McQuarrie)

While Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation doesn’t deliver much in the way of plot twists, it instead delivers a lot of easy smiles and a handful of good laughs. The easy smiles aren’t just for the action sequences, which often focus on characters’ reactions to them–sometimes relief, sometimes awe at Tom Cruise’s derring-do–but also for the chemistry. There’s not much in the way of character development in Rogue Nation (what does Ving Rhames do in his six months of retirement?), but the actors have a great time onscreen churning out the (relatively light) exposition and going through the espionage motions.

Rogue Nation opens with its biggest set piece–Cruise jumping on a cargo plane, which then takes off. Director (and writer) McQuarrie plays it for a nice combination of laughs and spectacle. Cruise’s sidekicks are all commenting on it, albeit sometimes from thousands of miles away. For the film’s first hour, McQuarrie relies on Simon Pegg for humor. Pegg doesn’t disappoint. After the first scene, it takes a while for Rhames to reappear, while Jeremy Renner (as the team’s permissive straight man) is a constant. First as the chiding presence, then as Cruise and company’s defender once CIA suit Alec Baldwin dismantles the IMF, making Cruise a fugitive.

Cruise is too busy hunting down an unknown villain–Sean Harris–who kidnapped him. Woman of mystery and ostensible Harris lackey Rebecca Ferguson helps free Cruise, just before he has to go on the run from Baldwin. Ferguson and Cruise’s scene, complete with complementary butt-kicking of Harris’s thugs, oozes with chemistry. It takes a while for Ferguson to return to the action; McQuarrie smartly doesn’t focus too much on Cruise–rather Pegg’s angle–because Cruise is… well… a little on snooze when Ferguson’s not present.

Eventually Cruise gets the band back together and travels from Vienna to Morocco to London while pursuing Harris and Ferguson. Baldwin’s after them (sort of) and Ferguson’s disavowed British agent subplot figures in as well. There’s a big car chase in Morocco, a shootout in the Vienna opera house, an underwater heist, and some attempts at plot twists in the U.K. McQuarrie’s set pieces for the third act are all a lot smaller than the ones before. He’s trying to wrap up the film with narrative not action, which is fine, but far from exciting. Particularly because, like I mentioned before… his plot twists aren’t particularly surprising. If they aren’t predictable, they’re entirely inconsequential. Rogue Nation constantly amuses, but never surprises.

It also leaves a couple big questions unanswered, just because they don’t matter once the plot points they’re supporting are resolved. McQuarrie can’t be bothered with anything even hinting at character development. Sometimes he just avoids it by cutting away from a scene and changing the narrative distance–Cruise will take over after a Ferguson solo scene, so her resolution in her own scene becomes a plot point in his new one. Or McQuarrie just forgets about something. It’s more frustrating when he forgets about it, because then it’s clear it never mattered in the first place.

Technically, the film’s excellent. Fine editing from Eddie Hamilton, good photography from Robert Elswit (except in the finale, where it just seems a little too artificial), decent music from Joe Kraemer. A lot of Rogue Nation‘s technical competences are just competences; they’re perfunctory. The film’s strengths are in the performances and the actors’ chemistries. Not just Ferguson and Cruise, but Cruise and Pegg, Cruise and Rhames, Cruise and Renner. Even Rhames and Renner, who do this odd couple schtick for about three minutes spread over a half hour or so. There’s not a lot to their interplay, but it’s damned amusing when they’re onscreen together.

And Harris is good as the odious villain. Rogue Nation sets him up as this terrorist mastermind, but doesn’t show any of the terror (good thing Cruise is really affecting when he’s passionate enough to yell). But when Harris is scheming or terrorizing Ferguson? He’s good. Understated. Maybe the only understated thing in the entire film.

Of the supporting good guys, Pegg’s best. He’s got the most to do. He’s even got the start of a character arc. Renner and Rhames are both fine. No heavy lifting, just easy smiles.

Cruise and Ferguson get the most screen time, with Ferguson getting more of the heavy lifting acting. Cruise has a little, but nothing compared to her. Just more than everyone else. Except–maybe–Pegg. And Cruise gets to do some straight humor scenes, which is nice. Unfortunately, McQuarrie hurries through them.

Baldwin’s in a glorified cameo. It ought to be stunt casting, but it’s hard to identify why it’s much of a stunt.

Rogue Nation is constantly entertaining and never challenging, never ambitious. McQuarrie’s direction is even, he toggles more than adequately between the various elements–humor, action, thriller, exposition–he just doesn’t shine at any of them. Except maybe the humor, which he eschews in the second half for the most part. He’s able to get away with some sincerity, however, thanks to Cruise and company. The actors are able to sell it.

