Monday, 16 April 2012
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
Starring: Tom Cruise, Jerermy Renner, Paula Patton, Simon Pegg, Michael Nyqvist
By Alan Bacchus
Tom Cruise is one resilient guy – not just his Ethan Hunt character, who gets knocked around like a fumbled football, but the movie star himself, who is currently on a fine career comeback of sorts from his low point – the couch surfing debacle, his stupid Scientology pronunciations, as well as the horrific Knight and Day. Doing another Mission Impossible movie (a fourth one) seemed, perhaps, to be like going back to a dry well.
But then the film became a massive hit, one of the biggest films of the year and genuinely a terrific action film, arguably the second best of the series. The De Palma-directed original is still unrivalled, a film that actually gets better with age. I doubt Ghost Protocol will last as long as the first film – already on second viewing, it’s not as thrilling. But it’s still better than the John Woo or the JJ Abrams entries.
In this film Ethan Hunt begins the film in a Russian prison, about to be broken out by his crack IMF team, this time featuring the luscious Paula Patton and the witty Simon Pegg. It’s a tense and yet surprisingly humorous scene, equal parts Cruise’s muscular showmanship and Spielberg comedy. Once free, Hunt and company track down some stolen Russian launch codes. In order to locate them they have to infiltrate the Kremlin to find files on the #1 suspect, Cobalt. Here we move to set piece #2 in the film, a terrific combination of new wave techno gadgetry and delicately paced Hitchcockian tension, ending in a running chase and a huge CG explosion.
The Americans are blamed for the Kremlin blast, rendering all IMF teams disavowed. Thus, the group is forced to fend for themselves. They are joined by a slick new analyst, William Brandt (Renner), who is not used to the crazy lifestyle of the field operators on a globe-trotting mission to recover the nuclear launch codes before an evil Swedish scientist can destroy the world.
As with most action films and the Mission Impossible series in particular, MI:4 is anchored by its set pieces. However, the best moments of these films and the original series aren't necessarily the action, but rather the heist-like covert operations and tactics of the crew. The prison sequence is decent and gets the film going, and the Kremlin sequence has the gadgets and detailed subversion plotting we like to see. But the film reaches its high (pun intended) in the Dubai Burj sequence, in which Hunt and company have to break into the computer room of the building from the outside 130 floors up. The sight of the real Cruise hanging (albeit with a digitally removed safety harness) up that high is astonishing. More so in Imax, less so on the small screen, of course. This scene continues with an equally well executed sequence exchanging the aforementioned launch codes for a set of diamonds. Here Bird uses somewhat realistic high tech devices like contact lens-sized cameras that can photocopy documentation remotely in the blink of an eye. It’s a stretch, but not that much to have us suspend our disbelief.
This sequence leads to a chase in a sandstorm, which perhaps might pay homage to the ultimate sandstorm sequence in cinema, Michelangelo Antonioni’s Identification of a Woman. I doubt it though.
Unfortunately, MI:4 never gets better than the Dubai scenes. When the film moves to Mumbai, the two main set pieces – Jeremy Renner crawling inside a computer mainframe looking to deactivate a nuclear missile and Cruise battling Dragon Tattoo alum Michael Nyqvist in a remotely operated parking garage tower – never trump the Kremlin or Dubai sequences. And the ticking clock, a race to disarm a nuclear missile midfield, is the stuff of bad James Bond plotting.
Pixar vet Brad Bird makes a strong live action debut as director, though he doesn’t have a sense of his own style yet, not like JJ Abrams did in his outing. However bad, at least John Woo’s film felt like a John Woo film. And of course, Brian De Palma’s is an action-suspense masterpiece. That said, this film, and in fact all of the MI films (even John Woo’s), make the tired old James Bond films look like amateur work. Credit goes to Tom Cruise and his resilience, as evidenced in the Blu-ray special features. He appears to be a passionate cinema junkie who gets a kick out of making entertaining action films from this series. I just wish he didn't take his shirt off so much – for some reason it makes me uncomfortable.
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Paramount Home Entertainment.