Saturday, December 17, 2011

Where's Ethan?

Here's what I know about Tom Cruise: You just can't count the guy out. He'll make an awful movie like Knight and Day, and you'll be tempted to say his career is over, but then he'll make a movie like Tropic Thunder that is so entertaining, and he'll be back without even skipping a beat. After Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, the latter is true again. The film — a big improvement over the third Mission Impossible film — finds Cruise back at the top of his action hero game, effortlessly saving the world again, and looking like he's actually enjoying himself in the process.

In Ghost Protocol, which I saw in IMAX (and which you should too), Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his team (now composed of Jeremy Renner, the gorgeous Paula Patton, and Simon Pegg, supplying the comic relief as always), are on the run (and on the DL) after a mission in Moscow goes bad and the Russians think Hunt has bombed the Kremlin. ("Ghost Protocol" is the term for a black-operation contingency that disavows the entire Impossible Missions Force.) Their travels take them to Dubai, where they attempt to intercept a deal to acquire the codes for a Russian nuclear launch-control device — and Hunt tries to outrun a sandstorm, among other derring-do.

And it's that "other derring-do" that is the key to why Ghost Protocol is as much fun to watch as it is. In Dubai, there is a sequence where Hunt must enter a server room on the 130th floor of the Burj Khalifa (the world's tallest building) from the outside. Which means he has to scale the building using little more than high-tech gloves that will allow him to stick to the windows. Yes, we've seen scenes like this before, but not one as suspenseful and impressively staged as this is. When Cruise attaches himself to the window, the IMAX picture gets larger, and it pans downward to show you just how high up he is; you can't help but get a little on edge too. Cruise reportedly did his own stunts, and while the whole thing is completely, ridiculously, um, impossible, if that's not him in every shot, you can't tell. There's not a false beat in the entire five minutes, not one move that makes you feel pandered to. Oh, and all this is happening while the aforementioned sandstorm is approaching. It's one of the best movie scenes of the year, and the main reason why you should see Ghost Protocol — especially in IMAX. It's totally worth it. (Still not convinced? Check out Patton's dress. Now imagine seeing that on a giant screen. Wow.)

Cruise is good, but kudos, too, must go to director Brad Bird, making his live-action directing debut here after such great work on animated films like The Incredibles and Ratatouille. Bird has a knack for staging action sequences and keeping the pace of the film moving. (There's another scene in a parking garage that is similarly impressive.) He directs with fluidity, and doesn't take it all so seriously (which was a problem that J.J. Abrams had with the last film; Abrams remained involved here as a producer). Heck, Bird makes it all look easy and real. He's directed the film wit and a whole lot of confidence, and as a result, Ghost Protocol is a slick, but not heavy-handedly so, piece of entertainment. (The only bummer? Josh Holloway, from Lost, is in the film, but only for a total of five minutes at the very beginning. I wish he'd been more central to the action. But that's just a Lost fanboy speaking.)

Ghost Protocol is a highly enjoyable return to form for the Mission Impossible series and for its star. When Tom Cruise is having fun — and isn't trying so hard to be Tom Cruise, action hero — then it's easy to have fun with him, as we do here. Willingly choose to accept this Mission. I'm giving it an A–.

OH! Need one more reason to see Ghost Protocol in an IMAX theater? The Dark Knight Rises prologue. The less said about it the better, but it is one AWESOME six-minute teaser for what is sure to be the best movie of 2012. If you're any kind of Batman fan, you can't miss this.



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