Tuesday, December 20, 2011

REVIEW: Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol

If nothing else, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol goes down in history as the movie that made my palms sweat the most.

You’ve probably guessed that this comes from the scene where Tom Cruise scales the side of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai in a way that would make Peter Parker blink. And you would be correct. It’s not that I’m afraid of heights. I’ve been to the top of the Sears Tower twice without breaking even a bead of sweat. But put me in a seat in front of an IMAX screen and swing me around that building with Tom Cruise and I’m a jittery mess.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying that the fourth Mission: Impossible movie is the popcorn flick of the year. I haven’t had my nerves jangled that hard since James Cameron’s Aliens. It didn’t grab my emotions quite as tightly as that film, or for that matter, as Mission: Impossible 3, but taken purely as a thrill ride, this is the best action film since Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight.

And that’s no coincidence because both movies were filmed partly with IMAX cameras, and both were shot by directors with boundless visual invention. That Brad Bird has succeeded smashingly  only makes this Mission all the more impressive.

Indeed, the IMAX sequence above, upon, inside and around the Burg Khalifa is almost too effective. In most action movies, this would be the final “Wow em out the door” scene.  It’s in the middle of this film, with about another hour to go (I think. I wasn’t exactly eyeing the time.)  That’s how relentless this movie is.

Much has been made of the fact that Bird took an unconventional leap from animation to live action. He made one of the best 2D films of the 90s with The Iron Giant, and he also helmed two of Pixar’s best movies: The Incredibles and Ratatouille. The visual invention on display in those films is at play too, precisely because of Bird’s animation background.

Animators feel unconstrained by boundaries. They can make their characters do pretty much anything and that’s the mindset Bird applies here. The movie zips along at such a breathless pace, I never once stopped to question its repeated flaunting of the laws of physics. A climactic sequence with Cruise and his nemesis can’t possibly top the Dubai scene, but it’s still exciting because Bird handles a vertical chase scene with such aplomb.

Also contributing to the film’s success is Bird’s top-flight technical crew. Cinematographer Robert Elswit showed a flair for action in Tomorrow Never Dies and editor Paul Hirsch worked on a little movie called Star Wars, among many others.

The movie does fall a little short dramatically - it doesn’t have as much emotional pull as Mission: Impossible 3 did, with no strong female lead, and no villain here can hope to top Philip Seymour Hoffman’s work in the same film. I rather wish Bird had co-written the script so it could be as smart as his direction.

Still, those palms of mine were damp with sweat long after the movie was over. In fact, they’re even clamming up again as I recall sitting in the theater being held in thrall. Now there’s a movie that sticks with you.


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