Thursday, December 22, 2011

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol - Theatrical Review




MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE
GHOST PROTOCOL



Release Date: December 16, 2011

Remember when people actually WANTED to see the newest Tom Cruise movie? It seems like another time even though it has only been a few years since his private life helped disrupt his professional one. His stature as a sure bet amongst the Hollywood elite may have diminished but his talent hasn't wavered at all and this latest installment in the Mission: Impossible series is a stark reminder of that fact.




Review Vital Stats:
Theater: Irvine Spectrum 21 IMAX
Time: 4:30 pm December 16, 2011
Projector Type: IMAX 70mm 2D
Film Rating: PG-13
Film Runtime: 2 hr 13 min
Studio: Paramount

Biases:
Loves: The first and third Mission: Impossible movies, Simon Pegg, Brad Bird, J.J. Abrams
Likes: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner
Neutral: Movies that blow their wad too early
Hates: The second Mission Impossible movie
First: Live action film from director Brad (Incredibles) Bird


I really liked Mission: Impossible 3...a lot. It solved all the problems I had with the John Woo directed sequel. It once again featured a team of agents working towards an impossible goal and it also punched the adrenaline meter into high gear which was in stark contrast to the more showy and slow paced second film. After MI3 I was back on board and was starving for more. Then the meltdown happened. Tom Cruise became box office poison and despite the warm critical acceptance of MI3 and Cruise's much publicized departure from Paramount (of which he had a couple decade old partnership with) it seemed that the mission had truly became impossible and the series was dead in the water. Fast forward five years later and with Cruise's palette cleansed of his unpopular antics as well as a cast and crew that were red hot, the mission once again seemed more than possible, it appeared to be imminent. But was this the mission we had been waiting for?

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) has had a rough year. His wife Julia (Michelle Monaghan) has left him, he has been left out to dry by the United States government and is locked up in a not so pleasant Russian prison. Things start to look up though when his old friend Benji (Simon Pegg) and new agent on the block Jane (Paula Patton) break him out of jail. Their motives for breaking him out aren't just out of the good graces of their hearts but more because he is the only man capable of successfully pulling off their new mission to stop a mad man from launching a nuclear missile which will cause a holocaust the world would never recover from. Ethan accepts the mission and before you know it he and his team are on the hunt. 

Ethan Hunt is ready to accept his new mission.

There are a lot of words I could use to describe the awesomeness that is Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol (which henceforth will be known as MI4). But out of all those words there are only two that should give you unwavering faith in the just how much ass this movie kicks. Those two words my friends are Brad Bird. I know that Tom Cruise has been the poster child for the series ever since the first film but in all honesty the draw for me has always been the men behind the camera. Brian De Palma's extremely elaborate and stylish shots permeated the first film, John Woo's trademark action scenes pervaded the second film and J.J. Abrams lens flares as well as his kinetic filmmaking style helped give the third film a much needed kick in the ass.

What Brad Bird brings to the table is a form of camaraderie that has been missing in all the other films. In the other films I never felt like the team had any real bond to one another. There were always one or two members of the team that had a connection of some sort but never as a whole unit. It is hard to nail down his overall style since this is his first live action film, but two of Bird's previous films (Iron Giant, The Incredibles) had this strong sense of family to them. While we don't necessarily see Ethan and his team go out on picnics and shoot the shit they at least seem to gel with each other fairly well. It is a progressive thing though, when they start out they are completely dysfunctional (as is most of their equipment) with each member of the team having their own agenda. But by the end they have learned to not only work well as a team but also earned each others trust and respect and I really loved that. This is the first time in the series where there were no members of the team I felt were expendable. I wanted to see them all prevail by the end.

Jane and Benji discover that they are on their own.

All this praise is shared with the fantastic cast that was assembled as well. Simon Pegg has taken over the Ving Rhames role as the tech-head but adds his own unique spin to part. He was simply the best thing in the movie as far as I am concerned and scored the best laughs in the whole film (just wait for his entrance after a particularly tense scene in Dubai). I'm unfamiliar with Paula Patton's previous work but thought she handled herself quite well and gave her character a good amount of emotional weight in a side story that otherwise would have felt completely unnecessary. Tom Cruise has never been better in the role of Ethan Hunt and had no problem once again slipping back into the role that got him started down the action/adventure path all those years ago.

The last key cast member to talk about is Jeremy Renner who plays Brent, a CIA analyst that gets thrown into the action, quite literally. While I really like Renner as an actor and think he has all the qualities that make up a great action hero, I wasn't really sure what to make of him here. The movie I think is at fault somewhat for his sloppy introduction and the forced plot device that links him to Ethan's past, but I have another problem with his role unrelated to that. I had been under the impression that Renner was to be the replacement for Cruise and take the reigns of the series, a passing of the torch so to speak. That was heavily hinted at back when casting on the film began and I honestly thought, and still think, that would have been the better choice. Tom Cruise isn't getting any younger and Renner is in his prime, this felt like a missed opportunity to me where Renner is concerned. That being said though I still found him to be a great addition to the cast and completely engaging throughout.

