Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol

I never gave up on the Mission: Impossible franchise. The first 3 films were all successful to varying degrees, but were never quite as good as I hoped them to be. As great as Tom Cruise running away from (and toward) things can be, there was always a bit of an unfulfilled feeling by the end of the movie.

Brad Bird's fourth entry, though, eliminated that feeling for me. In fact, I would say it's easily the best Impossible Mission yet. The movie is full of twists, truly original high-tech spy gadgets, a likeable team of non-Cruise characters, and one inventive and intense action setpiece after another.

The film opens with the IMF breaking Ethan Hunt out of a Russian prison to lead a mission of breaking into the Kremlin. The opening titles are downright awesome, starting with Tom Cruise saying "Light the fuse" like a badass. Their mission is botched by somebody piggybacking on their radio frequency and making them look like they were there to commit an attack. Ethan and his team must now clear their name and retrieve stolen launch codes in order to prevent a nuclear war.

Like all Mission: Impossibles, the story is crazily complicated, and like all Mission: Impossibles, it matters little. What matters is that there are lots of fight scenes, chases, explosions, and espionage operations, and boy, do they deliver. Tom Cruise engages in a foot and car chase through a sandstorm, scales and rappels off the world's tallest building, and kicks ass to your heart's content.

A key factor in M:I:Ghost Protocol's success is the team Ethan Hunt is given to work with. Unlike the previous three films, all four members of the team are given personalities, backstories, and most importantly, are instrumental in the success of the mission several times over. Usually, it's just Cruise, Ving Rhames, and a couple more people who you don't even remember when the movie ends. This time, Simon Pegg returns as Benjy, a character established in a cameo in part 3, providing all the technological know-how and comic relief, Paula Patton acts as Hunt's second in command, and Jeremy Renner is a CIA "Analyst" who seems much more able than one in his profession should.

I also really loved the way the odds are stacked way against Cruise and friends. Without the resources of cooperation of the government to help them, they are left afloat and on their own. The odds feel overwhelmingly against them, and the tasks they perform are difficult, to say the least. Cruise gets the brunt of this, and he takes quite a beating throughout the film. There are several times where he jumps down from a high place and slams himself painfully onto a surface below. They really make it look painful. What I'm saying is, this mission actually seems kind of impossible.

Before I go, I can't forget to bring up Brad Bird's direction. As the director of Pixar's The Incredibles, he has now transferred to live action his ability to stage elaborate, perfectly laid out and executed intense action sequences. The production design on the movie is also ridiculously detailed and layered. Unfortunately, I didn't get to see it in IMAX, but I did see it in "XP". The image was amazingly sharp. If you're planning on seeing it, I would strongly recommend paying the extra and seeing Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol on the biggest screen you can find.

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