***½/**** Image A Sound A+ Extras B
starring Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Paula Patton
screenplay by Josh Appelbaum & André Nemec
directed by Brad Bird
by Walter Chaw Even though Brad Bird directed The Iron Giant (arguably the best film in a year, 1999, rife with great films), even though he's responsible for the best Fantastic Four flick there ever will be (The Incredibles) as well as the best overall Pixar release (Ratatouille), I still had the chutzpah to be skeptical when I heard that his live-action debut would be the fourth entry in the Mission: Impossible franchise. I am contrite. Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (hereafter Ghost Protocol) is the model of the modern action picture. It has exactly two quiet moments (I counted)--the rest is audacious, ostentatious, glorious action set against not only the expected fisticuffs but also a ferocious sandstorm in Dubai and the bombing and partial collapse of the Kremlin. It's an honorary Bond movie better than any of them (only the Casino Royale redux enters the same conversation--well, maybe On Her Majesty's Secret Service, too), filled to stuffed with clever gadgets (and their logical application), exotic locales, beautiful women, and fast cars. It's sexy, sleek, knows better than to take its foot off the pedal, flirts with relevance without ever attempting depth it's not equipped to deal with, and establishes J.J. Abrams as better than idol Spielberg in the producing-good-action-movies sweepstakes. Not content to scale just any building, it has returning hero Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) climb the Burj Khalifa; not content to stage a brawl in a parking garage, it finds one of those robotic ones to provide a third dimension to the scrambling in vintage, brilliant, 1980s Hong Kong style. In a series that boasts John Woo as director of its first sequel, Ghost Protocol has the big, giant clanking ones to outdo Woo.
Cut off from their support when the warning of disavowel embedded in all IMF ("Impossible Mission Force," duh) mission descriptions comes to explosive fruition and tasked to stop a crazy Russian intellectual (Michael Nyqvist) from "evolving" mankind through nuclear fire, Ethan's team this time around consists of hacker Benji (Simon Pegg), aggrieved agent Jane (Paula Patton), and mysterious analyst Brandt (Jeremy Renner). Actually, it doesn't matter what Ghost Protocol is about so much as how it's about it. Take the prologue set-piece, a Russian prison break that somehow references Oldboy in its controlled violence. Subsequent sequences recall Cruise's own Minority Report, while other moments place the picture into context at the end of a long line of superlative entertainments it doesn't surpass, exactly, but collects with the efficiency and passion of a fan. It's the same kind of film as producer J.J. Abrams's Star Trek reboot, in that it knows the notes and hears the music as well. I even like that Cruise's performance is almost identical to the one he gives in the unfairly maligned Knight and Day: a parody of the indestructible action hero. And why not? In a throwaway line about the American government bypassing due process when it comes to suspected terrorists, it presents its only irony, however brief, along the way to offering up the absolute superiority of American technological might. In its doomsday scenario perpetrated by a rogue instead of a government, the picture plays comfortably into a popular theme in this year's films of the world blowing up and maybe not a lot of us noticing much of a difference.
The star of Ghost Protocol is Bird. Forged in animation, Bird is notably respectful of the relationship between objects in a frame and, given the blueprint of The Incredibles, his action choreography carries real weight and bristles with invention. It all translates, who knew? Seen in IMAX, Ghost Protocol offers the best use of that technology since The Dark Knight--although when Ethan is swallowed in a wall of sand, the image that lingers is of him remembering a pair of goggles in his pocket and putting them on. It's a moment of utility, of intelligence, that reminded me a lot of a similar throwaway gesture from Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke in which the hero bends down next to a stream to collect some water and casually slings his bow across his shoulders and chest. Miyazaki is, of course, one of Bird's heroes, and what's so gratifying about Ghost Protocol is how transparent Bird is as an artist, drawing his lines true and straight from this film back to his influences. He's an auteur without any arrogance, a specifically American filmmaker. Compare it to the oddly-similar Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows for crystal-clarity of how to do something like this the right way, how easy it is to fall right on your face, and how Bird makes it look so very simple.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
by Bill Chambers Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol arrives on Blu-ray in a 3-disc set containing two BDs plus a DVD/Digital Copy. The second platter warehouses any and all supplementals, dividing them into two main categories: "Mission Accepted" and "Impossible Missions." These HiDef extras consist of about 100 minutes' worth of making-of material, a klatch of Deleted Scenes with optional commentary from director Brad Bird, and two trailers for Ghost Protocol. Encompassing three featurettes, "Mission Accepted" begins with "Suiting Up in Prague" (18 mins.), which opens with the most surprising revelation of the whole thing: that this mega-budget, international, part-IMAX production used up only 90 shooting days. We watch as the very first take of Brad Bird's live-action filmmaking career--involving Tom Cruise reversing his Russian General's uniform to transform into an American tourist--bombs like the Hindenberg, and learn that Raiders of the Lost Ark and Die Hard were Bird's models insofar as he wanted his star to take a licking. In voiceover--special features producer Anthony Giacchino eschews traditional talking-heads throughout--Cruise explains that with each Mission: Impossible he had a "motif" in mind, this entry's being "humour," making me desperately curious to know the previous motifs. Speaking of funny, a gaggle of cute female students bring Cruise to a blush by snapping photos of him while he's perched shirtless on a ledge directly across from their classroom. (The hospital escape was shot in the same neighbourhood as the Prague Film School.)
