Saturday, December 31, 2011

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol

Fourth time a charm?

 The inner workings of Hollywood can be a mysterious beast. Somewhere along the line, for some god forsaken reason, Mission: Impossible became the testing ground for untested directors to tread the blockbuster waters. First was J.J. Abrams, straight off TV success, with his surprisingly excellent M:I3 - a rare big budget blockbuster with intensity, strong characters and (lens) flair. And now the franchise has fallen into the unexpected hands of Brad Bird - the extraordinary animator responsible for The Incredibles, Ratatouille and Iron Giant, but a first-time live action director. It was a risky strategy, but one that pays some worthwhile dividends.

The story here is mildly diverting at best, and a step back from the last installment. Ethan Hunt (Mr. Tom Cruise) is in prison for some reason, but is soon busted out by some of his IMF buddies (including a returning Simon Pegg as the token comic relief). For various reasons, they soon become embroiled in a situation that hits boiling point when the Kremlin blows up. The IMF is disbanded, but Hunt and co. decide to take matters into their own hands. And there's a mad rogue lunatic who wants to kick start nuclear war (played surprisingly blandly by the original Mikael Blomkvist, Michael Nyqvist).

The plot is nonsense, and it's disappointing that more attention isn't paid to the events of the previous film. Saying anything else would be spoiler territory, but I will ambiguously mention that there are token references scattered throughout, including some last act cameos. But what the plot does do is propel us towards wonderfully extravagant setpieces. You may have heard mention of the Dubai scenes already, and with good cause - they're easily the most breathtaking and clever action sequences in many a year. Watching the vertigo-inducing beauty, I felt great remorse at the lack of a local IMAX screen. Bird has put every cent of his budget up on-screen. Another tense and mostly silent scene - involving a hallway and a gadget that is inspired in its unnecessary complexity - is a further highlight. The globe-trotting action setpieces are worth the admission price, but it's disappointing that the film resorts to a cheap, overly familiar final act. A race against time to stop a missile crash is a bland climax to an otherwise well-realised event movie. The lack of a compelling villain is another weakness that might see you feeling exhausted as the film enters its third hour, even as the typically strong Michael Giacchino score keeps the ears engaged.

So Ghost Protocol is half exciting spectacle, half formulaic spy thriller. That's basically it. The cast are mostly kind of annoying - Cruise and Pegg are their cocky selves, and Jeremy Renner is bland as the new potential hero-in-waiting. There is eye candy a plenty for both sexes, with Paula Patton and Leá Seydoux enduring an extended, tight-clothed cat fight. This is a film full of unreasonably attractive males and females, but what would you expect? A few fan-friendly cameos provide a welcome change of pace.

Not much more to say on this. It's dumb fun in a franchise that should have died after two weak early installments, but has since blossomed into one of the most unexpectedly thrilling big-budget franchises out there. It is a considerable step back from part three, but shows a director making a confident first step into the live-action waters. And given that the Incredibles is probably the most imaginative action movie of the last few decades, is it any surprise that we get a few terrific moments of high tension spectacle along the way?

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