Mission:Impossible-Ghost Protocol: Should you choose to accept it.
There is a sleek abstraction to the action scenes in Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol, the latest installment in the franchise, that is no doubt the result of the animator Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille) making his first live-action film. He has combined his eye for color, line and fluid motion with green screen explosions and other bits of mechanical violence into a large canvas expression of modernist mayhem. This film is often quite beautiful to look at, but that doesn’t mean the whole enterprise isn’t a propaganda film for actor/producer Tom Cruise’s shoulder muscles. Honestly, there were many moments when my mind drifted from the movie’s plot–whatever it was–and focussed on the actor’s 26-hour-a-day workout routine. I even wondered if, in order to spend any time with his family, Cruise must resort to bench pressing Suri, with Katie Holmes gazing admiringly from her locked garret. Mission: Impossible-Ghost Protocol, ablaze with an excess matched only by Cruise’s ego, is the kind of vehicle in which being constantly distracted is a pre-requisite for sitting through the whole movie.
I now realize, with a certain amount of horror, that I’ve seen all four films in this franchise, suckered in by my affection for the old TV series and the promise of ingenious disguises, doublecrosses and baroque narratives of truly meaningless doom. Part of the fascination is also in watching Cruise work his way through hand-picked directors, from Brian de Palma to John Woo to J.J. Abrams and now Brad Bird. I don’t now if he is dissatisfied with their work or he just likes to spread the wealth. A tenant of Cruise’s Scientology states that a member of the sect must keeping going forward to the next level, attaining ever higher plateaus of clarity and awareness, a sort of neverending ascent toward the pinnacle of self-possession. Perhaps each new director, from the old school De Palma to the cartoon wunderkind Bird, is another step up that crystal staircase. Eventually, the Mission:Impossible films will be directed by a robot.
I’d love to tell you what was going on in M:I-Ghost Protocol. Something to do with everyday events, like the implosion of the Kremlin. What matters is that Cruise be required to do something awesome. In this case, he must scale the glass exterior of the world’s tallest building in Dubai, because the elevators are not secure and taking the stairs is just, you know, not heart healthy enough. Cruise and his IMF team make this decision casually, knowing failure is an impossibility, not only because he’s Cruise but also because the movie and the franchise would come to a dead stop. You don’t go to these pictures looking for realism, obviously, but just once I’d like to be condescended to with a hint of recognizable danger, a plausible sense of life-and-death stakes I could identify with. A letter laced with anthrax, an underwear bomber, a Russian gangster in need of a bath.
A quick check of the IMDB website shows an M:I-5 in the works, but you have to wonder how these movies can keep topping themselves. Ghost Protocol offers the eye candy perks of Cruise’s pecs and Paula Patton’s smoldering come-hitherness, the glossy allure of international cities, the comic relief of Simon Pegg, and the signature burning fuse credit sequence–quite well done in this case– but beyond these creature comforts producer Cruise and his robot director must continue that inexorable climb up the staircase of impossibilities. The final film, if it ever arrives, will have to center on the future of the universe and be directed not by a robot, or even by Cruise, but by God.