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Monday, December 19, 2011

There's no excuse. I'm not gonna talk about it. I'm back. Let's leave it at that!

So, if there was a trend that I could put my thumb on for this cinematic year, it would odd yet interesting choices for the director of a big budget action movie. We had Kenneth Branagh, bringing his larger than life and Shakespearian Thor. We had Tarsem Singh, infusing gonzo violence with high art in Immortals. And now, we have Brad Bird, the man behind such animation classics as The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille. What's he directing? Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, the first M.I. movie since JJ Abrams reinvigorated the series five years ago. Abrams returns as a producer, but the main point of interest is seeing how Bird, fresh to the live action style, fares. And while Ghost Protocol fails where all other Mission Impossible movies have usually failed (lack of interesting plot, a main character who doesn't grow, and an over reliance on action set pieces over espionage), it does manage to showcase that Bird definitely has the chops to make in the live action world. M.I.G.P is tightly paced, very tense, with a ton of great action and set pieces, and a sensational use of IMAX format. It's not setting the world on fire anytime soon, but for holiday thrills, this one more than suffices.

Just chilling. Waiting for the mothership...

Ethan Hunt and crew are back at it again, going around the world, saving it from crazy people with crazy plans. All's hunky dory, until a routine op goes terribly wrong, and the Kremlin is blown up, and as far a failures go, having the center of Russian authority go up in flames is pretty much the worst you can do. IMF is slapped with the blame, and Ethan and his whole team are disavowed as the President initiates ghost protocol. So, Ethan and his team, without any backup or help, set out to discover who set them up and why. This leads them all around the world as they try and stop a nuclear extremist from, you guessed it, blowing up some nukes.

Now, on paper, that sounds pretty cool. Mixing up the formula and having Ethan go at it with nothing more than his brains and brawn would be a nice change of pace, one that would bring a more cerebral feel to this traditionally one note franchise. Unfortunately, even though the entire IMF has been shut down, Ethan and his team still seem to have limitless resources, accessing the latest technology, chartering jets like nobody's business, and always looking so incredibly dapper. Like, seriously! Those suits can't be cheap! So, the whole idea of completing the mission with nothing more than a toothpick and a cool pair of shades is, at the most, hinted at, and nothing more.

There's also attempts to explore the character of Ethan, and it works about as well as it has in the other three movies. That is to say, not at all! The villain is lackluster, especially when he has to follow the great work that Philip Seymour Hoffman did in the third one. And none of the other characters, with one exception, really say or so do anything all that interesting.

Tom Cruise returns to his iconic role, and does about the same he always does. Not bad. Not exceptional, but not anything to hate on. I will say that his chemistry with his team is the best it's ever been, but that could have more to do with them and not so much with him, but whatever. Give credit where credit is due.

Jeremy Renner and Paula Patton are the new additions to the franchise. Patton doesn't do much of anything outside of the realm of, "look hot and kick ass" but she does it quite well, so... yeah. Renner on the other hand is given a lot to do. This may have something to do with the rumors that he will inherit the franchise, but regardless, his is the most interesting character, with the most compelling arc. I wish Ethan was as interesting, but you can't have everything in life.

Other players include Josh Holloway in bit part as an unfortunate IMF agent, and Michael Nyqvist is underwhelming as the villain. In reality, the guy who steals the show is Simon Pegg as the team's quirky tech whiz. He's the source of most of the humor, and, since he's Simon Pegg, he really delivers.

Now, this is some guy's fantasy!

But, lack of interesting plot and characters aside, I have to say this is probably my favorite Mission Impossible movie to date. The first one was way too slow paced for me. The second one was too stupid and had too many doves. The third, while certainly the best up to that point, tried to hard to bring out some emotion and focused too much on Ethan's married life. Ugh. Here, the action is center stage, and it is incredible. Though he gained his stripes in animation, Mr. Bird knows how to direct action and how to stage set pieces. A multi layered sequence that has Ethan scaling the side of building while the rest of the team races to intercept multiple targets would be thrilling by itself. Toss in the inclusion of a slowly approaching sandstorm, and you have action movie gold.

That sequence is the stand out of the three big ones. The first takes place at the Kremlin, and is more of a tense "sneak in, sneak out, BOOM" type thing, while the third takes place in India and is all running and punching and doing crazy things with cars. But neither of those reaches the lofty heights that the middle sequence does.

You probably all saw the trailers, so you know of those shots that show Ethan clutching the side of an enormous skyscraper, but you haven't seen it unless you've seen it on IMAX. Let me tell you, you need to see the spend the extra money for this one. This movie demands IMAX. The sequences are so epic and well put together that to see it any other format would just be criminal.

Ok, fine. The main I reason I saw it in IMAX was to see the Dark Knight Rises prologue, but the movie is absolutely worth seeing in the format, even though the TDKR prologue is soooo full of all kids of HELL YEAH, and... ok, sorry. I'll talk about that tomorrow.

Awards won't be coming in, and you won't leave the theatre in tears or reeling at the emotion on screen. There is no emotion on screen. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol is a largely soulless endeavor. But, technically, it is astounding. Props to Bird and his team for crafting one of, if not the most thrilling action flick of the year. See it in IMAX. This review will self-destruct in 5... 4... 3...

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