Saturday, January 7, 2012

Signal Watch Bears Witness to: Mission Impossible 4 - Ghost Protocol

In many ways, I shouldn't be talking about this movie.  I didn't care for Mission Impossibles 1 or 2, never saw MI: 3, I have it in for Tom Cruise, I didn't pay for my own ticket and The Admiral (who DID pay for my ticket) has pre-warned me he shall rebut anything I have to say about this movie.  But I swore an oath that I would talk about all the movies I watched this year, and at its core, Mission Impossible 4 is only partly an Apple and BMW commercial, and it is mostly a movie.

I'm going to give this movie its props.  It knows what it is, it does part of that mission amazingly well.  This movie blows stuff up with aplomb, it has phenomenal cinematography, beautiful locations, crazy action sequences, stunning stunts, cool gadgets, etc...  I think a lot of folks would enjoy this movie and they would not be wrong.

Our heroes are funny, they're good looking, they do their own stunts, they look great in clothes, they do the "we look stressed" thing well and evenly for 2 hours of the movie.  If you can embrace that the first stunt Tom Cruise pulls in the movie wouldn't have taken him out for the rest of the movie, you'll be willing to believe that he walked away from the other 2 dozen career-ending moves he makes before he saves the day.

Look...  these sorts of movies sort of quit being my thing a while back.  I like action or adventure movies, and I don't mind macguffins moving me from set piece to set piece, but I want the movie to at least pretend to care a bit about plot details and to not just leave ellipses at every possible location, or for the macguffin of the entire movie to make a bit of sense.  In a lot of ways, the script felt like something dusted off from the mid-90's, when we'd moved past Commando and wanted at least some hand-waving of intelligence, even if it usually was all smoke and mirrors.

I'll go ahead and say that, to my understanding, the entire plot of the movie hinged on the nuclear launch codes for some number of nuclear weapons owned by Russia that, apparently, were kept in one place.  On paper.

Really, the whole movie is sort of baffling like that.  The movie moves along at breakneck pace, and I'm not saying there aren't plausible explanations for details both big and small, but the movie just doesn't care at all about filling in those gaps, even after sometimes creating those gaps as a plotpoint (I would like to know, for example, how the "disavowed" IMF team booked a flight or got a change of clothes, let alone designer tuxedos).

Brad Bird is a terrific director.  He's done a few of my favorite movies with The Incredibles, Iron Giant and Ratatouille.  MI: 4 marks his first foray into live action, and I think he actually does a pretty amazing job of constructing over the top action sequences that more than succeed on keeping you on the edge of your seat, and he does it in style.  Yes, the slick wire work on The World's Tallest Building is cool (especially in IMAX, as I watched the movie).

But...  there's such an inevitability to the entire plot (and the movie is both all about plot and not at all caring about whether the plot makes any sense, which is a weird place for me to wind up as an audience member), that its really mass-audience comfort food.  We KNOW that our hero will be racing against an overall big clock and several smaller clocks, all of which he will beat within a split second before complete disaster.


And if I may, frankly, the result of the villain's plan was so monumentally devastating, that I don't know how we, as the audience, were supposed to take it seriously.  Pretty clearly, had he succeeded, that would be a totally different movie.


As I said, MI: 4 is all plot.  Nobody but maybe Jeremy Renner's character experiences any development.  They're simply acting from before the first frame of the movie to the last.  And even Renner's arc has a weird twist making it almost entirely moot.

Our villain, who seems kind of interesting in a Ra's Al Ghul sort of way, doesn't even get the Dr. Evil treatment because I don't think he has any real lines or exchanges with our heroes.  It could have been interesting to exploe that guy, but... no.  Not really what we're doing here.

And I am a very bad geek because I have not bought into the cult of Simon Pegg.  He's fine, sure.  But he's a pale shadow of Tom Arnold's sidekick from True Lies, a better movie in the same basic neighborhood.  I guess we should all be glad that we didn't get Rob Schneider stuck in for comic relief.

I don't really get why this movie is getting such terrific reviews and critical accolades along with boffo box office, but I'm just going with "I guess I'm wrong on this one".  Also, its worth noting, clearly the producers are counting of international box office a whole lot to offset the US's distrust of Tom Cruise, setting the movie in a few different international locations (appropriate the to the genre, btw), and making sure the places were depicted as being great places to visit.

I'll get on a bit of a high horse and say:  it was interesting to see a female action character get put back in the box I thought had disappeared.  Our lady-spy is asked to speed seduce a billionaire at his own party (by far the worst conceptualized scene I saw in any movie this past month - so frought with issues, it would take pages), and she only ever really gets to fight the one other lady with a gun in the whole movie.  Its...  weird.  I thought we'd sort of moved on.  And, if I can be honest, the female lead had all the seductive power of a baloney sandwich, lovely though she might be.

But that's sort of how I felt about the whole movie.  It feels like a pic Cruise would have made in his heyday, and it feels like it needs updating in a lot of ways, from basics around IT and security to ideas around gender that had seemed to have moved past all this.  That said, its a hugely successful movie, so money talks, BS walks, and I guess my gut instinct to avoid another Tom Cruise MI movie was correct.

Also, in IMAX, Tom Cruise looks like he's self-applying Just for Men.  Its almost distracting how weird his hair looks as he insists he's still youthful and not joining the middle-aged actor set.


Jake Shore said...

I haven't liked any of the Mission Impossible movies, so the buzz about this one didn't do much for me until a buddy of mine that I trust reviewed it. It's funny reading your review, in contrast with his ( because you both walked away with completely different takeaways. So now I feel like I need to see it for myself.

For me, Tom Cruise is a mixed bag. In real life, the guy is a typical arrogant, self-righteous Hollywood tool. But in his movies, when he's good, he's very good (Collateral, Minority Report, Rain Man, Magnolia). When he's bad, however, it's embarrassing (Cocktail, The Last Samurai, Far and Away).

The League said...

I actually agree with some of what your friend says. That was what made the movie much more enjoyable than it would have been otherwise.

Where I'd part ways is that, for example, after Tom Cruise chooses not to jump in the bin, he escapes through another highly improbable situation from which one would not just walk away. And that's kind of true throughout. Its a mix of reality and BS, changing on a second-by-second basis.

I do believe scripts are smarter about physics now than during the "Commando" era, and certainly now that Mythbusters likes to take a look at the realities of movie stunts. And I don't think I'm recommending we turn all spy flicks into "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy", as I kind of expect Hollywood BS in my action.

I'm probably more sensitive to the "well, that would hurt enough to have to stop" bit as I type this with a splint on my arm I've been wearing for two weeks because I over-rotated my wrist during a push-up.

My real issue was that the MacGuffin of the movie made no sense, and it seemed like everything around that MacGuffin just got more nonsensical as the film wore on.

I really don't want to spoil the movie by talking about how the overall problems with the movie seemed at the script level, in fact, the very premise of the team needing to act as a disavowed squad. But as far as a "this is like a videogame!" sort of movie, something that the final Tom Cruise fight most certainly feels like, its not bad. Its just not my thing.