Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Extremely Impossible and Incredibly Awesome

I’ve got a bone to pick with Brad Bird, the director of The Incredibles who’s made a cool live-action debut with Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol because dude has completely messed up the way I think about the movies in the franchise.

Bird has delivered a fantastic fourthquel that sort of recaptures the espio-vibe of the Brian De Palma original, which I still say was terrific and maintain is the best of Tom Cruise’s outings as IMF agent Ethan Hunt. Furthermore, he also had channeled the pizzazz of the set pieces of John Woo’s sequel, and repurposed the redirections of the J.J. Abrams threequel to give Cruise the worthiest and best of his comeback attempts.

Not that I think the actor was in need of a cinematic comeback – I didn’t, you know, loathe the stuff he did post-couch jumping on Oprah (like, I thought Knight & Day, while poorly titled, was pretty entertaining). But that’s neither here nor there.

Anyway, where was I? Oh, yeah, Bird and the awesome he did this one. Well, there...I think that sums it up. I couldn’t think of anyone better equipped to handle the action of Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol. Abrams revitalized the franchise by making Ethan Hunt not just a super-agent but a full-blown human being by giving him something to care about: a home life to protect and wife to love.

In this movie, however, Ethan’s wife (played by Michelle Monaghan) is MIA. In fact, when we first see Ethan, he’s sitting in a prison, disavowed we later learn because of an unsanctioned hit. Coming in to spring him are Jane Carter (Paula Patton) in the field and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) on tech support/comic relief duty – Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Maggie Q from the third go around are not back for these funsies.

Neither is franchise vet Ving Rhames. Maybe.

Anyway, from there Ethan and his new team are tasked with breaking into the Kremlin to recover intel that will lead them to some crazy Russian (Michael Nyqvist, the star of the Swedish Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) who’s plotting a nuclear war. And what a break-in it is. Bird quite literally stages it like a magic trick, and the whole thing pays off beautifully, but the mission kinda sorta totally goes awry since a few moments later Ethan is being blamed for the terrorist bombing of historic complex.

The American government quickly institutes Ghost Protocol, disavowing all agents, leaving Ethan & Co. without resources or backup (except for Jeremy Renner’s Brandt, an analyst with hazy motivations)...and with one last impossible mission to prevent the crazy Russian from, y’ know, starting World War III.

That’s when Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol starts going for it, with the movie’s pièce de résistance staged as a daring-do moment for Cruise himself to pull the stunt of the year as he climbs Dubai’s Burj Khalifa. The scene encapsulates everything we’ve come to love about these movies, which Bird handles it with the appropriate care, excitement, and humor, and Cruise plays for both his and our enjoyment like the pro that we all know that he is and always will be.

As you’d expect of any Ethan Hunt adventure, you also know the world will live to die another day, natch, but holy last-second save...the crazy Russian almost....

Perhaps this was a deliberate foreshadow, an elegant way of preparing the audience for the day when Ethan will face a mission that will prove too impossible. I hope that day is still many more movies away, but not too many that the guy is too old to, no, not to impress but to be happy. Little by little this one told us what happened to the guy’s wife, and so my hope for our hero isn’t that he keeps kicking butt but that he gets to reclaim a part of his life we know he can cherish as well as he does his job.

Oh, and for the record: this one is thisclose to surpassing M:i:III as my second favorite movie in the series.

My Rating ***

Photo: Paramount Pictures.

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