Monday, December 19, 2011

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol

I’ll put it out there. Im not the biggest Mission: Impossible fan. I’v never caught an episode of the original television series. But I have seen all 3 films. But by the end of it, it’s a fairly decent action franchise. The first was okay. The second was a mess. And the third? Well, Id say the third was the best… Until now.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol manages to take the best aspects of its 3 predecessors, and even build on them. But what it doesn’t do, is it doesn’t depend on them, as many sequels tend to do. A hint here, a nod there, a reference over there. That isn’t to say it doesn’t bring back a couple characters, but it certainly does not rely on them.

First off, I want to address the director, Brad Bird. This is his first live action film. But that isn’t to say it’s his first film. Most people would know Bird from his animated films The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and Ratatouillie. But what he does with M:I:4, I wonder… Why has Hollywood been hiding this guy behind a computer screen for all these years? Seriously, this his is freshman live action film, and it feels like a seasoned veteran directed this. And Im not even speaking in terms of the action in the film. Im talking the pacing, the humor, and hell, even the IMAX format.

You would think that you would be content with shooting in 35MM for your first live action film, test it out, then graduate to the fancier formats (3D, IMAX, etc.). Nope. Brad Bird managed to create an EXPERIENCE, and not just the fourth entry in an action franchise.

The film opens with Ethan Hunt in a Russian prison. Okay, this should be interesting. Obviously, the objective is to escape. What's he in there for? You find that out later. All that matters at this point is the “how”. How is Ethan Hunt going to get out of this mess? Well with the help of his team members at the IMF. Basically, it’s a very strong opening. All the jail cells are opened, Russian convicts litter the halls, destroy prison guards, its just chaos. So as Hunt is trying to escape, he has to fend off not only prison guards, but the inmates as well. And the use of music works really well too. The Dean Martin song "Ain't That A Kick In The Head" playing over the loud-speakers. So not only is the action great, the choice of song is great. What else is thrown into the mix? Successful humor. Humor isn’t always successful in action films. In fact, it’s usually terrible. EVERYTHING works in this film.

The basic gist of the film is this: Ethan Hunt and his team are given another mission by the IMF. The mission? To track down the Russians who possess the launch codes to nuclear missiles. The catch is, they’re the only 4 left of the IMF. So… No back up. That is what makes this mission a little heavier. And I know what you’re thinking, “That plot seems a little thin”. Well here’s the thing, like with any espionage/spy film, there are always more twists and turns and subplots. And with a lot of espionage/action films, too much usually gets in the way. If you have a film that is predominately a spy/thriller/drama, the action can sometimes get in the way of the actual story. And if you have a film predominately action, complexity of story can sometimes get in the way of the action. Action doesn’t always have to be dumb, but it doesn’t always have to be “calculus-smart” either.

The action/story in M:I:4 is, in my opinion, perfect. There was nothing in terms of story that had me scratching my head saying, “Really? That’s all there is to it?”. It just suites the action perfect. Because in the end, the M:I films are ACTION films. M:I:4 is set piece after set piece after set piece. And it manages to pace it at a rate where you can breath between, take in all the information you need to follow the story as it progresses, and brace yourself for the next action scene. And the action is shot perfectly. Geographically, you know where you are in each scene. There are very few shaky-cam shots. Shaky-cam, people forget, is something that is unavoidable in an action film. Whether its used for 5% of the film, or 80% of the film, it’s in practically everything you watch. Its just less noticeable in certain movies. And M:I:4 is one of those movies.

