Wednesday, December 21, 2011
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - GHOST PROTOCOL
(Dir. Brad Bird, 2011)
Unless you've been living under a rock lately, you've heard about Tom Cruise's death defying stunt scaling the tallest building in the world (Dubai's Burj Khalifa) without a stuntman in the newest MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movie. It's a pretty damn impressive feat indeed, especially as it was one of several key scenes filmed with IMAX cameras.
What's more impressive to me is that not only can Cruise can keep the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE franchise sucessfully afloat with this, the 4th in the series - GHOST PROTOCOL, he's also conquered the screen in what I believe is the strongest action movie of the year.
And Cruise does it looking like he's only aged a couple of minutes after the last one ended back in 2006.
Now, even though I'm not really an action genre guy, I re-acquainted myself with the other M:I movies (I hadn't seen the first or second one since they were released well over a decade ago, and I always put off seeing the third), and I have to admit that they are state of the art escapism. Sure, they are souped-up vanity projects on one level, but each, helmed by a different hot-shot director - in order, Brian de Palma, John Woo, and J.J. Abrams - is slick high speed fun, and great to exercise bike to, I've found.
With Brad Bird (Pixar's THE INCREDIBLES, RATATOUIE) making his live action directorial debut, and a sharp screenplay by André Nemec and Josh Appelbaum (Alias), Cruise's Ethan Hunt chooses to accept another globe-trotting adventure with a crew made up of Simon Pegg (reprising his role as tech agent Benji from M:I:III), Paula Patton, and Jeremy Renner.
There's no way to not make the plot sound convoluted, but trust me it flows better than this description: We catch up with Cruise doing time in a Moscow prison. Cruise's IMF (Impossible Missions Force, duh) helps him escape, and they are given the mission to infiltrate the Kremlin (that's right) to extract top secret files.
After exiting the scene, a bomb goes off (one of the first notable IMAX moments) blowing up the Kremlin, and the IMF is implicated. In an all-too-brief cameo, the always reliably stodgy Tom Wilkinson shows up the Secretary of State of IMF to tell them they have to go underground to clear their name.
This involves faking a trade for nuclear codes between a French assassin who works for diamonds (Léa Seydoux) and Samuli Edelmann, the right-hand-man of the movie's villain (Michael Nyqvist), who want to annihilate the world's population in order to begin again.
This is where Cruise's skyscraper stunt comes in, eye-poppingly shot by ace cinematographer Robert Elswit (THERE WILL BE BLOOD) which is genuinely breath-taking. Although Cruise's Hunt is a cocky bastard most of the time, he does show some believable fright in this and other heart pounding scenes, and that enhances the intensity greatly throughout.
And then, when you think they can't top that, Bird and co. serve up a chase through a sandstorm which is just as thrilling.
Also, just when you start wondering, hey - what about, Michelle Monaghan, Cruise's wife from M:i:III? Pegg, among his many amusing one-liners, mentions in vague terms that she ended the relationship, but, of course, we just know that there's more to it that that.
Sure, the plot is routine, Nyqvist (who was the protagonist in the original Swedish GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO films) isn't a very memorable villain, and the last third, mostly set in a palace in Mumbai, too resembles something out of 007 in OCTOPUSSY, in its excuse to have our hero in a tuxedo in an exotic location, yet M:i:4 is still worth an overpriced IMAX ticket for, not only the awesome Burj Khalifa sequence and several choice action set-pieces, but for the sheer entertainment value of a high fallutin' formula done right.
Renner, who does his hot-head shtick here to perfection, is rumored as a candidate to take over the series from Cruise, but you wouldn't know it here - Cruise sure doesn't look like he's pushing 50 in one pummeling set-piece after another; it is as if he's been outfitted with new bionic body parts just so he can make 3-4 more of these.