Sunday, January 1, 2012

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol Movie Review

With the exception the second (because John Woo is an exceptional action director), I’ve generally been less than impressed by the Mission: Impossible series of films. They tend to be keyed up James Bond knock-offs employing high-tech non-existent gadgets, but going a few steps beyond 007 by staging spectacular stunt and action sequences. What has generally impressed me most is Tom Cruise’s tremendous physicality and propensity for doing nearly all his own stunts. That he is willing to dive in head first (sometimes literally) lends the series a bit of authenticity. It allows the action sequences to be shot at distances that simultaneously reveal the actor’s face and the sheer danger involved. Seldom do I notice use of green screen in these films, a fact I attribute to Cruise’s hands-on control as a producer of the series.

Whereas the last film focused more on Cruise’s character Ethan Hunt’s romantic involvement with Michelle Monaghan (who makes a cameo here), Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol casts a pall over Hunt by coyly alluding to the loss of his wife. What it has in common with the other three films is its reliance on exotic locales to stage impossibly complex action sequences. This time Ethan travels to Moscow (where Ethan is nearly blown up along with the Kremlin), Mumbai and Dubai. Does the plot that takes him to these places really matter? Not a whole lot to be honest. The other films have relied on a MacGuffin to sustain the raison d’etre of the action. This one does too, although it’s hard to keep track of what it is as I think it changes periodically. First it’s a rogue Russian politician (Michael Nyqvist) intent on starting global nuclear war. Then it’s Russian nuclear launch codes. Then in the hurried finale it’s some other thing to abort the launch. If you think I’m giving too many details away then you obviously haven’t seen enough action movies.

To sum up the premise: a series of events leads to the belief that Ethan and his team – this time consisting of computer expert Benji (Simon Pegg), analyst Brandt (Jeremy Renner), and Jane (Paula Patton) – being disavowed with the President implementing “Ghost Protocol” (a severe sounding policy) which disbands the IMF. Luckily the IMF Secretary (an uncredited Tom Wilkinson) recognizes the importance of preventing nuclear destruction of the planet and arranges for the team to continue with a mission to prevent it. If they fail, he tells them, they will be branded as terrorists out to incite global nuclear war, which hardly seems to matter because if they fail there will actually be a global nuclear war and not a whole lot of people left to care about Ethan Hunt.

As someone who enjoys a good action thriller I must say I’m happy to see that the fall of Eastern Bloc communism more than two decades ago hasn’t deterred Hollywood screenwriters (in this instance Josh Applebaum and André Nemec, best known for TV’s “Alias”) from dreaming up scenarios in which somehow or another some big bad Russky will destroy the world. Why would someone want to start global nuclear war, you ask? Please, there’s no room for such logical questions here. But just in case you wanted to know, a thoroughly satisfactory answer has been provided: the man is certifiably insane and following some sick philosophy through which he believes the weak must be annihilated for the strong to survive and take human evolution to the next level. Uh-huh.

The really important part is that the plot takes the team to Dubai and the Burj Khalifa, now the world’s tallest structure, standing at a whopping 2,717 feet with 163 habitable floors. That’s fully 902 feet taller than the previous record holder CN Tower in Toronto. It’s important to get a sense of how tall this building is because the film’s major action set piece takes place both inside and outside it. That’s right, Ethan will have to scale the outside of the building to reach his destination and yes, Tom Cruise did his own stunt and wire work on the outside of the Burj Khalifa about 2,000 feet up. This is an impressive feat and action sequence and if you’re lucky enough to see it in a real IMAX theater I’m sure it will be astounding. I was unfortunately duped into a fake IMAX, or “Liemax,” cinema where the effect was lost.

I have to say that my feeling during most of the movie was of sheer apathy. I’ve grown weary of movies that string a vacant plot onto a series of set pieces. Even when those set pieces are excellent, I can only find myself superficially involved. Director Brad Bird, working in live action for the first time, has an adept hand at action pacing, a skill he has demonstrated extraordinarily well in his animated features The Iron Giant and The Incredibles. Tom Cruise is an exciting action star to watch, Jeremy Renner has the potential to take over the series whenever Cruise decides to call it quits, and Simon Pegg brings a welcome wit to the serious proceedings, but ultimately my expectations weren’t quite met.

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