Speaking of shots, lets talk about IMAX. Brad Bird has gone on record by saying that 25-30 minutes of the film was shot in IMAX. And all of it looks fantastic. There was one issue I had going in that I hoped was going to be addressed and corrected. And that was the aspect ratio change. And it was indeed corrected. I didn’t see Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen in IMAX, but I heard there was a major issue involving the constant switch-over from 35MM to 70MM in a single scene. With Ghost Protocol, there is no issue. Once the IMAX-shot sequence begins, it consistently fills the screen until the scene is over. So if there is a close-up dialogue cut, it’s shot in IMAX, and doesn’t subtract the scope of the scene. And I love the transition from 35MM to 70MM back to 35. Its edited in a way in which it feels as if a top and bottom curtain are being lifted to expose the whole picture. As opposed to just cutting to the IMAX-shot sequence harshly.

Every IMAX sequence is great. But the one that is the most impressive is indeed that climbing of the Burj Khalifa. You know, the one that they’ve used in ALL the marketing. And for good reason! Its fucking INCREDIBLE! Not only is it the greatest sequence in any of the Mission: Impossible films, but it’s one of the best sequences in any action film in the past 10 or 15 years. There are so many damn elements that make that scene work so fucking well. Ill just list ‘em as I go. First off: Tom Cruise. The fact that this man (who doesn’t need the money, mind you) was willing to climb the world’s tallest building (a half a mile high), without a stunt man, is just incredible. I wish I could buy the guy a shot right now. And it’s one thing to just go out on a harness 2700 feet in the air. But it’s another thing to run down the building, run across the building, and plunge yourself from one side to the other. Secondly, the scope of IMAX. As you watch Tom Cruise hanging onto the side of the building, you actually feel as if you’re going to fall into the screen. Granted, this film isn’t in 3D, but it sure as hell pulls you in. And when Cruise slips and falls, your stomach drops with him. Thirdly, the score really enhances the scene’s energy. When the main Mission: Impossible theme enters, you get goosebumps. Maybe you wont, but I did. I get ‘em just thinking about it. And as if the scene wasn’t dangerous enough, along with the height, he also has to fear the dreadful sandstorm heading his way. The scene is just perfect. And that’s only the half-way point of the movie. There are still even 3 of 4 more action sequences after that!

The rest of the film, I don’t feel I should even write about due to the fact that the studio doesn’t really reveal too much of it in the ads and trailers. Which is great! For once, you can go into a movie and actually see something you DIDN’T see in the trailer. For the most part, the TV spots and trailers showed you most of the action sequences from Moscow and Dubai. For the last quarter of the film they go to India, and what happens? Well, watch the fucking movie.

The team. You have Benji, the computer-tech. Jane, the female agent. And Brandt, the new guy/secret commando. And of course, Ethan Hunt. And surprisingly enough, it’s a very strong team. Benji obviously serves as most of the comic relief for the film. And for the most part, he is hilarious. Jane was pretty badass in the was that wasn’t too forced. I mean, she did kick a girl’s ass, then knock her out a window. That’s pretty rad. And with Brandt, you might think this is a spoiler, but it’s not. They reveal it in the trailer. Brant APPEARS to be just an analyst from D.C., but as the story progresses, it’s revealed that he’s a soldier who can hand your ass to you. So that made for an interesting touch. But what makes it so interesting is that, for once in the M:I franchise, someone who isn’t who they say they are is actually GOOD. Usually the guy who you thought was good, was playing for the other team. The one thing that I DON’T like about Brandt actually has nothing to do with his character. It’s the direction they want to go in the next installments of the franchise. From what I heard, Jeremy Renner (who plays Brandt) is supposedly going to be passed the torch from Tom Cruise to be the new leading man in the M:I films. Hey, I liked his character in Ghost Protocol, but Mission: Impossible is Cruise’s franchise. This isn’t Bond.

All in all, Brad Bird, Tom Cruise, producer J. J. Abrams, and the rest of the crew did one helluva job on this film! Its amazing that the fourth film in a series can surpass its predecessors ten-fold almost 17 years after the initial film. But this only makes me wonder, how can you top Ghost Protocol? The Burj Khalifa scene alone is hard to top! We’ll see. If this is Brad Bird’s FIRST live action film, what the hell is he going to do next?!

Really though, see it in IMAX. Or fuck off.

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