Thursday, May 31, 2012

Mission: Impossible-Ghost Protocol

Director: Brad Bird
Starring: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Paula Patton, Michael Nyqvist, Anil Kapoor, Lea Seydoux, Josh Holloway, Tom Wilkinson
Running Time: 135 min.
Rating: PG-13

★★★ (out of ★★★★)

The fourth film in the Mission: Impossible series and highest grossing movie of Tom Cruise's career, Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol, is by far the strongest installment in the franchise. And by a wide margin. Had I seen it in a packed theater on opening weekend with an enthusiastic audience and in all its IMAX glory, it's likely I would have been even more taken with it. Watching an action spectacle like this in the comfort of your home for a lesser, but more relaxing and cheaper experience. It's also a reminder that at the end of the day it's still a Mission: Impossible movie. But boy is it a good one. It's relentless, with non-stop action crisply presented by director Brad Bird in a manner that makes sense and engages you in the fate of all the characters, many of whom are actually interesting this time.

Holding everything together is the underrated Cruise, who pulls out all the stops and should be commended for doing things few actors any age who aren't trained stuntmen would even consider attempting. The media can call him crazy, but they'd a much tougher time arguing he doesn't care about his work or that he's ever phoning it in. After the dreadful Knight and Day, everyone was ready to write him off for about the tenth time in his career. But he keeps coming back. Why? Because he's really good at what he does. Now he's resurrecting a franchise that went on autopilot a while ago with a fourth film where nothing's on autopilot. It's definitely on Cruise control, and the results are surprisingly satisfying this time.

Cruise returns as IMF agent Ethan Hunt, successfully freed from a Moscow prison by agents Jane Carter (Paula Patton) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) in an extremely inventive opening prison break sequence. Their assignment is to infiltrate the Kremlin and locate files linking a mysterious Swede code-named "Cobalt" (Michael Nyqvist) to the intended detonation of a nuclear bomb. But when the Kremlin is attacked and Ethan and his team are suspected, the President activates "Ghost Protocol," which officially disavows the IMF. Unofficially, the mission to stop and find Cobalt continues with the help of seemingly inexperienced intelligence expert William Brandt (Jeremy Renner). The team now must obtain the nuclear activation codes in order to stop an attack on the U.S., assuming the authorities don't get to Ethan first.

Like all M:I movies the plot is rather complicated, but beside the point. For the first time though that seems like a good thing since there are so many impressive action sequences and set pieces there's hardly time to catch your breath and remember there is a plot, mainly because director Brad Bird invisibly advances it with each thrilling scene. Obviously, the big sequence everyone's been talking and the selling point for the entire film is Cruise's scaling of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, which due to the camera work, is almost as vertigo-inducing for the audience as it likely was for the actor. It's rare a film stunt is so daring and visually impressive that an entire movie is sold on it, but in this case it's more than justified. It really does look as amazing as you've heard, and that's coming from someone who only saw it on the small screen. What been overlooked are the circumstances that get Hunt up there and the story surrounding it, which doesn't all feel like merely an excuse to include a showy scene. There's a clever reason for it, as could be argued for all the action sequences, which never let up and serve specific functions for the story. A sand storm chase, a hotel room brawl between Patton's character and a deadly French assassin (Lea Seydoux), and a climactic showdown over the launch device in an automated parking garage. Unlike most other mainstream action films, none of this is hard to follow and whatever CGI is used adds rather than distracts from what's happening. Watching, you'd never be able to tell that The Incredibles and Ratatouille director Brad Bird hadn't ever released a live action film prior to this. It turns out he's really great at it . 

They really found the perfect team to support Cruise this time, as I have problems even remembering who Hunt's IMF team members were in the previous two films aside from Ving Rhames (who briefly cameos here). There's no such issue this time around as this group has real chemistry together. Simon Pegg provides the comic relief while Paula Patton is given the most purposeful female role yet in an M:I film, knocking it out of the park as a tough-as-nails agent who isn't relegated to being just arm candy for her co-star. Jeremy Renner has the least challenging role of the four as the intelligence expert who may not be exactly who he seems, but he's excellent in it. A sub-plot with a twist involving he and Cruise's character has a surprising payoff that deepens the backstory considerably without feeling thrown in. Any Lost fans hoping to see a meaty big screen supporting part for Josh Holloway will be disappointed since the role's far smaller than you'd expect, though a (weak) argument could be made that it's important. At least he's on screen a bit longer than Tom Wilkinson, who makes more of a mark with his limited time as the panicked IMF Secretary. Slumdog Millionaire's Anil Kapoor delivers an entertainingly sleazy turn as a rich Indian playboy not too far removed from his sleazy game show host in that film, but played for laughs.

Supposedly, upcoming Bourne Legacy star Jeremy Renner is being primed to take over the M:I franchise from Cruise whenever he decides it's time to hang it up but based on the evidence here, no one should be in a hurry to do that. Even pushing fifty there's no reason Cruise can't continue doing this for a little while longer and as strong as Renner was in a supporting role, his character isn't really established enough to be the main draw yet. Cruise's charisma and willingness to go all out is a huge reason why this installment ended up as such a success, even if the public seems unwilling to give him credit for it. Or at least ADMIT that they're giving him credit for it, since box office numbers don't lie.  While I agree he should probably be channeling his energy toward more character-driven, age-appropriate material at this point, if he continues along the action route we can only hope the movies remain as smart and entertaining as this one. This isn't a game-changer or worth frequently revisiting, but the over 2 hour running time felt more like 10 minutes, which is exactly what every mainstream action movie should aim for. If a filmmaker found a way to somehow harness the elements of this, Haywire and X-Men: First Class into one feature they'd have the perfect James Bond movie. Ghost Protocol actually seems like it needed to be seen in theaters to be fully appreciated. And anyone who did probably got their money's worth, which in this day and age, isn't faint praise.

1 comment:

Sadie Heldberg said...

I have been a Tom Cruise fan for a long time for the exact reasons you mentioned; he has a presence in that is mesmerizing. One of the reasons I like the MI franchise is the complicated plots mixed with tons of action. During my frequent business trips for Dish, I write articles for my blog that focuses on unique films and actors. This particular trip I’m taking pleasure in focusing on Mr. Cruise; thank goodness for Blockbuster @Home and the speedy movies by mail they have going on. I’ve been watching many of Cruise’s movies, so I can throw a great discussion piece out there.