Monday, March 5, 2012

Mission Impossible: 4

Mission: Impossible 4
Grade: B
Cast: Tom Cruise, Paula Patton, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner
Director: Brad Bird
Free Admission Granted

Let’s be honest – it’s been a banner year for mindless action movies.

As the ball dropped down on 2011, the prospect of new Fast and Furious and Mission:Impossible entries didn’t exactly inspire confidence. There was no reason to expect Fast Five would rise above its dubious reputation to produce a crispy-crunchy hyper-masculine fantasy. Now somehow Tom Cruise and company have shaken off the last M:I flameout and produced an entertaining romp of fistfights and explosions for the Christmas season. The old wisdom about sequels: the original is always the best. The new wisdom about sequels: it takes a few to get it right.

Mission: Impossible 4 makes three corrections to its underwhelming predecessor that makes it worth a viewing:

Abandons MI:3’s heavy video game aesthetic in favor of more traditional action escapism - In MI:3 the villains were walking faceless targets who made Star Wars’ stormtroopers look like well-developed characters and hardy battlefield strategists. At least stormtroopers know to duck behind a tree at the sound of gunfire. While no one would accuse MI:4 of realism, at least it returns the feeling of intimate scale and real danger. Cruise’s heart-pounding climb up the side of a towering Arab skyscraper is a model of tight, simple action.

Shows action rather than implies – The action centerpiece of MI:3: Tom Cruise enters a building. We wait looking at the building. He burst through a window out the other side of the building. We never actually see what happened inside the building. But man, was there some flying glass! The action centerpiece in MI:4 is a long, fantastic foot-chase/car-chase through a desert sandstorm in Dubai. It involves us. We’re along for every step and gear grind.

Doesn’t bother with story or real human relationships - True, this isn’t a direction that we generally encourage action films to take. But it beats watching Cruise mosey his trademark phony romantic stutter in Michelle Monaghan’s general direction three times.

Brad Bird, the heralded Pixar animation director, is an interesting choice. The influence appears quickly, staging a prison rhubarb in a Russian gulag to a Dean Martin recording. It has a smart-aleck feel, almost a living cartoon, but in a smart way. I admire Bird for the way he keeps his tongue in cheek without ruining the intensity.

If you’ve been waiting on the “the film isn’t perfect” moment, here it is. Detractors of chaos cinema will find plenty to complain about, probably in between telling stories about getting pregnant at Woodstock or their family eating a car door during the Depression. Too often the fight scenes are choppy, leaving you thinking star-double-star-double-star-double with each edit. And by the end your head will wobble from trying to get it all straight (For instance the plot. Have I bothered to mention the plot has Cruise and team tracking nuclear launch codes? Have I even mentioned a plot exists at all?). Still, the film meets payday after payday, and you have to respect a steady payer.

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