Jul 18, 2012

Cruise vs Cruise

My wife is out of town for the week. So that means that I'm bored. Instead of watching the shows stacking up on my DVR (all of which my wife wants to see), I am hitting up the Red Box and catching up on some movies that I have not been able to see yet. To make this even more fun, I will be blogging my reviews and thoughts about the films. Today's Installment: Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.

Last night I bypassed the Red Box and grabbed a BluRay that had been sitting on the shelf since I got it for my birthday - Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, aka Mission: Impossible 4.  I have, for the most part, enjoyed the Mission: Impossible series.  It is kind of a hard series to adequately assess.  When Tom Cruise decided to adapt the series, he for some reason came up with a plan to have a different director in charge of each series.  Usually in a franchise there is some kind of continuity - at least that is the goal.  You want to keep the same director, producer, screenwriter, and stars, if at all possible.  Otherwise you have a very uneven series.

I know that Batman is pretty high in the public awareness right now.  Part of the problem with the original series from the 90s was that there was so much changeover.  You had the Burton/Keaton movies, which were very good.  Then you had the Schumaker/Kilmer/Clooney films, which were disasters.  One very large reason that the current trilogy has been so good is that there has been very little change in leadership, acting, or anything.  (Well, except for switching Katie Holmes for Maggie Gyllenhaal, which really didn't matter at all.) You can also see this in the Star Trek movies.  They were extremely uneven, largely due to the fact that each movie had its own director with his own vision.  Harry Potter had several directors, but there was a common screenwriter, common producer, and the stabilizing influence of JK Rowling.  Plus they had the same director for the last four movies.

Tom Cruise actually wanted the change of vision.  The first movie, which was amazing, was directed by Brian DePalma and was more full of intrigue and mystery.  It was an older spy flick, where the main character had to unravel the story right along with the audience.  There still were some great action sequences (especially on the high speed train).  But the movie itself centered on solving the puzzle.  The second movie was helmed by John Woo.  As is his style, the movie was like a Hong Kong action movie.  There was a lot of stylized action and slow motion sequences.  It also served as a celebration of all things Tom Cruise.  The camera lovingly portrayed him as a model who could do anything.  I didn't care for the movie very much.  One of the best things about it was that it was filmed in Australia and I had just gotten back from there.  It was fun to see the various places I had been.  But I also annoyed my wife by pointing out where they had messed up the geography of the area.  [The funniest one to me was where Cruise and the bad guy battle at one place and then had a massive motorcycle race to another location for a second fight.  The two battle places were actually about a half mile away from each other and the road they raced on was what you take from Sydney to get to the beach.]  The third movie was directed by JJ Abrams.  It was typical Abrams with great action scenes, lots of character development, and brainy elements galore.  It was a bit of a mix of the first two films.

The style and pacing of each movie were completely different.  But there still were some common elements in all of the movies.  There are always surprises.  One way is in having characters pretend to be other people with hi-tech masks.  How many times in the four films has that technique been used - often to a shocking end (especially in MI3).  Another shocker is when there is a big time actor cast and then killed off early on in their appearance.  I still remember the absolute shock in the first M:I when Emilio Estevez got offed.  I don't think anyone suffered this fate in the second one.  But it happened in the third and TWICE in the fourth.  I like movies and shows that aren't afraid to kill off apparently major characters because it amplifies the stakes.  There is also always a lot of technology on display, fast cars, great action scenes.  And we almost always see Tom Cruise doing some kind of insane stunt that proves he is still a stud.  The first movie had the drop from the ceiling and the train chase.  The second movie had the free climbing scene at the outset.  The third movie had the bridge explosion.  And the fourth movie had the free climb up the tallest building in the world.

As far as Ghost Protocol itself goes, it was a very good action film.  I would say it was the second best film of the series.  Brad Bird, director of The Incredibles, took over this film - with Cruise and Abrams serving as Producers.  Simon Pegg returned from MI3, but the rest of the team was completely new.  We didn't even have Ving Rhames playing a major role as Luther for the first time in the series.  The team was completely isolated.  Somehow they still were able to get all kind of neat toys to use, anyway.  The other big change was the introduction of Jeremy Renner as another big time character.  (You can tell that his inclusion was intentional as a way to either spin-off or hand over the series at some point.)