The film’s a fine diversion. But it’s clear from the end of the first act it’s never going to particularly excel overall.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Christopher McQuarrie; screenplay by McQuarrie, based on the television series created by Bruce Geller; director of photography, Robert Elswit; edited by Eddie Hamilton; music by Joe Kraemer; production designer, Jim Bissell; produced by Tom Cruise, J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk, Dana Goldberg, David Ellison, and Don Granger; released by Paramount Pictures

Starring Tom Cruise (Ethan Hunt), Rebecca Ferguson (Ilsa Faust), Sean Harris (Lane), Simon Pegg (Benji Dunn), Jeremy Renner (William Brandt), Ving Rhames (Luther Stickell), Jens Hultén (Vinter), Simon McBurney (Atlee), and Alec Baldwin (Hunley).


Star Trek Beyond (2016, Justin Lin)

I want to like Star Trek Beyond more than I do. I want to be able to look past its problems. It has a whole lot of problems. Michael Giacchino’s music is awful. Stephen F. Windon’s photography is lame. The four editors don’t do any particularly good work, though they’re not working with the best footage. Because the real problem with Beyond is director Lin. All of the action in the first two-thirds is weak. The set pieces are undercooked, with one set at night and visually opaque, and Lin’s no good with directing the comedy. Oh, right, the script. The script is another problem.

No, it’s not because Simon Pegg, promoted from supporting cast to supporting cast and top-billed screenwriter (of two), gives himself too much to do as an actor. He and co-writer Doug Jung arguably don’t give Chris Pine enough to do, definitely don’t give Zachary Quinto enough to do and give villain Idris Elba absolutely nothing to do. They waste Idris Elba. Not just them, Lin too. But the narrative isn’t structured well. The humor’s awkward (since Lin can’t direct it) and the narrative is poorly structured. Beyond is choppy in places it shouldn’t be choppy.

Lin’s not good with all the sci-fi backdrops. His sci-fi action is poorly cut, but it’s also very uncomfortably shot. Lin doesn’t know how to establish the sets. It’s like he’s scared of medium shots on the Enterprise. It’d be more awkward if the ship were visible, but Windon’s photography is really bad, like I said.

But at the same time, it’s all right. Pine’s great this time, Quinto and Karl Urban get to banter, Sofia Boutella’s warrior alien is decent. John Cho and Zoe Saldana get almost nothing to do. Saldana least of all. She’s taken a big hit in terms of franchise positioning. Anton Yelchin gets the implication of more to do, ditto Pegg. But it’s almost a misdirect for Pegg. He and Jung don’t really give him more to do.

And then there’s Elba. He turns in a fine enough performance in a bad role, but gets to hint at what he could have done with it if the film were better written. And what it needs is just more depth, a little more thought, nothing amazing, nothing a decent script doctor wouldn’t be able to do.

The problem with Star Trek Beyond is it’s too aware of its marketplace, too self-aware of itself as a “new” Star Trek movie. Pegg and Jung don’t give enough credit to the actors. They’re on their third Trek, they’re older, they’ve developed. It’s kind of what’s awesome about this movie franchise–people age. Pegg and Jung don’t appreciate it enough. They do in moments, but not in the pace of the film overall. Or maybe deemphasizing the characters for the action comes from Lin, except in the last third, he manages character chemistry and good action. Amidst some of the worst production design on a “Star Trek” ever. Thomas E. Sanders is terrible at visualizing these future worlds.

But it’s all right. I wish I could recommend it and, as always, I’m hopeful for the next one. They just need a better director (and I was rooting for Lin based on his supremely well-directed action sequences in Fast 5 and 6). And a better script. And a better composer. And a better cinematographer. And a better production designer. And a better CG team.

And Pine and Quinto get about a half a real scene together. It’s like Pegg and Jung are scared of writing them together. Star Trek Beyond is scared of taking responsibility for itself. Lin just doesn’t have what it takes to make this script work. Though the bad action is all on Lin.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Justin Lin; screenplay by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, based on the television show created by Gene Roddenberry; director of photography, Stephen F. Windon; edited by Greg D’Auria, Dylan Highsmith, Kelly Matsumoto and Steven Sprung; music by Michael Giacchino; production designer, Thomas E. Sanders; produced by J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk and Roberto Orci; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Chris Pine (Kirk), Zachary Quinto (Spock), Karl Urban (McCoy), Zoe Saldana (Uhura), Simon Pegg (Scott), John Cho (Sulu), Anton Yelchin (Chekov), Sofia Boutella (Jaylah), Idris Elba (Krall) and Shohreh Aghdashloo (Commodore Paris).


