I grew up watching the original Mission Impossible on television and this ain’t it. But that’s actually ok, no perfect really, because neither are the other films in the franchise or should they be. This is just a good old fashion action adventure that does a helluva lot right and not enough wrong to get in the way of the ride. Unlike other attempts to revisit or reboot or whatever you want to call it when filmmakers hash up familiar haunts from television and elsewhere only to savagely, brutality ruin, MI is a brand of grand action unto itself, special effects and tech toys, lots of fisticuffs and wrestling matches, chicks with guns and attitudes. It’s hard to be too critical of a Mission Impossible film, I mean we’re talking about Tom Cruise doing what he does well and Brad Bird on board doing what he does very well, and a franchise that includes a good mix of new and old ideas. Sometimes we just need our movies to be bigger than our imaginations and just over the edge of our expectations, on the other side of our everyday joy rides at a thousand miles an hour while scaling tall buildings to get inside when we could have just as well taken the elevator – well, these are movies that say to hell with elevator rides.
Mission Impossible ultimately succeeds because it stretches the boundaries of the genre to include ample character and story development while also making sure to cater to its core audience. A lot of reviews tend to get caught up in what they want the film to be, thus chopping it to bits for failing, or allowing their expectations to get in the way for better/worse, or beyond that there are the rabid fans who get sucked into the vortex, head still spinning when they sit down to write about the movie, and as a result fandom takes over and they forget about objectivity – however impossible that really is. In the case of Mission Impossible (MI4), Ghost Protocol, I missed it in the theater and that is a real shame. This is every bit big screen necessary, from the amazing set locations to the incredible action sequences that all go a long way toward the total immersion only the theater can provide. Overall I enjoyed Ghost for what it is – pure and simple action, eye-candy, escapist cinema built on decades of the tried, true and proven school of more is always more and less is not an action movie. I was inspired by my mate Rodney over at Fernby Films some time back, well weeks now so it seems, and his lengthy, thoughtful and detailed review of the film is a must read – so by all means you should check out and you can find my original diatribe on the subject of this movie there, also the blueprint for this diatribe here. I’ll do my best to expand on my original highlights and maybe draw some final conclusions.
This installment of MI moves away from the one-man as center of the story universe structure, opting instead to develop a team of operatives to take on the mission. I was curious to see how they were going to pull it off, you know, cater to the solo star versus the group plot, see if they were going to get away with modifying the Huntean-universe. I think some were disappointed, one man enters and one team comes out, one mission set in motion with many people to follow it through. Obviously there are only so many things you can change without undermining the entire franchise, giving fans the familiar and newbies a reason to care. At $150M to make and nearly $700M (in change) in global tickets according to my favorite box office receipt aggregator boxofficemojo, well you know by now that what goes in is certainly going to mean MI5 or at least enough hot wind about it to make it a definite maybe. There are a lot of distractions though, especially this year alone what with Tom Cruise and his doomed marriage, the mutterings of Top Gun 2, the sad maneuverings in the wake of Tony Scott’s (my thoughts, Il Gigante) untimely death and all the cards that are going to get shuffled because of the inconveniences. These films and the planning debacle are nothing if not predictable in that way and besides, Cruise is only pushing 50 – he’s got a long time to catch up to Schwarzenegger who will be 65 this year – or already was. Anyone catch his new tell all memoir Total Recall?
I actually like that they moved to an ensemble, especially with the cast that was chosen. It’s easy to make the connections with the other players, give us other stories to latch to, carry us into the new narrative. Maybe it’s just the bankability of an ensemble as both a way of supporting our aging heroes – who have substantial careers and films to their credit and to introduce new and notable character actors who can bring their own fans and followers to the series. Think about all the character actors of say ten years ago who have steadily gone from totally unknown to bankable all on their own – players like Benicio Del Toro, William H. Macy, hell even Philip Seymour Hoffman started small and now can pretty much do whatever he wants. I think the producers realized they needed do something special, to hook people into coming back to the franchise so they brought in Bird to work on story. It was also a good idea to bring in a diverse group of actors to reach the broadest demographic possible knowing audiences really connect to a movie when there is a way for them to make a personal, spiritual, cultural identifier woven into the experience. Best of all is that it doesn’t feel contrived or manipulated and the changes only helped in marketing to a world audience, not just Americans any more. Taking into consideration the benefits of appealing to an international audience can help a film in more ways than one – films that fail to connect domestically can actually turn a big profit on the international market and make up for a local lackluster reception. That doesn’t mean a better film really but a film that has better chances.
Ghost Protocol reminds us that action films don’t have to reinvent the wheel in order to entertain us at the movies. The best films meet us somewhere inside of new and familiar, between expectation and surprise. Action films rely on our willingness to let go of the railings of our lives, to seek adventure in the spectacle of the imagined and the possible. Mission Impossible is exciting and thoughtful, well acted and well written with clever scenarios and engaging characters, enlivened by expansive cinematography and special effects that put you in the world of the story. The film feels crafted and considerate, at times heavy-handed and short-sighted, but there is also reserve and consideration – no kitchen sink approach here, no one just throwing things in for the sake of more the merrier! Tom Cruise reminds us once again of his ability to convince us, to carry a film and deliver an effective mix of believable, relatable and adventuresome while also charming, charismatic and bold. We tend to take for granted the ability of leading actors to keep us invested in story, to be funny and poignant, to make us laugh and make us care but few are as convincing in most instances as Cruise. Brad Bird proves his talents in the director’s chair with an action packed thrill ride driven by exciting sequences that are complex, inventive and rewarding. Bird is clearly working in a comfortable and confident place. Ghost Protocol finally accomplishes the task of pleasing fans and attracting first timers as well, both a solid entry in the franchise and a solid foundation for the next installment that will surely come – or should.