Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (Brad Bird)

Above image: What movie stunts are all about.

The "Mission: Impossible" film franchise never really had any major missteps. In fact, all previous films are solid ones in their very own right regardless of how they were received by critics. But then there are always these particular flaws that may have never really affected the quality of the installments but nonetheless still left obvious holes in terms of execution. Brian De Palma's extreme complexity in the first film: an aspect that is very difficult to overlook let alone comprehend. And then there's John Woo's fetish for cool-looking, slow-motion action sequences (and those pigeons) in the second film which, more or less, beautified the film but seemingly favored pure stylish brawns over brains. Then finally, J.J. Abrams created the third installment, mixing just the right amounts of blockbuster spectacle and simplicity, but with the latter making the finale seems rather anti-climactic and stale.

Now we're into the fourth film in the franchise. It's the first film in the series that has a subtitle, and you must admit that 'Ghost Protocol' sounds rather pleasing. It's also the film in the series with arguably the hardest mission for the IMF yet (trying to stop a nuclear war), not even mentioning the fact that they must accomplish it as a rogue squad branded as fugitive terrorists. And most significantly, it is, I think, the first Mission: Impossible film that has flawlessly excelled both in storytelling and thrills, and also featured the most ideal incarnation of Ethan Hunt.

Maybe it is how Tom Cruise shows his maturity both in character and in looks, maybe it's Hunt's 'been through so much' game face nature or maybe because his status as an action hero skyrocketed because of his larger-than-life mission in this film. Wherever you look at it or whatever you choose among those aforementioned reasons for his forward march towards character transcendence and true iconic ascendance in the hierarchy of action heroes, "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol", with its purity of intrigue and globe-trotting peril, complemented Tom Cruise's arguably most well-known film role in a manner that admittedly neither you nor I have anticipated or expected.

In strict confession, I never thought that "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" will even be a worthwhile watch as it looked, as the first trailers were released, nothing but a retirement tour of sorts for our ever so skillful and intelligent agent Hunt. And to add more to my initial skepticism, although Brad Bird is an Oscar-winning director, I really can't see him, a man who has directed heart-warming animated films after another, with one of them being about a gourmet rat, to helm such a frenetically-paced action movie.

Surprisingly, he has delivered a truly and thoroughly solid action movie that is relentless in its innovative action set pieces (the opening Russian prison brawl and the sandstorm-plagued car chase, among others) and imaginative in its new IMF devices, such as the retina-identifying hologram-like projector and the remote-controlled magnetic floater or whatever those things are called. Oh and there's also this little stunt involving Cruise's Ethan Hunt, some technologically-enhanced sticky gloves, and a tall-ass building.

However exciting the climactic sequences situated in Mumbai may be, it's this skyscraper-navigating mega stunt set in Dubai that will certainly be this film's flag-carrying image, just like how every previous installments had their own. In part 1, we have Ethan Hunt, with arms outstretched and body hanging in mid-air, infiltrating a secured CIA facility with a thin rope in his waist. In part 2, we have the black-clad, shades-wearing Hunt riding a bullet-evading motorcycle. In part 3, we have him sliding and jumping a tower somewhere in Shanghai.

But the more I think of the sick building stunt here in "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol", the more I think that it is indeed not just this film's highlight, but of the movie franchise's as a whole. It is indeed a most proud moment for the action genre.

While Simon Pegg's humorous on-screen skills is a given, it's a surprise to see Jeremy Renner, known for playing hardened characters such as the war-addicted bomb expert in "The Hurt Locker" and the lethal bank robber in "The Town", stretching some comic muscles and building a great relational chemistry with Pegg, Cruise, and the smokin' Paula Patton; a true revelation to me considering that the trailers suggest that his character in the film, an ally of Ethan Hunt, may or may not be what he seems to be.

But indeed another surprise is Michael Nyqvist of the "Millennium Trilogy" fame. An actor which I came to admire as a heroic journalist in the form of his character Mikael Blomkvist in the said trilogy, he is a breath of fresh air as the film's sublime chief villain, a bold yet risky character choice that has given the film a bold benefit, considering that most popcorn blockbusters prefer a more outspoken and often theatrical antagonist.

When all is said and done, the "Mission: Impossible" series, with what "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" has done to give it a forceful upward pull, may have solidified its position up there as one of the most enjoyable action franchises of all time with enough tricks in its sleeves to immerse us in a world of covert agents, dangerous adventures and complex missions, while at the same time indulging itself in a cunning chess match with cinematic timing and delivery. Light the match and play the film's musical score in your head over and over again, get pumped up or maybe buckle up, let the clich├ęd testosterone-filled statements flow, this is a genuine blockbuster treat, and it's quite adamant that you accept it.


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