Star Trek Into Darkness (2013, J.J. Abrams)

For Star Trek Into Darkness, J.J. Abrams operates with an “if it ain’t broke” mentality. It serves him–and the film–fairly well. Except Michael Giacchino’s music. While Abrams goes for sensationalism every time, he does it competently. The Giacchino music, however, is never competent.

This Trek tries hard to create mainstream post-modern; it’s a sequel to the first movie, yes, but it’s also a remake of a television series and a movie series. Not to mention Abrams and the writers gleefully wink at the franchise’s more memorable details. Into Darkness does have some serious moments and even tries hard to work arcs for some of its characters (it loses them too often), but it’s all for fun.

So why do Abrams and company get away with it? Usually the acting. Benedict Cumberbatch is fantastic as the villain, a 23rd century terrorist. If he wanted, he could act circles around Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, but Cumberbatch gives them time to catch up. He’s the very special guest star, after all.

Both Pine and Quinto are good. Pine’s likable and believable but the script coddles him. He doesn’t have to run the movie. Karl Urban’s great as Bones, Simon Pegg’s fun as Scotty. John Cho and Anton Yelchin lack personality–the script doesn’t give them enough to do. Zoe Saldana’s okay, the script giving her too much to do.

Sadly, Peter Weller’s weak. He’s obviously stunt casting.

Into Darkness succeeds. Hopefully the next one will be more original.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by J.J. Abrams; screenplay by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof, based on the television series created by Gene Roddenberry; director of photography, Daniel Mindel; edited by Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey; music by Michael Giacchino; production designer, Scott Chambliss; produced by Abrams, Bryan Burk, Orci, Kurtzman and Lindelof; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Chris Pine (Kirk), Zachary Quinto (Spock), Zoe Saldana (Uhura), Karl Urban (Bones), Simon Pegg (Scotty), John Cho (Sulu), Anton Yelchin (Chekov), Benedict Cumberbatch (John Harrison), Alice Eve (Carol), Peter Weller (Admiral Marcus) and Bruce Greenwood (Captain Pike).


Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011, Brad Bird)

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol might be a vanity project for producer-star Tom Cruise, but he sort of deserves it. His first scene features some athletics from him–the film’s full of them–and it’s hard to believe Cruise is nearly fifty. Either he’s got a portrait locked in a closet, they CG’ed his body or vitamins really are magic….

Ghost Protocol, silly title and all, is a fairly diverting espionage action thriller. With Michael Giacchino’s lush score, lots of gadgets and lots of globe trotting, it feels like a James Bond movie. Just an American one with an emphasis on teamwork.

For his first live action film, director Bird does an outstanding job. The film’s problems progressively get more outlandish, but he keeps them in check. Ghost Protocol is a comedy of errors. Nothing goes right; Bird keeps it moving fast enough one doesn’t think too hard.

And Ghost Protocol opens with silly opening titles showcasing later scenes in the movie. If Bird can recover from that lunacy, he can do almost anything.

His composition is strong–he fills the Panavision frame stylishly. It’s a great looking film, except when the CG composites don’t quite match.

Cruise is sturdy in the lead, but has nothing to do. He’s mostly just shepherding the team–Pegg’s blandly amusing and Jeremy Renner’s fine. The film’s best performance is easily from Paula Patton.

As the villain, Michael Nyqvist is terrible.

The conclusion’s just a setup for a reinvigorated franchise… likely an entertaining one.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Brad Bird; screenplay by Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec, based on the television series created by Bruce Geller; director of photography, Robert Elswit; edited by Paul Hirsch; music by Michael Giacchino; production designer, James D. Bissell; produced by J.J. Abrams, Tom Cruise and Bryan Burk; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Tom Cruise (Ethan Hunt), Paula Patton (Jane Carter), Simon Pegg (Benji Dunn), Jeremy Renner (William Brandt), Michael Nyqvist (Kurt Hendricks), Vladimir Mashkov (Anatoly Sidorov), Samuli Edelmann (Wistrom), Ivan Shvedoff (Leonid Lisenker), Anil Kapoor (Brij Nath), Léa Seydoux (Sabine Moreau), Josh Holloway (Trevor Hanaway), Pavel Kríz (Marek Stefanski) and Miraj Grbic (Bogdan).


