Mission accomplished, and then some ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Friday, December 30, 2011

Mission accomplished, and then some

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
My rating:




The Mission: Impossible film franchise is a curious one. Ostensibly based on the '60s TV series but often having little in common with it - since the hallmark of the show was a tightly-coordinated team pulling off an elaborate con, but the movies usually focused on the solo exploits of Ethan Hunt. There's little continuity between each instalment; the only common denominator is Hunt, who fell passionately in love with a girl in the second film that was replaced by another "one true love of his life" in the third. Even the tone of each three is radically different, since they were made by different directors: Brian DePalma (twisty and convoluted), John Woo (lush and operatic) and J.J. Abrams (gritty and intensely personal). I really did want to do Retro Reviews of them prior to reviewing the new one, if not for - again - lack of time.

But I can say that Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol is the best of them yet, not to mention the best popcorn movie of the year.

Disavowed IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is broken out from a Russian prison by an IMF team comprising Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and Jane Carter (Paula Patton). Their purpose is to have him lead them in a mission to recover Russian nuclear launch codes that were stolen by an assassin named Sabine Moreau (Léa Seydoux) - who murdered Carter's lover and fellow agent - and is working for a shadowy figure code-named Cobalt, a.k.a. Kurt Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist). But just as the team is infiltrating the Kremlin in order to retrieve vital information, Hendricks orchestrates a massive bombing of the Kremlin and frames the IMF and the U.S. government for it, putting Russian intelligence agent Sidorov (Vladimir Mashkov) hot on Hunt's tail. The President initiates Ghost Protocol, disavowing the entire IMF and leaving Hunt and his team on their own - although they also pick up a new member in William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), an analyst with a mysterious past. Hendricks means to drive the United States and Russia into global thermonuclear war, and the mission is for Hunt, Dunn, Carter and Brandt to stop him - a mission that will take them from Moscow through Dubai to Mumbai.

Fwoar! That was a perfectly-crafted piece of rollercoaster action cinema. And the man to thank for it is Brad Bird, making his live-action directorial debut; he's more known for being an animation director, having helmed my favourite Pixar film of all time, The Incredibles, as well as Ratatouille and The Iron Giant. (Which is also a brilliant and severely underrated animated film; go watch it now if you haven't.) It turns out Bird's animation sensibilities are perfect for action movies; Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol does everything right that n00bs like Michael Bay and Paul W.S. Anderson get wrong. The highlight of the film is the Dubai sequence, in which Hunt climbs around the outside of the Burj Khalifa; Bird's camera succeeds terrifically at capturing the heart-stopping vertigo of the world's tallest building (something that Brett Ratner failed at). And with nary a pause for breath, he follows that up with a foot-and-car-chase through a sandstorm that's almost as pulse-poundingly thrilling - and the climactic fight scene in Mumbai set in a vertical, multi-platform parking garage that's a masterclass in complex yet coherently-filmed action.

What does Bird do to distinguish this instalment of the M:I franchise from the others? He makes it the most purely fun one yet. It's not an out-and-out action comedy, but there's a light touch throughout the film that meshes remarkably well with the ostensibly serious, world-shaking stakes. Simon Pegg, returning as Benji Dunn from the last film, provides most of the comic relief, but there are flashes of humour from Cruise, Jeremy Renner and the Anil Kapoor cameo - all of which emerge naturally from the characters and never seem contrived or break the overall tone. And early on, there's a deliciously suspenseful sequence in the Kremlin involving an ingenious piece of holographic technology, that perfectly illustrates its blend of laughs and tension. Humour tends to deflate suspense, but Bird balances them perfectly and allows them to complement each other. In fact, the tension never lets up, through a trick the screenplay - by André Nemec and Josh Appelbaum, who both wrote several episodes of Abrams' TV series Alias - employs again and again: at every turn, our heroes' plans keep going wrong.

To be honest, the strings being pulled here are somewhat obvious; at one point, the machine that makes those face masks, for which the series is famous, breaks down for - I swear to God - no reason whatsoever. Leaving our heroes to attempt a con job on the bad guys bare-faced, thus upping the tension of that scene. This is the most contrived example I noticed, but practically every plan of theirs is full of things going wrong and their mission becoming more and more impossible. But hey, remember the title of the movie? Why should you mind an action movie that goes out of its way to be suspenseful? Far better than an action movie that pulls strings to get its heroes out of tight spots, via deus ex machina contrivances that leave audiences feeling cheated; Nemec and Appelbaum (with contributions from Bird, surely) employ diabolus ex machinas that force Hunt and his team to work even harder and rely even more on improvisation, ingenuity, teamwork and sheer dogged determination. And why should you mind an action movie that gives its protagonists such qualities?

What I expect Bird also brought to Nemec's and Appelbaum's screenplay is a polish on all the characters. There's no such thing as superfluous characters in animation (which is ironic, considering how much more alive and interesting an animated character can be than a flesh-and-blood one), and there are none here; everyone contributes to the film, whether via the main plot or a subplot of their own or even just to provide a funny moment or two. Even Sidorov, the Russian cop who's the Wile E. Coyote to Ethan Hunt's Roadrunner and has barely 10 minutes of total screentime, gets fleshed out well enough for us to appreciate his presence. Don't get me wrong - this is an action movie, not an in-depth character study like, oh, say, The Hurt Locker. William Brandt is clearly not as complex and multi-dimensional as Will James, even if both characters were played by the same actor. But the little amounts of personality that this film gives to all its characters is not only welcome, it's also what very few action movies do well or even bother to do.

There's already been talk of a fifth Mission: Impossible movie, owing to the stellar reviews and strong early box-office for this one - which, I have to say, does not exactly make me eagerly anticipate the next one. Such is the nature of this franchise; each entry has been so different from each other, with so little in the way of continuity, that there's little reason to expect the next one will be as good as this one. (Oh, and speaking of continuity, there is a nod to the last film in here, and it's a welcome and good-natured one considering Mission: Impossible III ended on an unequivocally happy note for Hunt.) Unless, of course, it's directed by Brad Bird, who is the only real winner here. The latest news indicates his next project will be another animated film, but there's no doubt he'll be inundated with offers to direct more live-action movies and that he'll have his pick of the lot. I'm hoping he'll take one of them, and use the new-found Hollywood cachet that's clearly coming his way to give us another dazzling film - action or otherwise. I'll be first in line for his next, whatever it may be and whatever medium it's in. There's no way I won't, after he made the best action movie of the year and earned a definite spot in my list of best movies of the year.

NEXT REVIEW: Songlap
Expectations: oh boy, this looks good

6 comments:

Amir_Isfahan said...

yes! 4 and half star..agree

McGarmott said...

I'd be disappointed if Brad Bird does the next one. the M:I film series have generally been picking directors for whom M:I is a directorial debut of one definition or another (even for John Woo, it's one of his first Hollywood films), and I'd like to see which other talented young-ish filmmaker is chosen take on number five.

sultanmuzaffar said...

Songlap please!

Syed Zul Tojo said...

I feel the movie is too hindustan

TMBF said...

@Syed Zul Tojo: I am afraid to ask what you mean by that.

GAIA said...

MI4 is the best among the franchise ^_^!

and Wednesday Jan 4th may be the last chance to watch Songlap!