Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol / ***½ (PG-13)

Ethan Hunt: Tom Cruise
Brandt: Jeremy Renner
Benji: Simon Pegg
Jane: Paula Patton
Hendricks: Michael Nyqvist
Sidorov: Vladimir Mashkov

Paramount Pictures presents a film directed by Brad Bird. Written by Josh Applebaum & André Nemec. Based on the television series created by Bruce Geller. Running time: 133 min. Rated PG-13 (for sequences of intense action and violence).

For the last thirty years, the Hollywood machine has worked on perfecting one genre of film in particular—the action flick. Nothing has been paid more attention by the Hollywood dollar than the evolution of the action flick. Technological advancements have allowed directors to expand their toolbox to awe audiences into action comas over the years, and some have truly utilized every trick in Hollywood’s book to turn action into an art form. With his live action directorial debut, director Brad Bird turns in what I would categorize as an action ballet under the “Mission: Impossible” banner. “Ghost Protocol” is action perfection, with only two small elements holding it back from total perfection—an underdeveloped villain and an over sentimentalized epilogue.

The underdeveloped villain can be forgiven. There’s hardly time. Tom Cruise is back as Ethan Hunt, introducing a mostly new team, including Jeremy Renner as an agent who isn’t quite what he seems. The new team must be assembled. Cruise has to show us how big his muscles have become. We need to see how sexy the female member of the team is. The technician must crack a few jokes here and there. There are some major international landmarks to destroy. A cat and mouse chase must be established, not only between the IMF team and the bad guy, but also between some good guys who must mistake the IMF team for bad guys. They all have to be disavowed. Some cars must be destroyed in a couple of manners never seen before. There must be some infighting between the good guys. Cruise has to scale an impossible monument. It has to look like there’s no way the good guys can win. And finally, they’ve got to stop the destruction of the world. Can you really blame them if the villain is just the guy they’re trying to stop?

A plot synopsis seems pointless for a film like this because it would just sound like every other spy thriller, there are parts that are too complicated to explain in a limited space, and trying to figure it all out is part of the fun. I can tell you that Cruise (“Tropic Thunder”) is back in the middle of everything, after being mysteriously disconnected from the events that have occurred in the previous “Mission: Impossible” movies. He doesn’t even know that Benji (Simon Pegg, “Paul”) has been promoted from his desk job of being the comic relief to field operative, so he can bring his quips out on the mission this time. Paula Patton (“Precious”) is Agent Carter, bringing the female sex appeal to the table along with a little vendetta that threatens to bring the entire operation crashing down at one point. Brandt is played by Renner (“The Hurt Locker”) as a pencil pusher who seems out of his element once he gets stuck on the mission due to circumstances beyond everyone’s control, but he may know a little more about the spy game than he’s letting on.

Oh, yes, there’s an evil plot about nuclear warheads and launch codes that a madman named Hendricks (Michael Nykvist, from the original “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) is trying to get his hands on, but that’s only an excuse to send Cruise and his team into action to stop him with all the stunts and pyrotechnics Hollywood can muster.

Bird proves he knows his spy flick necessities from nearly the opening shot of the movie. He gives us the sweeping in from above shot of Budapest. The score by Michael Giacchino (“Lost”) is like something out of the early 60s. We see a man, clearly on a mission, escaping from bad guys by jumping out a window, twisting and shooting back at the camera. He encounters a mysterious woman in an alley, who appears to be his contact, but his phone notifies him something is wrong. Too late, she’s not who he thought.

There are several big special effects and action sequences. Early on the screenwriters Josh Applebaum and André Nemec (both from producer J.J. Abrams’ “Alias” television series) play to the audience’s expectation in a big event picture by blowing up half of the Kremlin in a sequence right out to the disaster of the week catalogue. There’s Cruise’s big stunt sequence where he scales the outside of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, in Dubai. He careens about the outside of the spires’ highest floors inciting awe from the audience and cringes from the film’s insurance company. A stunning foot and car chase through a sand storm quickly follows this sequence. Bird’s direction here and Paul Hirsch’s editing is nothing short of brilliant as they somehow film in a brown out and keep the action understandable and riveting.

There is nothing profound to be found in “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol”. This is pure escapism. It is crafted at the highest standards of the action genre, however; and makes for one of the most exciting movie nights of the year. Bird began his career in the art department for “The Simpsons” and came up through the ranks of Pixar Animation Studios, producing some of their best stylized action along the way in “The Incredibles”. With his first live action film, he has proven himself a force with which to be reckoned. I can’t wait to see what Bird has in store for us next. This is easily the best of the “Mission: Impossible” movies.

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