Sunday, December 18, 2011

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - GHOST PROTOCOL - Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton, Simon Pegg (133 min.)

There must be a checklist involved in the birthing of these Mission: Impossible films.  There must be at least four exotic locales, at least three gimmicky technologies, and no fewer than two action set pieces that defy the laws of gravity.  This latest entry into the M:I franchise, Ghost Protocol, checks all these elements off the list, but it still feels genuine and doesn’t ever feel like a film that is going through the motions.  This is far and away the best film in the series since the original, ages ago in 1995.  The locales and the gadgets are a step above any of the previous films, and the action… well… these action set pieces are more fantastic and more breathtaking than anything I remember ever seeing before in any film.  If you have the ability to see Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol in IMAX format, I highly suggest you do so. 
Tom Cruise might have the easiest job here, as far as character development is concerned.  We all know and are comfortable with Ethan Hunt at this point, the skilled mastermind of an agent, capable of entering and exiting any situation regardless of how sticky.  And when we meet him here, Hunt is being broken out of a Russian jail for circumstances of which we are unsure.  I decided early on to not get bogged down in plot details, and I must beg you to do the same.  If you get caught up in the details and the intricacies of this plot, you are missing the bigger picture.  And the bigger picture is something you don’t want to miss.
The members of Hunt’s team are old and new.  There is Benji, the computer geek capable of hacking into any network in the world, played by Simon Pegg in some spot on comic relief.  Benji was a crucial character in the end of M:I III.  There is also some new blood on the team, first and foremost in Jane, played by Paula Patton.  Outside of the leads here I found Jane to be most intriguing.  Although Paula Patton may look just about identical to Rosario Dawson, I found her much more effective as an actress.  Jane is a very emotional agent, but one with an edge, and one who gets to show off her combat skills in a number of fight scenes.  The cast is inspired, including Tom Wilkinson as the secretary in a brief scene.
Hunt and his team are to track down a Russian criminal with aspirations for nuclear war.  They also manage to take on a newbie, Brandt, played by Jeremy Renner.  Renner is perfect for this role, balancing the smooth edges of Cruise’s Ethan Hunt with a rougher physique.  Brandt claims to be an analyst, but after things go awry in Dubai, it is clear through his fighting skills that Brandt is more than just a numbers cruncher.
Which leads me to the set pieces in Ghost Protocol.  First up is an explosion at the Kremlin in Moscow, breathtaking in its own right.  But the team then travels from Russia to Dubai, to India, and it is the set piece in Dubai that takes the cake for the action of the film, and for the franchise’s four pictures.  Hunt must infiltrate a mainframe from the outside of the world’s tallest building.  It has been noted that the adrenaline junkie Cruise opted to shoot these scenes himself, on the outside of the 130 story building.  And there is no doubt he did.  These scenes are some of the most overwhelming and vertigo-inducing action scenes ever captured on film.  The entire set piece in Dubai is the most exhilarating of the film, as Hunt must pursue the purchaser of nuclear codes first throughout the building, and then through an epic sand storm.  Director Brad Bird, moving from animation into live action for the first time, has the screws down tight on the action from start to finish. 
And now I must deliver a word of warning.  I feel like the Mission: Impossible brain trust has to quit while they’re ahead.  The gimmicks and gadgets in Ghost Protocol are highly unlikely in the real world, and that is just fine.  But I grew a bit concerned when Renner’s character donned magnetic metal underwear to float around in the mainframe of a computer.  The ante has to be upped every time out, and I think the next go round might push the gadgets over the edge into farcical territory.  The last thing we need here is another invisible car, a la James Bond in Die Another Day.