In "Heating Up in Dubai" (18 mins.), we discover that a day's worth of shooting in Dubai on Star Trek gave producer J.J. Abrams a hankering to return to the city with greater ambitions, thus...the Burj Khalfia. All the publicity lore is consolidated here: how they (miraculously) obtained permission to remove twenty-six windows from the hotel; how Cruise is essentially hanging by a thread the entire time (he's "only" about halfway up, still putting him higher than the peak of the Empire State Building); how they couldn't know if any of the footage was usable until days later, because the closest processing facility for IMAX stock was in Los Angeles. It's hard to believe this stuff without actually seeing it, however, which is the value of this piece and later glimpses of the parking-garage set. Lastly, "Vancouver Fisticuffs" (12 mins.) confirms that pre-viz animatics continue to evolve well beyond the standards of, say, Saturday-morning television. (I wonder if having a Pixar veteran in charge made the animatics team step up their game.) If I have any issue with these mini-documentaries, it comes down to their relentless stumping for Mac--though wobbly footage from Bird's iPhone handily negates much of the product placement.
|Click for hi-res BD captures|
"Impossible Missions" (51 mins. in toto) consists of ten vignettes--"The Russian Prison," "Shooting in IMAX," "A Roll of Film," "Life Masks," "Stepping into the Storm, "The Sandstorm," "Dubai Car Crash," "Lens on the Burj," "Props," and "Composer"--that seem strung together from discarded pieces of the preceding segments, with the exception of the more formal, indulgent "Composer," in which case I suspect nepotism. (The two Giacchinos, Michael and Anthony, have to be related, no?) There are passing items of interest, like Bird lamenting the cinema's loss of "showmanship" (hence, IMAX), offering that getting rid of curtains at the movies and projecting pre-show commercials in their place "is like taking a leak on the screen." Still, it all feels like pretext for the visual metaphor of Cruise taking the baton and conducting the orchestra in a performance of Lalo Schifrin's "Mission: Impossible" theme. As for the Deleted Scenes, there are eight of them in total running 15 minutes combined. Bird's explanations for cutting these are considered and detailed, transcending the usual guff about the film running long. An alternate version of the post-credits scene where Ethan's new team brings him up to speed is interesting because it served as a repository for exposition that kept getting put off until finally its context couldn't support the sheer density of information. Similarly, Bird's decision to lose an exchange between Cruise and Paula Patton provides insight into his collaborative nature and emotional intelligence, as it hinged on Patton's discomfort with her character's incongruous display of modesty.
Unlike fellow IMAX/anamorphic amalgam The Dark Knight, Ghost Protocol is presented on Blu-ray in a uniform aspect ratio of 2.40:1. This was Bird's decision, and while I realize that toggling between 1.78:1 and 2.40:1 becomes a lot more conspicuous on the small screen than it is in an IMAX theatre, take away the vertical contrast of the IMAX sequences and you're not left with much, given that such a dramatically reduced scale already robs them of a vertiginous sense of depth. Thankfully, unlike The Dark Knight again, the 35mm bulk of the feature hasn't been electronically sharpened to try to match the clarity of the IMAX footage, which blends in fairly seamlessly with the rest of it. Size is the great equalizer, of course, and the drop in grain and spikes in fine detail and dynamic range the image experiences during the big set-pieces might be even less superficial on large displays. I maintain that the use of teal-and-orange colour-grading is not oppressive in Ghost Protocol, but it's a little more obvious in a 1080p transfer that is otherwise and technically beyond reproach. As robust as you could either hope or expect, the attendant 7.1 Dolby TrueHD track boasts an unusually plump centre channel and is equally adept at subtracting sound (see: the Kremlin caper) and multiplying it (see: the prison break). Earlier instalments in the Mission: Impossible franchise were denied lossless audio on Blu-ray; this is the first time the percussive aspects of Schifrin's theme have come to the fore at home, and whether that's a coincidence or not (that is to say, this may be a radically different arrangement of said theme), it's worth noting. Meanwhile, for a lengthy demonstration of discrete and sidewall imaging, look no farther than the mid-film dust storm--and I say that as someone listening to a 5.1 downmix. Originally published: April 9, 2012.