Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol

Grade: 83 (A-)

No one thought a fourth installment in the Mission: Impossible series was necessary. Tom Cruise, a fine actor, is nearly fifty, and it might be best if he started taking more character roles (a la Collateral or Magnolia) rather than try to be an action star as long as he can. Last year’s lousy Cruise-vehicle Knight & Day didn’t help. But against all odds, Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol is the strongest entry in the series yet, an exhilarating action movie full of eye-popping stunts and brilliant action sequences. It all comes down to one man: Brad Bird, gifted animation director (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille), making his live-action film debut like a man with something to prove. Bird outdoes nearly every modern action director with one of the most entertaining films of the year.

Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is on yet another mission: stop a nuclear extremist Kurt Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist) from destroying the world. He’s aided by three fellow agents: tough-girl Jane Carter (Paula Patton), who has a bone to pick with one of Hendricks’ assassins; Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), a jittery technician; and William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), an analysts with a few secrets of his own. There’s one problem: their agency, the IMF, is being held responsible for a bombing in the Kremlin, and are now on their own. It’s up to them to save the day, and possibly themselves.

Ethan Hunt has never been one of Cruise’s most interesting characters (John Anderton of Minority Report is a far more complex Cruise action character). As usual, the film rides on Cruise’s considerable movie-star charisma and ability to do complex stunts, in full form here. He’s aided by Patton, the always welcome Pegg (who provides much-needed comic relief) and Renner, supposedly Cruise’s successor to the series. It would be a pity if Renner fully abandoned more ambitious fare, but he’s a more than capable action star, and his character is different enough from Cruise’s to give him a different feel. If Cruise (wisely) steps away from the franchise, Renner would be a fine choice to carry on. Nyqvist doesn’t fare as well as the villain, unfortunately: he’s as lumpy and uncharismatic as he was in the original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and his final fight with Cruise strains credibility.

But then, the series has never been about credibility: one of the greatest assets to the series is that most of their plots make little to no damn sense. There’s no pretension to the series, just an opportunity for a director to create great action sequences. Bird does this and more: the film opens with an exciting sequence choreographed to Dean Martin’s “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head”, and it tops the first film’s much-lauded Langley break-in with a scene in which Cruise scales the tallest building in the world. The film doesn’t have as much heart as Bird’s previous films. It hardly matters. With this, Bird has a message to the action directors of the world: “I’ll fucking show you!”

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