Why Action Movies Need More Mother Figures


Columbia Pictures

A third Men In Black movie is stupid and pointless and will probably make a lot of money in a way that will make me feel rather disgusted with American audiences. That said, if such a movie does happen to feature Emma Thompson as the founder of the alien-immigration agency, I will be marginally better-disposed towards it. Thompson does, in the best tradition of British actresses, witty and dry and wry wonderfully, and it would be quite a lot of fun to see her put Will Smith's badass in his place. And it might prepare her to inherit Judi Dench's job as M should the dame ever get tired of making Bond movies (and, of course, should Bond escape from his financially-troubled studio's clutches to return to the big screen).

Daniel Craig was marvelous, of course, as was the invention of a villain for the post-Cold War age, but I think my favorite thing about Casino Royale was the way the movie handled M. They avoided having her be fusty, over-cautious, manipulative, a desk-rider. (And by the way, did anyone notice that they did away with Moneypenny in this reboot? Good thinking on that sexist bit.) Instead, Dench got to be razor-tongued and action-oriented. She sees Bond for exactly what he is, and is shrewdly perceptive of the flaws in what he thinks he's trying to become. She's corrective, directive even, but she clearly likes him quite a lot, too. Rather than being an object of conquest, M is sort of like Bond's aunt, or his mother.

While I don't want to promote a universally motherly way of achieving this goal, I think more action movies could benefit from their heroes having handlers, or clear restraints. Obviously, when giant alien robots are digging up the pyramids or whatever, all bets are off because all the laws of conduct are out the window. But with spies, and cops, and other folks who have more limited tasks, there should be some rules, and someone to sharply yank them back into line. When you've got restrictions, you have to be creative about how you achieve your ends, and you've got to be thoughtful about how said ends fit into a larger scheme of rule of law and decency and morals. That tends to make for better movies, and ones with more relationship to our actual moral dilemmas.