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Filmism.net Dispatch December 19, 2011

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I'd thought I'd be a little bit lighthearted this week and celebrate one or two of the most overused clichés in movies. American culture has given us a handful of very walnutty tropes that you can almost see coming.

I saw Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol this week. Fantastic movie, but how many times have we seen the old 'spies go rogue for a cause' storyline? I think the reason it's so popular is because a strong part of the American cultural sensibility is a disdain for authority.

There's nothing audiences like more than seeing soldiers or spies use their hard-won skills against the shadowy organisations that provided them. We saw it in Ethan Hunt and his team this week and if you look hard enough you can see it in almost any spy or action franchise.

Even James Bond went rogue twice, once in 1989's beige-coloured License to Kill and again in the humdrum Quantum of Solace. The takeaway lesson here for Michael Wilson and Barbra Broccoli is that Bond does his best work in the fold of Her Majesty's Secret Service while he's drinking Vodka Martinis, bedding Russian supermodel assassins and wielding gadgetry.

Mission: Impossible clichés actually started by the one glaring out of Mission: Impossible 3 like a pulsating boil: this time, it's personal. Nothing spells drama like when the loved ones of the hero are threatened, and even though it gives an action star the opportunity for some emoting, it rarely works out narratively. It was even parodied by Alec Baldwin in The Simpsons' episode When You Dish Upon a Star when he says the signature line, gazing stoically into the sky. When Kim Basinger and Ron Howard look on unimpressed, he cries 'What? It is personal! He's got our underpants!'

Special mention in awards for clichés goes to the words 'you look like shit', a line so common video list maker Harry Hanrahan has a YouTube video of it which you can see here. And let's not forget the most dependable line ever to describe some trouble one needs to figure a way out of... 'we've got a situation here'.

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