Paul (2011, Greg Mottola)

Maybe Simon Pegg needs Edgar Wright or maybe Nick Frost just shouldn’t be writing because Paul should be great and it’s not.

Some of the problem comes from having Seth Rogen voice the titular, CG alien. Rogen does a fine job but he’s such a dynamic presence, Pegg and Frost sort of fade into the background. But it’s also a really busy script, with Jason Bateman hunting down the fugitives, Kristen Wiig meeting up with them and then John Carroll Lynch (as her father) chasing them down too.

Oh, and Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio as Bateman’s subordinates.

It also occurs to me it’s Pegg’s first American film (as a co-writer and production force) and that factor might be the damning one. Mottola is the wrong director for this film. He brings no personality to it and he probably got Hader and Wiig the jobs. Hader’s awful and Wiig’s mediocre. And whoever casted Sigourney Weaver should have realized his or her mistake when her painfully unfunny comic performance showed up in the dailies and done something about it.

However, it’s got a wonder part for Blythe Danner. If the film had been more Danner and less everyone (except the alien), it would have been a lot better.

Jeffrey Tambor is pretty funny in an unfortunately tiny role.

Still, it’s not awful and is mildly entertaining. The jokes in the script are pretty funny, it’s just not a good script.

Paul even manages to bore in its obvious shortcomings.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Greg Mottola; written by Nick Frost and Simon Pegg; director of photography, Lawrence Sher; edited by Chris Dickens; music by David Arnold; production designer, Jefferson Sage; produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Nira Park; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Simon Pegg (Graeme Willy), Nick Frost (Clive Gollings), Seth Rogen (Paul), Kristen Wiig (Ruth Buggs), Jason Bateman (Special Agent Lorenzo Zoil), Bill Hader (Agent Haggard), Joe Lo Truglio (Agent O’Reilly), Jane Lynch (Pat Stevenson), Sigourney Weaver (the Big Guy), Blythe Danner (Tara Walton), Mia Stallard (Young Tara Walton), John Carroll Lynch (Moses Buggs), David Koechner (Gus), Jesse Plemons (Jake) and Jeffrey Tambor (Adam Shadowchild).


Burke & Hare (2010, John Landis)

I don’t know how Landis could have a more indistinct return to feature directing than Burke & Hare. The film manages to be completely professional in all aspects–though the use of The Proclaimer’s “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles),” so well identified with Benny & Joon, is questionable. There are occasional Landis touches, but nothing really approaching any personality for the film or its characters.

The script goes to rehabilitate the image of the historic murderers Burke and Hare by making them lovable, funny men, so there’s not much for the film to do. But it doesn’t even do what its conclusion implies. For a ninety minute film, there’s a lot going on–besides the titular characters murdering people to supply cadavers, there’s a competition between two surgeons (a wonderful Tom Wilkinson and a goofy Tim Curry) and then Burke’s romance of a dance hall girl (or whatever they were called in 1820s Scotland).

As Burke, Simon Pegg is a secondary character until the movie’s half over. The first half is spent mostly on Andy Serkis’s Hare. Pegg does well in his scenes with love interest Isla Fisher (who’s occasionally good and always genial) but his scenes with Serkis don’t work. Serkis isn’t a movie star, Pegg is. There’s something off in the chemistry.

Jessica Hynes is good as Serkis’s wife, Michael Smiley’s excellent as Wilkinson’s sidekick… there really aren’t any bad performances.

Landis shoots it Panavision, which seems a little much. The film is still cramped.

It’s inoffensively without any value.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Landis; written by Piers Ashworth and Nick Moorcroft; director of photography, John Mathieson; edited by Mark Everson; music by Joby Talbot; produced by Barnaby Thompson; released by Entertainment Film Distributors.

Starring Simon Pegg (William Burke), Andy Serkis (William Hare), Isla Fisher (Ginny), Tom Wilkinson (Dr. Knox), Jessica Hynes (Lucky Hare), Tim Curry (Dr. Monroe), Michael Smiley (Patterson), Ronnie Corbett (Captain McLintock), David Schofield (Fergus), David Hayman (Danny McTavish), Allan Corduner (Nicephore), Hugh Bonneville (Lord Harrington), Bill Bailey (Hangman), with John Woodvine (Lord Provost), Jenny Agutter (Lucy) and Christopher Lee (Old Joseph).


Shaun of the Dead (2004, Edgar Wright)

So, people told me Shaun of the Dead was good, but they kept describing it as something akin to Hot Fuzz and whatnot. It’s not a spoof of a zombie movie though. It’s a zombie movie with a couple losers discovering their skill sets make them good at surviving a zombie holocaust, if not excelling at it.