There is much more to Brent that what he lets on.

Not all is wonderful when it comes to the cast or more specifically the characters themselves. As much as I loved the team we get to follow I was sorely let down by the villain this go around. MI3 still has the best bad guy in the series with Philip Seymour Hoffman's relentlessly evil Owen Davian and the guy we get this time is a bit of a let down in comparison. This isn't a deal breaker though, the villain of a Mission: Impossible movie has never really mattered very much to me, it has always been more about the stunts, the action set pieces and the mission itself. It's just that Hoffman was such a great guy to hate on that I kind of missed that here. The villain's main motivation is that he is crazy...and that's it. It doesn't do much to make you hate him but fortunately it is just enough to get us on board with the chase.

I have talked about the director, the actors and the characters but there is one thing that has always separated the Mission: Impossible films from all other action movies and that is the elaborate and insanely complex situations our team of elite IMF agents find themselves in and MI4 has somehow managed to trump all three of the previous films in this regard. It has what I now consider to be one of the most intense, death defying and convoluted set of events in any action movie ever and it was AMAZING! There are many great action sequences in MI4, the assault on the Kremlin and a really fun scene involving an automated parking garage are some great standouts but the centerpiece of the entire film has to be the Dubai sequence.

Something isn't right...

The amount of problems that get stacked upon one another combined with the crazy ass scheme they need to pull off in such a short amount of time was one of the most completely ridiculous but mindblowingly awesome action set pieces I have seen in years. You will not find a more thrilling action scene in any movie released this year, I guarantee it. I am still unclear as to how long the Dubai sequence lasted actually but I want to say it took up a good bit of screen time even though it felt as if it flew by in mere seconds.  If anyone out there ever had any doubts about Brad Bird's switch from the animated world to the live action world, they will have those doubts obliterated after witnessing this one scene. The entire sequence is also mercilessly light on CG (with one lone exception involving some sand) with a lot of close up shots of the actors to help convince us what we are seeing is REAL. As an added bonus I highly suggest seeing the movie in its 70mm IMAX presentation because the sense of depth and vertigo that you get from a lot of the shots used in this scene are worth the price of admission alone.

Alas I must switch from ass-kissing mode into my more pessimistic side for a second to point out a glaring flaw present in not just MI4 but all the films in the series thus far. For some reason after four films they still haven't figured out how to save the best stuff for last. Think back to the first film, what many considered to be the crown jewel in that film was the assault on CIA headquarters. The third film (I honestly don't remember much of anything from the second film) had the ambush on the suspended bridge which was a real showstopper. Now this fourth film has the Dubai scene which is a tremendous string of little events all stitched together into a tapestry of awesomeness. What do all these movies and all their respective highlights have in common? THEY ALL HAPPEN IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DAMN MOVIE! Even though the last act of the movie still has a lot of cool moments it never fully reaches the same level or excitement that middle part did.

This looks oddly familiar....

I have to point out that my issue with how the film takes the wind out of its own sails is not a detrimental one. Think about it for a second...my one major complaint about the movie is that it is so packed with cool stuff that not all of it can compare with each other...I wish all movies had this problem. Seriously though, this is more a matter of preference as I am sure many people won't even take notice of the fact that the last half of the film is slightly more tame, specifically because they are most likely to still be in a state of excitement overload from what transpired earlier. I cannot think of one thing so wrong or out of place in the film that would benefit from switching things around. For all my nitpicking about Jeremy Renner's character, how the film peaked at the middle and the lack of a satisfactory villain I honestly wouldn't change a thing. It would have been nice to have those things addressed but the movie is so perfect the way it is now that it would be senseless to hate on it for such minor quibbles.

Without even seeing all the other movies out there yet I can say without a doubt that MI4 is my favorite movie this winter hands down. I can't imagine any other movie even coming close to the spectacle that this is. It has everything anyone could ever want out of a Mission: Impossible movie plus more. Whether Tom Cruise will make it back for yet another sequel is up in the air at this point. The film concludes in a very open manner so that it is all left very ambiguous but it still wraps up in a very satisfying way (loved the small call backs to the first film and a couple of the last minute cameos that popped up). There is nothing left for me to say at this point. If you have a craving for some action this holiday season then look no further than MI4. It will thrill you, surprise you, excite you and take your breath away. I suggest you accept this mission and...

CHECK IT OUT IMMEDIATELY

Don't miss our latest episode of The LRA Show where we discuss Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol in much greater detail. The episode can be downloaded or streamed at the following link:


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