Monday, January 2, 2012

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011)

     Maybe I just want to like Tom Cruise.  I was never a huge fan.  My favorite characters in Top Gun (1986) was Goose, followed by Wolfman (the latter because I like his cal sign).  There are several of his films that I have seen and wondered aloud during them, why was this made? – Far and Away (1992) immediately comes to mind.  But Cruise does have a lot of charisma, and he has built enough good will with me from Taps (1981), The Outsiders (1983), Rain Man (1988), A Few Good Men (1992), and The Firm (1993) for me to give some of his films a chance.  While I am sometimes extremely disappointed in a Cruise movie – see Vanilla Sky (2001) – I am usually satisfied with his performance.
     That brings me to Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011).  I know I saw the first Mission: Impossible (1996) movie in the theater and found it to be entertaining, though not especially kind to those who were fans of either TV show (I missed the 1966-1973 one, but was on-board for the 1988-1990 reboot) as it made a villain out of the iconic hero Jim Phelps.  I am sure I saw Mission: Impossible II (2000), but I could not relay any information about it.  That led me to avoid Mission: Impossible III (2006), but having seen most of it on cable TV, I kind of wish that I could erase any memory of the whole thing. 
     So why give the new movie a chance?  In part because in not calling it "Mission: Impossible IV", I was confident that there wouldn't be any assumption on behalf of the film-makers that the audience would be heavily invested in the history of the franchise.  Sure, Ghost Protocol doesn't run away from that which went before, but it is largely a self-contained story that does its best to allow the viewer to learn all the necessary information from a handful of dialogue exchanges.  There are plenty of nods to the previous films and on-going story of the many travails of Cruise's Ethan Hunt (and familiar faces popping up), but Ghost Protocol is really just an excuse for lots of death-defying stunts, earth-shattering explosions, and chase after chase after chase.  But no masks, and in that regard, it was a bit of a disappointment as a Mission: Impossible film.
     The plot?  The IMF team has to stop the end of the world; apparently no other agencies needed to be brought in on the matter.  Still, I don't think anyone goes to a Mission: Impossible for the story.  There is one (sort of).  An IMF agent on the run gets killed, and only one man can get back the sensitive information he was carrying – Ethan Hunt.  But Hunt managed to get himself put in a Russian prison and an IMF team has to break him out.  Cue a very large, extended fight scene lots of effects.  The ad hoc team has to get some information out of the Kremlin, but – oops! – somebody beats them too it and decides the best way to hide the fact that the information has been stolen is to blow up the Kremlin and blame the U.S.A. (and nobody even mentions that Chechen rebels would be more likely culprits).  This causes problems and the IMF effectively gets shut down, leaving Hunt and his team to climb skyscrapers with special gloves, run through sandstorms, and be general menaces in India before letting the villain coordinate a nuclear strike against San Francisco.
     The IMF – at least in the movie franchise – always has the best intelligence available, but puts its agents into severely dangerous situations without much hope of things working out correctly.  That continues here, but it seems that the writers cannot think of another reason for the over-the-top and repetitive action sequences.  However, Ghost Protocol has a good sense of humor about how ridiculous most of it is.  It isn't laughing at itself, but it doesn't pretend that any of it is plausible.  The only problematic part of Ghost Protocol involves an interminable sequence in an automated parking garage where director Brad Bird seems to not realize how ridiculous the whole thing is.  Super badass agent Hunt somehow cannot overcome the strength of good Swedish genes with his fantastic skills and years of training (never mind that nobody else can stop him...ever).
     As a big screen actioner that doesn't ask the audience to do too much thinking, Ghost Protocol succeeds.  It is a fun movie, and Cruise is likable throughout.  His supporting cast largely defers to him – Jeremy Renner seems more than happy to let the big dog eat up the screen time and dominate the scenes – but he is giving enough to allow them to flesh out their characters even in the Ethan heavy scenes.  I don't think Cruise is that invested in the character (it felt like a well-acted paycheck), not when compared with some of his much earlier roles.  But he was in need of a box office success, and like Eastwood used to go back to Dirty Harry, Cruise returned to Ethan Hunt.
     Ghost Protocol is not cerebral fare, but there is something to be said for reliable, predicted action movies.  In that regards, it is a rousing success.  And it sets up for continued entries in the franchise that are not the missteps that Mission: Impossible III was.  I was not disappointed with Ghost Protocol, but I didn't expect more from it than it was going to give.  It looks good on the big screen, and that is where it should be seen.

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