Latest 'Mission: Impossible' Delivers the Goods
Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies
I think that just about everybody's figured out by now that, his personal eccentricities and excellent physical condition and all that notwithstanding, Tom Cruise really isn't a terribly hard-edged guy, and he really does his best work when he's not trying to come off as one.
We all remember how he just couldn't sell that "You've never seen me very upset" line to Henry Czerny (hey, whatever happened to that dude?) in the first "Mission: Impossible" movie back in 1996. The subsequent evolution of his "M:I" character, top secret agent Ethan Hunt, over the course of, as of now, three films, has seen him morph from rather unconvincing piqued avenger to occasionally stressed-out nice-guy espionage ops manager. For this viewer, one of the least appealing aspects of "Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol" is just how well all of the operatives on the same side get along with each other. Yeah, there's a little tension between Hunt and new op Brandt (Jeremy Renner) relative to some standard-issue buried secrets, but for the most part it's all light-heist-movie bonhomie between those two guys and techno nerd Benji (Simon Pegg) and woman-scorned-by-opposing-side-assassin Jane (Paula Patton). It's all cute but a little boring. How about some tension? Like maybe a nice mole or something? C'mon.
Another funny thing -- as in not ha-ha, but-peculiar -- is that screenwriters Josh Applebaum and André Nemec miss the Cold War so much that they've decided to act as if it never ended. Seriously, this 2011 movie is about a madman stealing Russia's nuclear codes to launch an attack so as to fool America into starting a full-on atomic war between the two superpowers. The agents even have to -- get this -- infiltrate the Kremlin early on in the action. Really? Oh, OK.
However, in the larger scheme of things, none of this matters because director Brad Bird (making his live-action film debut after directing groundbreaking and beloved animated features "The Iron Giant" and "The Incredibles") paces the story with substantial resourcefulness and stages multiple action scenes that are not only very suspenseful and thrilling, but also kind of newfangled, if not actually innovative. Yes, we've seen Cruise and his stunt doubles climbing up the sides of very tall buildings before. He has to climb up the world's tallest building, the 160-floor Burj Khalifa, using these sci-fi sticky-hand gloves that, duh, don't always work right and he nearly falls off a bunch of times, and that's not altogether unexpected, but it works, and it works especially well in the ultra-big-screen IMAX version of the film. "The Dark Knight" set a high-water mark for incorporating real IMAX material into a fictional narrative picture; the new "M:I" surpasses it. If that's not novel enough for you, try a chase scene in the middle of a sandstorm.
And there's more, a whole lot more. True, the movie really oversells ways of putting off the zero hour (or, more aptly, zero second) that the good guys are trying to prevent, and the pretexts get a little forced after a while, but again, the action scenes these postponements are accommodating are a more than sufficient trade-off for the eye-rolling plot machinations. Cruise, while lacking edge, appears thoroughly game throughout, Renner looks well-rested, Pegg is Pegg, Patton is hot, and Léa Seydoux is slightly hotter (matter of taste, I allow) as the bad-girl assassin whom Patton's Jane is carrying a grudge against. Did someone say "I smell catfight"? Yes, actually, I did, to my seatmate, who did me the favor of not shushing me. I was right, of course, and the catfight's a good one. Like everything else in the movie, it's pretty much state-of-the-art.
Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.