Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
In post-millennium Hollywood the notion of star-power is all but vanquished. The event movie no longer exists as it once did and star names are now considered secondary to such vulgar once-upon-a-time considerations as ‘brand recognition’. These days, the franchise is king. Tom Cruise’s mission, should he choose to accept it, is to navigate these turbulent waters in search of his flagging career, and revive and reinvent himself, having finally come to terms with the fact that he can no longer single-handedly open a picture in the manner he once could – or resign himself to permanent exile wandering the career wilderness of movie-star irrelevance.
Iron-willed as he is, and possessing of a self-belief that could propel him to Venus and back, it would be foolish to write-off the Cruiser. But the sooner that he realizes that the way forward is more quiet, intelligent, adult drama the likes of Valkyrie (which was magnificent, btw), and not more self-indulgent action-man fantasies, the better for everyone. The fact that Cruise’s next high-profile turn is as – don’t laugh – 6’ 5’’ Jack Reacher, fifty inch chest and all, suggests that he still has a little way to go, and for the moment he begs our indulgence with what his by now his trademarked role as super spy Ethan Hunt one more time.
With producer JJ Abrams handing over directing duties to animation icon and Pixar alum Brad Bird, this high-tech, high-octane franchise returns to offer another wildly over-the-top, globetrotting game of cat-and-mouse in which Ethan and his team – Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton – race against the clock to avert a global catastrophe. Only, much like its star, this franchise is still stuck in some sort of bizarre time distortion, slightly out of synch with the rest of the world, aiming squarely for the space formerly occupied by Pierce Brosan-era Bond, almost a full decade on from that franchise realizing that it, too, was looking rather dated and jumping on the Jason Bourne bandwagon.
That’s not to say that the action is necessarily bad, blistering as it is, frequent and arresting, and, praise heaven, shot and cut together in a manner from which you can actually discern what is happening with relative ease. Whether Cruise is scampering up the world’s tallest skyscraper in Dubai, evading a hit-squad at the bottom of a Moscow river, or pummeling hordes of goons in a standout sequence that sees the Great Man ass-kicking his way out of prison, Bird keeps the pace brisk, the beatdowns brutal, and the stunts practical enough that there is even some room to poke fun at the oft-posited fallibility of the series deus ex machina gadgetry.
What is missing are a few fully rounded characters to inhabit this world, and a plot worthy of our time to make it all go. Michael Nyquist’s rent-a-villain is as bland as they come, mustering all the menace of a mortgage advisor. He wants to obtain Russian nuclear launch codes so that he can blow-up the world. Why? “He’s crazy” Jeremy Renner’s Agent Brandt offers. Well, quite. Brandt’s enigmatic backstory offers much, but is left lingering too long to be developed any way other than hastily prior to the final reel. That said, the man is a star in the making and a charisma machine akin to, well, an early Tom Cruise. Paula Patton smolders, and it’s refreshing to see an action-gal whose primary skill set is grappling as opposed to simple seduction. Pegg is now essentially a co-lead, and his comic timing serves the more tongue-in-cheek tone of this installment perfectly. Although the film does seem oddly convinced that having someone babble in a British accent while standing next to Tom Cruise is a joke in and of itself.
With much more of an emphasis on ensemble problem solving, as opposed to being just ‘The Tom Cruise Show,’ what Ghost Protocol does have going for it is a big, fat fun factor, the absence of which, for the most part, made for a pretty lousy summer. Having gotten away from John Woo’s slow-mo sunsets, and the dark, brooding overtones that served to suffocate all the fun out of III, the series has finally gotten comfortable with the idea that it is in fact more than a little daft. And Cruise, god love him, has still got it. While he is finally starting to look like a man staring down the barrel of 50, he still possesses the gravitas with which to anchor these antics in something resembling actual depth, with satisfying emotional payoff, and perhaps even making a compelling case for number V while he is at it. Form is temporary, class is permanent.
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