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Friday, December 16, 2011

Find The Biggest Screen Possible And Choose To Accept ‘Mission: Impossible’


Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol:  4 out of 5
Ethan Hunt:  The secretary is dead.  The four of us is all that remains of IMF.  No safe house.  No support or extraction.  Everyone connected to this person is an asset with valuable information.  We come back with our target or we don’t come back.
Anthony Hopkins said it best in Mission: Impossible 2, “This is not ‘Mission: Difficult’ Mr. Hunt, this is ‘Mission: Impossible’; difficult should be a walk in the park for you.”  This latest entry in the Tom Cruise starring and produced spy/action franchise finds Cruise’s character doing one impossible thing after another and pulling it off with style.  From covert escapes during a prison riot, to climbing (and running) up and down the tallest building in the world, to sandstorm car chases, this film is filled with spectacular action sequences.  Aided by the fantastic use of IMAX cameras to further enhance the spectacle, this is one insane ‘Mission’ to behold on the big screen.  Further helped by its fun story, supporting roles, and ties to the original TV series, Ghost Protocol may sound like the title of a dense Tom Clancy spy novel, but it is one of the most accessible and entertaining action blockbusters to come out this year.


Ethan Hunt’s (Cruise) latest mission, should he choose to accept it, involves him and his team attempting to stop a war between the U.S. and Russia.  I’ll back up; after a fantastic cold open to the film (complete with an awesome intro credits sequence), Ethan and his team, which includes IMF operatives Jane Carter (Paula Patton) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), attempt to capture a person of interest, code-named “Cobalt” (Michael Nyqvist).  To do this, the team must infiltrate the Kremlin and retrieve secret files from its archives.  The plan backfires however, as Cobalt also breaks into the Kremlin, steals Russian nuke codes and covers his tracks by blowing up the Kremlin.  In the process, Cobalt has also managed to pin the blame on IMF.

In order to prevent retaliation from the Russians, Hunt and his team must stop Cobalt, which will have the bonus reward of stopping Cobalt from nuking another part of the world.  Of course, this will be an impossible mission, given that Hunt and his team are acting under “Ghost Protocol”, which serves as a black ops contingency that disavows all of IMF.  However, some help may be provided by the latest addition to the team, Agent Brandt (Jeremy Renner), who quickly proves he is very capable in the field, despite possibly having secrets of his own.  With the old school threat of nukes serving as the high stakes end game for the bad guys, Hunt and his team will have to travel to exotic locales such as Dubai and Mumbai in an effort to stop them.  This plot summary will self destruct in five second.


To get right to it, there is an amazing sequence set in Dubai on the tallest building in the world.  More specifically, it is set outside of the tallest building on the world, with Tom Cruise running around the building, while being filmed on IMAX cameras.  The way the film captures the extreme challenge this presents, providing an understandable mix of great suspense and, frankly, awesomeness is pretty fantastic.  Seeing this sequence on a huge IMAX screen is worth the price of admission alone, and this is just one of the many great spectacle sequences that are littered throughout the film (as well as captured on IMAX cameras).

‘Ghost Protocol’ was directed by Brad Bird, the Oscar-winning director of such films as The Iron Giant and The Incredibles.  Given that this is the man behind a few of my favorite animated films, I was greatly looking forward to seeing what his live action feature film debut would be like.  Without a doubt, I think Bird has established himself as a filmmaker who can tackle any format.  This is an incredibly slick, well-paced, well made film.  The action is kinetic and wonderfully captured on screen, never seeming confusing and always functioning in tandem with character actions.  It is a small set of action films, these days, that get away with properly setting up a clear rhythm to the action, and Ghost Protocol is very much one of them.  Additionally, story moments, character beats, and the espionage-related twists and turns, all function well in a film that is fairly straightforward, but always exciting to watch.


I also appreciated how this film wanted to stay fairly true to the original TV series.  Yes, for those who don’t remember, there was a very good TV series that this mega-blockbuster series was originally based off of, and much like the first film, Ghost Protocol makes an effort to stay somewhat true to its roots.  Now of course this film has a much larger scope, given the nature of the blockbuster and the advancing of technology since the 60s, but many of the hallmarks of the series (such as fancy gadgets and masks) are still present.  This is most notable in respect to the teamwork aspect.  As opposed to Bond movies, which is where the first sequel went wrong, Mission: Impossible was very much about assembling a team with a variety of specialties to accomplish their goals.  This film does that effectively, making every character feel important.  This brings me to the cast.

I have never really taken to separating Cruise from Ethan Hunt in this role in terms of a true character, but I have always admired the determinism that this character portrays.  So with that said, along with the amazing physicality of Cruise (given that he’s done the majority of his own stunts), I continue to be a fan of him playing this role, even if it doesn’t feel like too much of a challenge from a character standpoint.  Jeremy Renner is quite good at reigning in the rebellious nature of his past few characters and playing a sort of action movie star in training here.  Simon Pegg scores a ton of points at providing plenty of levity throughout the film, while also factoring in as just as important as everyone else.  It was also nice to see Pegg looking quite fit, after appearing noticeably on the paunchy side in other recent films.  Paula Patton is perfectly fine…and she’s good in the film too.  I appreciated her mini character arc in this film, along with how she handled herself in action.  And on the villain side of things, not a lot is required of Michael Nyqvist (who was also in the original ‘Dragon Tattoo’ movies and apparently facing off against Noomi Rapace in Sherlock this coming weekend), but he gets to look intimidating enough and blends well into the world of espionage.


Enhancing the experience further is the dynamite score by Michael Giacchino, who previously worked on the third film in the series along with Brad Bird on his other films.  Along with providing his riff on the original theme by Lalo Schifrin, the music provided throughout the film always feels appropriate, with the right little beats and instrument usage that suggest that we are watching a fun spy/action movie, which we are.  It supplements the movie well, especially given that in the midst of all the suspense and excitement, the film is also quite funny and the score can, at times, be somewhat playful.

It is hard to find things to nag at this film about.  Given that this movie is called ‘Mission: Impossible’, it should come as no surprise that a large amount of suspension of disbelief is necessary, regardless of how well constructed the action scenes are.  The plot does not attempt to be convoluted in any way, but I did somewhat miss the sense of misdirection that works well for these types of stories.  There are surprises, yes, but the plotting does not try to challenge the audience with too much complexity.  With that said, there were a lot of moments that toyed with expectation and the notion of being another action film (in the sense that things don’t always go as planned), which I much appreciated.


Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol is a fantastic blockbuster summer action film, which happens to be coming out during the winter.  It fits well as another entry into the franchise and does so without requiring the viewer to have much knowledge of the previous films.  And regardless of this, it is just a straight up, great action adventure, with fantastic stunts and special effects work.  The use of the IMAX format only ups the magnitude of how effectively well made this film is.  Ghost Protocol disavows all knowledge of sub-par action films, sets its sights high, and scores a mission accomplished.
[Discussing sticky gloves, which will be used to scale the tower]
Benji Dunn: Now remember:  Blue is glue.
Ethan Hunt: And red?
Benji Dunn: Dead.

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