Monday, December 19, 2011
Review: "Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol"
"Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol" marks the end of the road for Tom Cruise -- or a new beginning.
Cruise, whose star persona is so associated with youthful vitality, will turn 50 next summer. He's blessed to be aging in the Cary Grant mold -- the harder planes and few cracks that have appeared in his features only seem to accentuate his rugged handsomeness, and his physique resembles an Olympic gymnast's.
A star for 30 years now, Cruise has grown older in a way that is much more detrimental to his career than any physical signs: audiences have grown tired of him.
Whether it's the couch jumping, leaving one beautiful wife for another, proselytizing his religion or some other off-putting aspect of his personal life, people have largely been turned off by Cruise. Fair or not, we want to believe the person we see onscreen is a reflection of real life.
Certainly, Cruise has not experienced a precipitous drop in the quality of movies he's been making. He made a hilarious turn into comedy with a supporting role in "Tropic Thunder," and then made the overly sturdy but effective World War II drama, "Valkyrie."
His next film, "Knight and Day," was most instructive. It was a fun, breezy, largely tongue-in-cheek action/romance in which he got to poke fun at his action hero image while wooing Cameron Diaz. Even though it showcased all of his best attributes as a movie star, it was a huge flop domestically -- though it cleaned up overseas; his enduring appeal on foreign shores is a cautionary to those eager to write the epitaph on his career.
If the third film in the "Mission: Impossible" series bombs, too, then I think it will be time for the tombstone engravers to get out their chisels. It's easily the best of the series, filled with extravagant international locations and fantastical action set-pieces, at least two of which are genuinely jaw-dropping.
(Programming note: seeing the film in IMAX is well worth the ticket up-sell, even more so because there's no distracting 3-D.)
The scene where super spy Ethan Hunt scales the tallest building in the world, using only a pair of magnetic gloves (which soon prove sketchy), is likely to induce acrophobia in those who don't already have it. (I do, and was left squirmy.) A fight with the villain in a huge robot-controlled parking garage comes in a close second.
The big question surrounding "Ghost Protocol," other than its star's fate, was whether animation wizard Brad Bird ("The Incredibles") could prove as adept at staging live action. Short answer: hellyeah.
Unlike so many directors whose action scenes are muddled and confusing, Bird is crisp and economical with his direction, showing the audience just enough to thrill without bombarding us with imagery and special effects.
The plot is ... as unrelated to the success of the movie as other "Mission" movies. The super-secret government agency Hunt works for, IMF, is disbanded when an explosion at the Kremlin is staged to look like a covert American attack. Hunt and a small band of outliers are left to stop a nuclear extremist (Michael Nyqvist) who wants to blow up the world.
It's all just an excuse to set up high-tension scenarios and let them play out, usually with a bang.
Screenwriters Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec bring the clever, too, especially one terrific bit where the team attempts to intervene in a sale of nuclear secrets between two sets of bad guys simultaneously, without tipping either one off.
Jeremy Renner joins the franchise as Brandt, a former field hand with regrets, and Paula Patton is a hit as Jane Carter, a fiery agent who has something personal in the game. Simon Pegg returns as Benji, the chirpy, nerdy tech whiz who's moved out from behind a computer terminal at HQ to get into the action.
"Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol" is a top-notch spy thriller, but its biggest mystery is whether audiences have gotten over enough of their Tom Cruise phobia to plunk down for a ticket. From my end, here's hoping.
3.5 stars out of four