An impossible “Mission” to love

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Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

dir. Brad Bird

Release Date: Dec 16, 11

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Reader, I always want to like movies, and I generally go in expecting to like what I am about to see, especially if said film is the fourth entry in a series I really liked, starring an actor whose actual work I think is underrated, directed by a man I think might be a genius.

However, I’ve now seen three films in a row that other people liked and I didn’t, and I capped off my run by hating, loathing, detesting Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. Other people called it the best in the series and compared Tom Cruise’s performance to celery, which I guess is supposed to be a good thing. But I absolutely could not wait for that damn movie to end, which it really took its time doing. I think Shoah was shorter than this movie. The entirety of the Holocaust was shorter than this movie.

Here, I’m sure you want me to tell you about a plot, which I’m normally happy to do.  I love plots, my grandmother is buried in one, but I couldn’t find anything resembling a real plot here. If you’ve seen any of the previous Mission Impossible films, you know that this is usually the case. People say the word “disavow” a lot and then look nervous about it, like disavow is a synonym for “procure herpes.”

In fact, the plot is just as threadbare as the previous films, but even more so. To wit: the film features the age-old Bond trope of evil Russian dudes planning to blow up the globe, but the film never really gets around to introducing them as characters or even guys with lines. You know that Talking Killer Speech where the bad guy tells us how we wants to destroy all life on earth rather than doing it? We see that through a YouTube video.

In case you want more of that plot thing, those Russian dudes blew up the Kremlin but then made it look like the Americans did it. So, the entire IMF has been the d-word-ed, meaning that Ethan Hunt and the kids from Community have to save the world. The film itself really could have had a lot of fun with the whole ragtag band of rogue agents scenario, but like its villains, M:I never seems to invest in its characters. This is a damn shame, because the film is stacked with talent. For instance, The Hurt Locker’s Jeremy Renner is asked to stand around and mumble like Marlon Brando after a stroke. Although he’s supposed to be the foil to Tom Cruise’s James Bourne – someone to liven him up and keep him on his toes – the guy ends up being a total idiot.

As for Cruise himself, he tries hard to make this material work. Cruise is a born actor – preternaturally confident and charming – and like his character in Magnolia, he walks through the movie like he fucking owns the thing. For someone who’s nearly half a century old, Cruise shows he’s lost none of his spark as an action hero, and in particular, the scene where Cruise goes all Spider-Man on a skyscraper should silence any of his detractors.

However, why does the film insist on trying to make us forget he’s in it?  Ethan Hunt is offscreen an alarming amount of time, and even when he’s there, the camera seems to shy away from his face or cover him up altogether, as if it’s ashamed of him.  Some time ago, the Internet alleged that the inclusion of Jeremy Renner was meant to begin a transition to him as the new Ethan Hunt – ala Shia LeBeouf in Indiana Jones – and after seeing it, I have a hard time refuting that rumor.

This is a damn shame, as Cruise is the only thing in this movie that really works.  Everything else is a huge mess.  Although Brad Bird is impeccable at staging action scenes, they increasingly whiz by at lightning pace, and we are never able to really grab onto the film.  Shit kinda just happens, and we don’t care about it much.

Everything here is done with a wink and a nudge, like the worst reprise of Ocean’s Twelve imaginable.  If you’ve signed onto a Mission: Impossible film, you expect it to be goofy by definition.  Why the meta irony then, Birdie Bird? What was once breathtaking is now just physically exhausting, as Bird failed to find a way to translate the rules of cartoons to the real world, to a world that requires real dimension.  What happens at Pixar really should just stay at Pixar.