I was really into watching this movie from the trailers. I have enjoyed director Brad Bird’s earlier work. I liked Paula Patton in Déjà Vu, I have liked the work Jeremy Renner and Simon Pegg have done in the past. Having read that some portion of the film was set in Mumbai made me curious. This was going to be fun.
Or so I thought.
The film starts very energetically, with a chase sequence in Budapest that features the actor Josh Holloway, a leap off a tall building and some nifty gunplay.
And then, the real movie begins.
If you’ve seen the trailers you know what the basic plot of the film is—Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team are blamed for a bombing attack at the Kremlin. This causes heightened political tension between Russia and America and the recently disavowed IMF team comprising of Ethan, Jane (Patton), Benji (Simon Pegg) and the mysterious Brandt (Jeremy Renner) must find the real culprit determined to bring the planet to the brink of nuclear war.
The action travels from Eastern Europe to Dubai before settling in Mumbai for the grand finale. Except this is not a Mumbai any of its eighteen million citizens would recognize. Mostly because no such Mumbai exists.
But hey this is popcorn cinema so geographical and textual verisimilitude flies out the window quicker than you can say Anil Kapoor. Right?
So is it all bad?
Some of the action sequences are quite inventive. That opening sets a nice tone. Some of the bits involving the Burj Khalifa are adequately vertigo-inducing. That hand-to-hand battle between Jane and Sabine (Léa Seydoux) looks totally believable. Even the underwater escape is pretty cool.
Jeremy Renner and Simon Pegg turn in reliable, mostly in-character performances. And Tom Cruise does a commendable job of selling his part in this film. All of it. So whether he is climbing up the side of a very tall building or trading punches with co-stars or driving off parking structures in expensive cars he sells the illusions pretty well.
There is a disturbance in the tonal force of this movie. It doesn’t quite come together. These are the reasons I was able to pinpoint for why it didn’t work:
No IMF=Faulty hardware.
The running gag about all the malfunctioning equipment is funny; to begin with. But it troubles me that no one on the team thinks Benji is not really very good at his primary job. Even by movie standards it seems incredibly careless to have brought a fella along on a dangerous (nay, impossible) mission just so that he can provide some light comic relief.
The bad guy and the leading lady.
Michael Nyqvist’s Hollywood debut is not a performance that will stay with you. He may be the villain of the piece but he recedes so far into the background for so much of the movie that it is difficult to believe that this guy’s actions caused the shuttering of IMF.
Ms. Patton, lovely as she is to look at, seems to struggle with a lot of the physical activity. She is convincing while landing those punches but watching her run ain’t pretty. Also, her big seduction scene does not work at all. Starting with that gown she wears while working her ‘moves’. And I am aware that is not her fault. Unless she designed it.
There is also zero chemistry between her and Mr. Cruise. It doesn’t help that their character arcs are actually written that way.
The tone people. The tone!
What is this film supposed to be? An attempt to ‘butch up’ the franchise like they did with Bond after the success of the Bourne trilogy? A fun-filled adventure? Some sort of ‘statement’ about where the world is heading politically? Or a Greatest Hits package designed to remind us that leading man (and producer) Tom Cruise is a mega star? The allusions to MI1, (someone drops down into a room only to hang feet above the floor) MI2 (the climbing sequence, the hairstyle, the protective eyeglasses), Minority Report (the hoodie, the car, the touch-screen technology, the fight sequence in a structure with multiple moving parts), Vanilla Sky (the running) MI3 (the last minute dive out of the path of a flying motor vehicle), Risky Business (The Ray Bans and the white-clad butt shot) are the ones I clocked. I’m sure I’m missing a few. In a film starring the man and co-produced by the director (JJ Abrams) of the previous installment of this franchise, all this looks less like homage or something meta, and more like regurgitation.
Which brings me to the writing.
This is the feature film debut of longtime television writers Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec. At least one of the major action sequences plays out as if it must have been a better idea on paper than it is on the big screen. I’m referring to the sandstorm chase scene.
When people are trying to find each other in a sandstorm, that experience—especially in the way it is filmed—appears more inconvenient than unnerving, as a viewer. I can imagine how disturbing it would be to actually experience something like that. But when the characters involved in the chase are so routinely picking up protective gear and running full-tilt without once smacking into a wall, I cannot really believe that sequence. And similar prose-rather-than-filmic writing choices recur in more troublesome fashion during the film’s climactic moments.
And finally the directing.
I’m guessing the ‘suits’ in Hollywood will be watching the box office performance of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol with a great deal of interest for several reasons. Primary among them is to determine whether a director of animated films can make the switch to live action. As this movie clearly proves, the two disciplines are not necessarily interchangeable. Is it just that editing patterns are different for live and animated action? Maybe, but that’s not all. In animation most of the physicality is exaggerated, and acceptable, but watching Mr. Renner psyche himself up to jump down a shaft is painful. As is any scene that Mr. Kapoor inhabits.
Animation offers up almost limitless opportunities for “you think it up and we’ll make it happen” perspectives and angles. But in the physical world, no matter how expertly they are rigged up, physical cameras cannot defy the laws of gravity. So when the editor is forced to cut from those soaring aerial shots into more pedestrian frames featuring the actors the illusion doesn’t hold up very well. Likewise that underfoot shot inside the car during that sandstorm. Too quick to register, it looks like a mistake they left in, except that the cut is repeated moments later.
There are pacing issues right through the movie. That sequence in the corridor of the kremlin goes on for too long. The effect the gadget produces is cool but we didn’t need to see it that many times. A filmmaker really can’t wait for every person in every room to ‘get it’ before (s)he carries on with the storytelling.
And that extended coda tacked onto the end recalls Minority Report for a totally uncomplimentary reason – the darn movie just refuses to end.
I really wanted to like this movie. And as I re-read my words here I realize that I went in expecting Iron Man-level fun and I’ve walked out with Iron Man 2 levels of disappointment.
Some days you just can’t win.