Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

Alternate Title:  Exactly What it Says on the Tin

One sentence synopsis:  An elite team of super-spies must stop a madman from starting nuclear war.

Things Havoc liked: Tom Cruise may actually be crazy, but nobody's ever claimed that he was unable to act. With thirty years of action (and non-action) movies under his belt, it's no surprise that in this, the fourth installment of his venerable Mission Impossible series, Tom knows exactly what he's doing. I don't mean to imply that he's sleepwalking through it, merely that Cruise looks relaxed and confident as Ethan Hunt in his latest, desperate attempt to avert global catastrophe. For someone who's pushing fifty, the ability to convince an audience that it's really him performing martial arts, running down fugitives, or scaling enormous buildings is not to be taken for granted. Cruise does so effortlessly, and even manages to sell the relatively few dramatic or comedic scenes he's given without much trouble.

Of course it helps to have a good supporting cast. One of the better decisions Cruise made with this film was casting Simon Pegg (of Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead fame) as the technical specialist for the team. Pegg plays the funny man, but toes the line between an idiot and a competent agent very effectively, and is responsible for some of the better moments the movie has. Meanwhile Jeremy Renner (last seen in The Hurt Locker, and playing Hawkeye in Thor), plays an analyst-turned-field-agent effectively if not spectacularly, delivering at the very least an workable rendition of the material he's given.

One goes to see a Mission Impossible film for action and spy gadgets, of course, and as one might expect, both are handled well. The action is workmanlike and effectively shot, with none of the ludicrous stupidity of MI2 or 3. No shaky-cam, no insta-cuts, just effective hand to hand and gun fighting most of the way through the movie (even if the accuracy of our heroes' shots is clearly plot-dependent). The gadgetry on offer is actually quite well done. The constant use of retinal scanners becomes a mildly amusing running gag, and a sequence early in the film with a rear-projected screen controlled by an eye-following computer is actually very well done. The best spy gadgets in all these sorts of movies are the ones where the function and limits of the gadgetry are instantly apparent to the audience without need for explanation, and, for the most part, those are the sort that one encounters here.

Things Havoc disliked: There are, unfortunately, also other things that one expects from a Mission Impossible movie, among them a ludicrous plot, awful "dramatic" moments, and a boring villain. And like the above items, these ones are also here in spades . Central to these issues is Paula Patton, who plays the token female (and minority) agent, and essentially does nothing to rise above those categories. Her attempts to convey anguish over the death of her partner (yes, we're in that territory) are laughable at best. Given that Cruise is never allowed to emote anything beyond "badass", and Renner nothing beyond morose, she has to carry the dramatic weight (if you can call it that) of the film, and is unable to do so. As Patton was excellent in Precious, I have to conclude that this is because there was simply nothing there to carry.

The Mission Impossible series isn't exactly Godfather, but the original film at least had a plot that was mildly interesting, if only from the sheer complexity of its ludicrous gyrations. Even by the standards of the movies that followed however, this plot is paper thin. The film's villain, played by Michael Nyqvist, has one of the most absurd motivations I've ever seen, even in an action film. At one point we watch footage of him standing up at a scientific conference and publically discussing the positive sides of global nuclear war, a war he apparently decides to start for the purposes of advancing the human species. Why any of his henchmen support him in an effort to exterminate their own nations is left completely unstated. This is the sort of stuff that would be laughed off the set of a bad Bond film.

Yet apparently we are intended to take great interest in this dastardly plot, even as it comes down to the wire in an action sequence so gratuitous and overplayed that I thought for a moment it was meant to be a joke. Pro tip: if the audience starts walking out of the film to take a bathroom break in the middle of your climactic action sequence, you may have made a mistake somewhere along the line. This scene is so absurd, both in terms of the punishment the characters deal to one another, and in terms of the down-to-the-wire pacing it employs, that it destroys the previously effective tone of the action overall, leaving the audience with a bad taste as the film (finally) ends.

Final thoughts: I skipped seeing this film when it first came out because I was certain I had already seen the entire film from the trailers, and while I've been wrong about such beliefs many times (including last week), I was not wrong here. This movie is exactly what you think it is, an action/spy/adventure film whose pretensions and expectations are kept low. There are occasional flashes of self-awareness or an interesting concept, but they disappear as quickly as they surfaced, and I must conclude that they were added only by accident. This is a make-work film, intended simply to generate money and disappear, leaving behind no legacy whatsoever. Perhaps there is a time and place for such endeavors, but great art, which there is plenty of in the action/spy genre, simply does not result from such small-minded work.  Simply put, this film had nothing new to show me, and in another week, I doubt seriously I will remember a thing about it.

Final Score:  5/10

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