Simon Pegg has a wonderful, comic quality about him. He may be playing the same guy in most of his movies (and this too may be true of Tom Cruise) but I find Pegg a treat to watch on the screen.
So what a wonderful decision, for me a least, that the minor character he played in the last MI movie has been promoted in this one. "I passed the field agent test!" Pegg's character exclaims. Ethan Hunt reacts with a look of disbelief but, wisely for the sake of the plot, does not pursue the subject further.
"Ghost Protocol" has been invoked by the President of the United States following a particularly nasty occurance that has, understandably, pissed off the Russians. It seems the IMF is to blame. As a reult of the President's invocation, we get:
a) one of the one of the worst film titles of the year, and
b) the complete disavowal of the IMF agency by the United States Government.
"Disavow" is a favourite word in the Mission Impossible lexicon. It's seems like it's the worst thing that can happen to an individual agent but in this movie, the entire organization has been disavowed.
But does this really change anything? I mean, isn't every IMF team disavowed from the get-go? Isn't that what they're told right of the bat: Should you or any member of your team be caught or killed ... etc and etc?
Being disavowed then is merely table stakes for Ethan and his team. We need more. Also for this movie, less.
"Less" because not only does Ethan receive the standard "no government support", he must complete this impossible mission with a substandard team comprised of the affformentioned Benji Dunn (Pegg) and William Brandt (Jeremey Renner) who comes aboard almost by accident. Brandt is not a field agent, he's an analyst, and a good one, but what good will he be in the field? There are interesting answers to this question. Rounding out the team is Jane Carter (Paula Patton), the only other apparently competent field agent, the kick-ass chick with the wounded heart. Finally, to complete all those zany stunts in their respective futures, they are going to have to scrounge whatever gear they can find from a passing boxcar (but what a boxcar!). Oh, and lets make the gear sorta like the agents: often unreliable.
The "more" part of Ethan's mission, should he choose to accept it, is to prevent global thermonuclear war.
At the risk of being all spoilerish, let me tell you about a couple of trends I've noticed from the last three Mission Impossible movies. First, you know that whole, "Your mission, should you choose to accept it," part? They always do. Second, every single one of these missions has proved to be not so impossible after all.
The job of the movie's director, then, is to employ whatever slight of hand techniques he can to provide as much "wow" as he can on the way to the IMF saving the world.
Who better, then, than the guy who gave us The Incredibles and The Iron Giant (if you haven't seen that one, GET IT). Brad Bird adapts elements of French farce to the action genre and layers it with several coats of IMAX. The movie opens with an IMAX flyover of Mumbai and it recalled for me the opening sequence of The Dark Knight, which also had parts of it filmed in IMAX.
Let me clarify: I am not predisposed to paying the extrta money to see an IMAX adaptation of a movie filmed in some more standard format. What I will pay extra money for is a movie filmed with an IMAX camera. So, when I heard that sections of The Dark Knight were filmed with the IMAX camera, I went to see it in IMAX. And I loved it. Here too in Mission Impossible, select scenes have been rendered with the IMAX camera.
And ... wow.
One of the strength of this format would seem to be how it really gives a sense of height. In this movie are dizzying scenes as the IMAX camera first flies over the top of Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the tallest building in the world and then later, from 130 stories up in that same building, the camera exits the window along with Ethan Hunt. And also your stomach. The ground looks just like it is in real life: a LONG WAY DOWN.
I learn afterward that all the exterior stunts were done without CGI so when you see Tom Cruise at 130 stories up, clinging and swinging along the side of the building, what you're really seeing is Tom Cruise, a mile up in the air, clinging and swinging along the side of the building. Opinion is divided as to whether Mr. Cruise, just shy of his 50th birthday, is committed or ought to be.
I was reminded of a key staple of French farce as I watched other key action sequences that were built on the frantic opening and closing of doors, first in a prison compound, then a hotel and finally in a super-high-tech parking garage - which has no doors, but when you see it, you'll know what I mean.
Being a movie geek, I couldn't help notice a seeming collection of tributes sprinkled throughout the movie. There is, of course, Tom Cruise running. In every Tom Cruise movie, there must be a straight-on shot of Tom Cruise running. The number 47 appears very conspicously at least twice (look it up). The disembodied voice relaying that self-destructing message is the same guy who did the comuter voice from Nomanisan Island in The Incredibles. The title sequence seemed to be a nod to Space 1999 and the re-imagined Battlestar Gallactica, sprinkling scenes from the upcoming action throughout the opening credits. Tom Wilkinson provides a call back to the movie The Hurt Locker as that movie's star, Jermey Renner, sits right next to him (if you don't know what I mean, ask me after you've seen the movies). I also noticed a couple of very clear references to video games, either intended or not. Brad Bird lifts a swinging-on-a-rope stunt straight out of Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (or perhaps it's an hommage), and Ethan grabs an accidental hoodie causing him to resemble the main character from Assassin's Creed, a look Ethan liked so much he does it on purpose for the end of the movie.
Ah, yes. The end of the movie.
The hallmark of a Brad Bird movie has been its strength of relationships. The Incredibles was about superheroes who found their super strength in the bonds of their family. Rattatouille was about a relationship between a boy and a rat transcending the most severe of social mores, not to mention the Public Health Department. The Iron Giant was about how a robot became so much more than what it had been designed for.
I was ready for something like this from Ghost Protocol. After all the action and excitement have died down, there is a series of scenes tacked on that gives the characters something to be human about. It is the Brad Bird touch, finally. It is a good scene but it feels just that: tacked on. What could have been done differently? I'm not sure. The world must be saved first, after all. The clock is ticking and dammit, there's no time to explore relationships when the missiles are in the air.
The first goal of a Mission Impossible movie is to thrill, and this one? Success! On many occassions, as the chartacters were hurled out to teeter over the very knife edge of calamity, I was gasping and flinching and recoiling in my own seat, so great seemed their peril.