Actually, it’d be kind of easy to describe Shaun of the Dead as Clerks with zombies. Maybe too easy? I’m not sure. Wright’s a far better director than Kevin Smith, creating this intense atmosphere the audience can feel while the characters are a little too dull to figure out what’s going on. Where the film hits gold is making Simon Pegg both a bit of a twit and also a character for the audience to identify with. He’s actually the only male character in the film who doesn’t have a serious defect (Nick Frost is a drunken loser, Peter Serafinowicz is a yuppie jerk, Dylan Moran is an ass, Bill Nighy is a jerk) and so it’s not really surprising how Lucy Davis occasionally gives him the bedroom eyes. It’s not mentioned (Kate Ashfield plays Pegg’s love interest to far less effect, but it might be because Ashfield’s character is just written as the annoyed girlfriend… much like, you know, Clerks).

The film’s hilarious from the start and keeps a nice air of unpredictably about it. Zombie films feature this ragtag cast of characters, thrown together, but not Shaun. It’s far more… realistic.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Edgar Wright; written by Simon Pegg and Wright; director of photography, David M. Dunlap; edited by Chris Dickens; music by Dan Mudford and Pete Woodhead; production designer, Marcus Rowland; produced by Nina Park; released by Focus Features.

Starring Simon Pegg (Shaun), Kate Ashfield (Liz), Nick Frost (Ed), Lucy Davis (Dianne), Dylan Moran (David), Peter Serafinowicz (Pete), Bill Nighy (Philip), Jessica Hynes (Yvonne) and Penelope Wilton (Barbara).


Hot Fuzz (2007, Edgar Wright)

I was going to start this post off with a mention I had no idea spoof movies were back–then I realized I just hadn’t been partaking in them (I’m thinking the Scary Movie series and whatever else the Brothers Weinstein squeeze out between Oscar-lusts). Hot Fuzz is a technical spoof for the most part–though I think there are a lot of Bad Boys II and Point Break references–with lots of fast cuts, fast pans, rapid montages. There’s a good deal of Lethal Weapon references, as well as Terminator 2 ones. Hot Fuzz‘s most admirable trait–its ability to keep with this crap and ride it through–is also the most irritating. There’s little actual content beyond these technical references–except, there should be, because Hot Fuzz has a great cast. With a handful of exceptions–the 1970s-looking detectives make no sense–the supporting characters are perfect. But Simon Pegg’s lead is an action hero among regular folk… Hot Fuzz reminds me a lot of Last Action Hero. Pegg plays the character as an action hero lost in the real world (with a few hinky exceptions, like the detectives) and it works against the film.

Pegg’s actually really good as the action hero. He’s a fine actor. But he’s–I need a metaphor for something moving against the grain and I’m not getting one. There’s also some serious writing problems–I’m sure one could defend it as some kind of a reference to plot holes in action movies, but there’s no real excuse for it. My biggest problem with Hot Fuzz, besides that plot hole, is it’s unnecessary. Action movies reference, homage, and mock each other and have been doing it for twenty years. Pointing out all the stereotypical film techniques–down to Lethal Weapon‘s music, in fact–well, if Hot Fuzz had been fifteen minutes–or even eighty-five–but it’s two hours. The jokes get old after about five seconds, long enough to notice the references, then Hot Fuzz carries them through… so it’s admirable, but pointless.

The supporting cast–especially Timothy Dalton–is all good. Dalton’s great throughout while other characters have reveals and don’t do as well… script problems too.

I find it odd movielens said I’d give it three, but IMDb correctly suggests five bad movies to see if I liked it. Including Lethal Weapon and Bad Boys II. Though I’m just guessing on Bad Boys II (I try not to see things like that).

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Edgar Wright; written by Wright and Simon Pegg; director of photography, Jess Hall; edited by Chris Dickens; music by David Arnold; production designer, Marcus Rowland; produced by Nira Park, Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner; released by Rogue Pictures.

Starring Simon Pegg (Nicholas Angel), Nick Frost (Danny Butterman), Jim Broadbent (Frank Butterman), Paddy Considine (Andy Wainwright), Timothy Dalton (Simon Skinner), Anne Reid (Leslie Tiller), Rafe Spall (Andy Cartwright), Billie Whitelaw (Joyce Cooper), Edward Woodward (Tom Weaver), Bill Nighy (Chief Inspector), Martin Freeman (Sergeant) and Steve Coogan (Metropolitan Police Inspector).


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