Friday, December 23, 2011

Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol

This past decade has seen a lot of change come to the spy genre, and the catalyst for that change has been one man: Jason Bourne. The Bourne Identity presented Bourne as a spy in the "real world," one where he doesn't have snazzy gadgets and complex schemes in order to take down over-the-top bad guys hell-bent on destroying the world. Instead, he runs, he fights with his fists/whatever object happens to be nearby, and his villains are people you wouldn't be able to pick out of a lineup. As a result, spy films have opted to emulate the franchise, forgoing the kitsch in favor of "gritty" realism. Even James Bond has gone for realism in the Daniel Craig years, and though neither have been terrible (well, Quantum of Solace wasn't necessarily a high note, but it was still good), the fun of the series has faded.

The Mission: Impossible franchise, however, remains delightfully digital in the increasingly analog spy world, throwing more exciting technology and whizz-bang, how-did-they-do-that action at the screen than any film in some time. Ghost Protocol, the fourth film in the series, is perhaps the best in the franchise so far. In this film, our hero Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise, sporting a leonine mane of hair) and his team are accused of bombing the Kremlin in Moscow, leading to the end of his organization and the initiation of "ghost protocol," in which every agent is disavowed. However, Ethan knows that the bombing was really a cover for a man named Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist) to steal nuclear launch codes, which he intends to use to incite global nuclear war. Only Ethan, Benji (Simon Pegg), Jane (Paula Patton), and analyst-with-a-secret William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) can stop him and once again save the world.

On one level, sure, not a lot makes sense here. For one, Hendricks is a pretty lame villain, barely getting any lines and ultimately having a well-worn motive (blow up the world, really?). For another, if ghost protocol means no use of IMF technology, how did they end up with everything they needed for any situation?  However, this is really unnecessary, since Mission: Impossible was never founded on plausible, real-world physics. 

No, the main draw of these films is the stunts, or, more accurately, watching Cruise perform these stunts. And Cruise is fantastic, bringing his untouchable movie-star charisma to the proceedings and proving that he is indestructible by surviving a number of certain-death scenarios. The film moves at a breakneck pace (even for its 2+ hour run-time), moving from one great setpiece to the next with a great sense of fun. Much of the credit for this goes to director Brad Bird (The Incredibles, The Iron Giant), in his first live-action feature. Bird has proven himself to be an old soul rooted in the groovy optimistic-dreamer '60s, and brings that attitude here, complete with Michael Giacchino's jazzy score and the Cold War vibe. He's also very adept at setting a great scene, especially the film's dazzling middle sequence involving the Burj Khalifa (the world's tallest building), a bait-and-switch, and a sandstorm. Bird could have a bright future as a live-action director as well as an animator.

Ultimately, Ghost Protocol wasn't meant to tickle the brain or challenge the viewer. This is pure, old-school action fun, fully aware of its purpose as entertainment and excelling at delivering the goods. It's a thrilling throwback to free-wheeling fun. B+

PS I didn't see it in IMAX, but man, I wish I had.

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