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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol


There's a Tom Petty joke here. I refuse to make it.

It's worth noting, because of the above picture, that Tom Cruise performed all of his stunts in this film. As well as the other three Mission: Impossible films. Sure, there are bits of CGI (though, seamless) and I'm sure a large team of medics and nets and other things around to make sure he's alive at the end of the day. But, that's really the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, it really is the tallest building in the world, and that really is Tom Cruise off of its side. Thousands of feet in the air. 

And that's not even the most impressive set piece in the film. 

You don't necessarily have to see the first three M:I films to get this one and enjoy it, but, it can't hurt. Here's a brief recap of them just in case you missed them:

Mission: Impossible - they make the hero from the TV show the bad guy in the film.
Mission: Impossible 2 - they do some stuff with motorcycles and Thandie Newton.
Mission: Impossible 3 - There's an actual story involving Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his now late wife, involving her death and a couple other intricate missions. Probably the only important story of the three, even if it's not the best film at that point. Up until now, the first adventure remained the most startlingly well made of the series.

But, with the inclusion of Ghost Protocol into the canon, those three seem a mite irrelevant in the world of filmmaking. The film is directed by Brad Bird. And yes, you know that name - he's mainly directed films for Pixar. The Incredibles and Ratatouille, notably. And, as action oriented as those films are, it would make sense that he make the swing to live action, right? The transition is almost as seamless as the CGI in the film, of which - I understand - there isn't very much of, where we think it would be. 

I've read in a couple different places that this Mission is much more of a character piece than the first three. I was a bit skeptical going in that a four-quel to a massive action franchise would shift gears so suddenly,  but it seems that Fast & Furious struck a chord with action filmmakers. You can take the same characters, and same plot structure, and give them personalities to benefit the action. After all, if we don't care about Ethan Hunt, how can we care about his life that hangs in the balance as he does a hundred foot vertical nose dive in a car, knowing he's about to smash into concrete, with no way of escape? 

I noted that the Dubai Dangle (which is what I'm calling it) isn't the most impressive set piece in the film. That hundred foot vertical drop? That's it. And that's toward the end of an extremely well choreographed fight sequence that goes on for about ten minutes, amid all other sorts of espionage wonder. Second only to that scene is an unusually creepy - for this sort of film, anyway - cat and mouse game in the middle of a sandstorm, calling back to the glory days of Brian De Palma (the first film's director).

The film's story seems fairly simple, at a glance. There are nuclear launch codes that are changing hands, and the team has to track them down and get them. Except that the team is no longer government sanctioned, because of a large and explosive accident, and there are only four of them left. Ethan Hunt (Cruise), Jane (Paula Patton), Benji (Simon Pegg), and now Brandt (Jeremy Renner). To be fair, Brandt got dragged into the middle of it. He wasn't even supposed to be there. We find out later exactly why it is that he's useful.  The film follows the Law of Economy of Characters* to a tee. 

Don't be fooled by trailers or by the previous films, even if you aren't a fan. There are moments in this film that are jaw-droppingly well done, even if Bird and Co. might have missed the opportunity to give the audience some pretty classy cinematography here and there, the film stands well enough on its own, and as part of the series. 

* = The Law of Economy of Characters - about 90% of the time, you'll never be introduced to a character unless they have some form of importance to the film, big or small.