For the most part, the movie took place overseas: Moscow, India, Dubai.  Even though it was set in exotic locales, it seemed like a tighter film.  A lot of the action took place in just a few places within those foreign cities.  They didn't roam all over Dubai - mostly they stayed in the hotel with just a few excursions elsewhere.  This actually helped the movie by allowed to build tension without being too frantic.  I thought this encouraged more character growth.  It also highlighted the isolation of the team - they had to make do with what they had and with each other.  The plot seemed far-fetched and familiar - someone wants a nuke, but for very different reasons than in many movies.  It wasn't the standard Arab terrorists either.  Personally, it was a nice touch for me to see the movie address some of the developing economies worldwide.  So many times when we see India or Arab countries portrayed, we see the dust and the poverty and the overcrowding.  This time, though, we saw that there are some very wealthy people in those countries.  The movie had elements in the slums and markets, but most of it stayed in the other areas.  That brought a unique feel to the movie.

The movie also did a great job with the character of Agent Carter, played by Paula Patton.  So many times in these movies women will only be included as victims or love interests.  Even Mission: Impossible has fallen into this trap.  The woman on the team is competent to a point.  The main character invariable falls for whatever woman lasts into the last half hour.  This time, though, she was a strong and competent agent throughout.  She had a history that motivated her and depth to her character.  She used her looks to accomplish tasks, but was not defined solely by them.  And there was no romantic connection with Tom Cruise - and not because she was a lesbian, which is one of the other cop-outs for action movies in their portrayal of women.

Tom Cruise himself is such a polarizing figure.  I am thoroughly convinced that in real life he is as wackadoo as they come.  Just by analyzing how he is marketed and portrayed, he is probably narcissistic.  His behavior dealing with Scientology and his marriages is beyond bizarre.  But, on screen he is still very popular - one of the last examples of an old-school movie star.  The Mission: Impossible movies have always been a great franchise for Cruise.  It reminds everyone of his drawing power and keeps him looking young and spry.  As long as it doesn't become a movie version of Glamour Shots, like MI2, the series is one of Cruise's strongest resources.  I have always liked Cruise on screen.  Personally, I think people are too harsh on him.  Most of the time, when he ventures outside of his typical wheelhouse of characters - the fast talking, smiling, likable, heroic characters - he gets slaughtered by fans.  I have never been bothered by those roles, though.  I thought he was pretty good in Interview with the Vampire and Valkyrie.  Actually, I was more ticked off by his going to the well too many times in movies like Knight and Day and Last Samurai.

Cruise's portrayal of Ethan Hunt has grown over the years.  In the first movie, he was the younger agent taking over the reins from the older generation.  In the second, he was the superstar.  (Unfortunately he was more like the whiny, self-obsessed Dwight Howard/LeBron James superstar.)  In the third movie he was getting older and realizing that there was more to life than just fighting and risking his life.  He wanted to settle down but was afraid of the risks involved.  In the fourth movie, he became the elder statesman.  He had a world weariness in his eyes that had come from too many losses, too many fights, too many double crosses.  He still is dedicated to his craft and understands its importance.  He has reached a place of expertise, where he knows what to do after so many years - no matter the situation.  However, you can still see that he is tiring of the battle.

I think this series still has legs.  They apparently have announced a fifth movie already, which I'm sure I will see.  If Cruise tires of the role, or if he just becomes too old to keep doing the field work, he could turn over the team to someone like Renner.  Or, if they want to continue to be daring by mixing things up, they could hand the reins to Patton and have a female lead the way. Based on precedent, there probably will be a new director for the fifth installment.  I would love to see Brad Bird get another shot since he did such a great job.  If not, I hope they find a good alternative that can add something and usher Ethan Hunt into the next stage of his career.

I hope you're enjoying these posts.  They have been fun for me and have given me something to do.  Tonight's feature will be something that I haven't looked at yet in this series - a bomb.  Not a real bomb.  Every movie I've watched had bombs in them.  But a movie bomb.  I'm going to be watching Cowboys and Aliens - something I really wanted to see, but didn't want to waste the money on.  Thank you, Red Box.

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