Sunday, December 18, 2011

Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol



This movie opened on IMAX Theaters this weekend, almost a week before it's regular engagements. There is every reason in the world for this. First it has some amazing scenes that in IMAX take your breath away. The building climbing sequence set in Dubai, is likely to cause your head to spin and your stomach to churn if you are subject to height based vertigo at all. We went to a Real IMAX theater, not one of these pseudo-IMAX imposters that have popped up in the last four or five years. When the screen is seven stories tall and you are looking at a scene set 130 stories above the ground, believe me, it is impressive. There are more sections where the big screen images enhance the film as well, but the other big reason to go and see it in IMAX is that the trailer playing with the movie, is the first six minutes of next summers "The Dark Knight Rises". This movie promises to be as involving and special as the other Chris Nolan Batman films have been. So there is a little bonus to go with your Tom Cruise fix, not that it is required, The fourth Mission Impossible movie gives you double your investment in pleasure, it is action suspense at it's finest.

Brad Bird, the director of this movie, made "The Incredibles", which is my favorite Pixar film. It was also the best spy, super hero movie of the last decade, Now he has taken his gifts for James Bond style espionage tone, and put it into a live action spy movie. The opening sequence and subsequent Title section, live up to that whole Incredibles vibe. There is a long set up, punctuated by perfectly timed pauses in action, and highlighted by shots that linger ever so slightly on an important image. All of this is backed by the iconic Lalo Schiffrin theme from the original TV series. In previous installments of the franchise, we had to wait for the theme to kick in at the right moment. I remember when "Goldeneye" relaunched the James Bond series with Pierce Brosnan as 007, we did not get the Bond theme until two thirds of the way through the film. The same happened on the first Mission Impossible, and in both cases, the timing was exquisite. Instead of playing on the same delayed gratification note here, Bird commits to the music cue early on and then uses it freely during the rest of the film.

There are several ingenious set pieces in the movie. The aforementioned skyscraper climbing scene is the most visually spectacular. It sets up quickly, plays out dramatically and take advantage of the splendor of the desert visual from atop the world's tallest building. It is filled with suspense but also a little bit of humor to make us continue to relate to Ethan Hunt and his IMF team. The most inventive sequence takes place in a multi-storied Mumbai parking garage. With a series of hydraulic lifts and rotating platforms, a spectacular fight sequence takes place with the prize suitcase dangling off of edges and tantalizingly close but often just out of reach. There is one piece of show off storytelling that was a little too much for my taste. Jeremy Renner, is excellent as an analyst thrust into Hunt's team. He is clearly more capable than he should be, but he does get used for comic relief in one stunt that did not look very convincing and made little sense. Other than this bit of anti-gravity CGI trickery, the movie sustains it's reality very well.

Tom Cruise has been an action star since 1986. He often looked like a kid playing a grown up in Top Gun, here he is a mature looking adult, but has the stamina and good looks of a man twenty years his junior. Many people are unable to get past the over the top personal behavior that was shown on Oprah a few years ago, but to me, that has nothing to do with my enjoyment of an actors performance. If I had to carry the baggage of everything an actor said or did off screen with me into a theater, I would be hard pressed to enjoy most films. The decision of Paramount Chief Summer Redstone to severe the studio's long term agreement with Cruise after the last Mission Impossible film, now looks to be petulant as opposed to forward thinking. Cruise still delivers here and Paramount is lucky that he wanted to keep this franchise going.

There are some flaws in the storytelling in the movie. I thought there were several cheats that allowed movement from one part of the story to the next. There is a complexity to some of the background plotting which makes things more complicated to follow than necessary. I know that it is a spy film, but we should be able to know why something is important, especially five minutes after it has been revealed. There are still things I'm not clear on why they were included. I will say we got a couple of nice payoffs in the coda to the story, and it looks like this series could continue for a while, which would be perfectly fine by me. Let's blow some more stuff up and chase around in fast cars with hot women and gadgets. The original TV series was inspired by the original Bond movies, and now the Movie franchise is raising the stakes for the next Bond movie. Until "Skyfall" net November, we have Ethan Hunt and the IMF team to keep us happy for the interim.

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