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What’s with all the gushing over Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol?
It’s got a 93 percent Rotten Tomatoes score. The critics — even Manohla!! — are fawning over it. Colleagues who routinely rip apart sequelized studio fare are describing it as “fun.” Worldwide audiences have forked over more than $250 million in two weeks. It’s starting to feel like a conspiracy of goodwill, and one that can only partially be ascribed to director Brad Bird’s well-earned fan base.
A non-comprehensive list of the problems with M:I 4 would include the following: Every beat of the story is preposterous. The set-ups are distractingly contrived. The main villain is lame and practically mute. Plus, his master plan is to start a nuclear war — wait for it — for the good of mankind. There are jarring bouts of physical comedy. Tom Cruise has absolutely no acting to do. The two minor character arcs are cocktail napkin sketches. A deadly assassin looks like she just stepped off a Milan runway. Etc.
First, lest you think I have some pre-emptive ulterior motive or grudge that could color my thoughts on this, you should know: I love Bird’s films (Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille). I remain a supporter of Cruise. I happen to enjoy scenes where badass women throw down. And I simply can’t get enough of childish Indian stereotypes. Plus, my seven-year-old loved it.
But really, this movie is not good. Everyone involved could have made a better one, or at least tried harder to invest it with even a modicum of emotional heft or character development. Any great screenwriter will tell you that for action scenes to resonate, they have to tell us something about the character — here it seems the only point was to make sure audiences know that Cruise isn’t too old to hang off the side of something stupidly high.
Just to provide one example of the contrivances required to put the star in a stunt-ready situation: While inside Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, the IMF team discovers that Cruise’s Ethan Hunt can’t just break into the server room because, well, the security is too darn complicated. So he must scale the outside of the building in high winds with some sticky gloves and then cut a hole in the window in order to get them control of the elevators and such. He happens to have just the right equipment to do this, of course, despite the fact that it wasn’t planned. But he neglected to bring anything that would help him get back down, like, say, a rope, or a miniature helicopter piloted by his thoughts, or something.
The problem is that we’ve already seen the miracle work these people can pull off. The opening sequence is predicated on Simon Pegg’s tech whiz Benji being able to control electronically, and from afar, an entire Moscow prison, opening and closing cell-block doors wherever and whenever needed. For his next trick, Benji and Ethan break into the Kremlin no less, with only a fake mustache and a digital screen that happens to be a perfectly snug fit for a basement hallway. This also involves a gadget that breaks the code on a highly secure door in less than ten seconds. I guess someone left that device in a different jacket pocket when they left for Dubai.
So why does Cruise have to climb that giant freakin’ building again? It takes the viewer out of the movie it’s so ludicrous.
Then there’s the sequence where Jeremy Renner’s character has to put on a metal suit and be levitated by a remote-controlled magnet over to, uh, something to deactivate — or maybe reactivate — something else that has to do with a Soviet satellite. Why does he have to jump instead of climb down? And why can’t he walk down there? I’m honestly not sure.
The film does have a few novel tweaks: a chase through a sandstorm is pretty nifty and a complicated bait-and-switch involving nuclear codes and diamonds that requires the skills of the entire team provides some genuine tension. But that all this rigmarole revolves around nuclear codes in a black briefcase dampens the novelty of the enterprise. It had me thinking about War Games and Spies Like Us, two films that felt antiquated 20 years ago.
That the hero doesn’t even get the satisfaction of dispatching the villain is also an odd choice. And by the way, how does that live nuclear weapon get within 200 yards of slamming into San Francisco without any kind of response? Dick Cheney would never have let that happen.
Fans and filmmakers would say that none of this matters. Viewers are having fun, the box office is huge, so why complain? And they certainly have a point. But just because you don’t need to do something doesn’t mean you can’t. It just would have been a slightly more strenuous mission.
But that was one they declined to accept.
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