For those of you who remember Tom Cruise before "The Couch," before the strange marriage to Katie Holmes and his weird fascination with Scientology, you are lucky. From Risky Business and Top Gun, to A Few Good Men and Jerry Maguire, Cruise owned the movies. Then came that interview with Oprah, and a string of critical flops (Minority Report, Collateral) and misfires inevitably occurred. Mission Impossible III, now 6 years in the mirror, failed to draw audiences, and even Valkyrie failed to attract much attention. Any actor would love that sort of filmography attached to their name, but the mystique Cruise created for himself has understandably kept audiences away. Does this week's release of Mission Impossible IV: Ghost Protocol, return Cruise to Top Gun status, or do further damage to his once legendary reputation?
Luckily, I can make a strong case for the former. MI:IV is a terrific film, complete with amazing stunts, great character development, fresh faces, and the always necessary cameos. Cruise, who once again performed his own stunts, and he has the face to prove it; his age is starting to show, but it's given him the "I just got out of a bar fight" look, ala Daniel Craig in the Bond movies, and I'm ok with that. When Ethan Hunt is scaling the windows of the tallest building in the world, Dubai's Burj Khalifa Tower, that's really Cruise up there. Those scenes, shot by director Brad Bird (Ratatouille, The Incredibles) in IMAX, gave me and others a effective series case of the queasies. But Cruise is in his element here, acting as both general and soldier when he's on screen, but willing to step aside when it's necessary to further the story.
When Cruise (Ethan Hunt) and fellow IMF agents Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and Jane Carter (Paula Patton) are implicated in an attack on The Kremlin, the President initiates Ghost Protocol, basically disavowing the entire IMF corps. Agent Hunt and his team escape after a deadly attack and learn that the event in Moscow is a deadly prelude to a more sinister plan. Rather than learning how each piece of the puzzle works, which was the problem with MI: I and III, we are presented with goals/benchmarks that our players must complete in order to reach the next 'level.' Think part video game, part weekend garage project. This doesn't get in the way of the film's character development, nor does it interfere with the large action set pieces that are really center to this tale. There are several side stories that I won't bore you with, but it's safe to say that many of our actors come with some sort of official agent baggage when Cruise re-assembles them after hit on The Kremlin. Even Cruise's marriage from MI: III is discussed, which helps to create a sense of continuity that was lacking in the other films. Dialogue is funny without being silly, and tense moments are not overly emotional. Although such behavior is unrealistic, perhaps that's what we should expect from our heroes. You are forced to suspend belief anyways with these large action pieces, so the toughness of our heroes is to be expected.
I've gone on here without talking about Jeremy Renner; his arrival as analyst William Brandt is just what Cruise and the franchise needed. Renner (The Town, The Hurt Locker) is exciting to watch and much like Daniel Craig, Matt Damon, and Cruise himself, seems like the perfect rough-hewn protagonist. His relationship with Cruise is one part colleague, another part mysterious. Brandt's got a past that directly involves Hunt, but the movie doesn't tip that hand too early. Renner bears a lot of weight in this film, filling in nicely when Cruise isn't around. The long term plan is to make Renner the centerpiece of the MI films, and I personally don't have a problem with that. Simon Pegg (Star Trek) is good, as is Paula Patton - she's part of a good cat fight in this film that I wish had continued a while longer. There's not much to say about the bad guy here, except to say that he's, well...not around that much. But this movie doesn't rely on a baddy to say baddy things too much - he's more like a mouse to Hunt's cat. I'd like to see Hollywood in general embrace bad guys over several films, giving audiences a chance to really 'hate' one (think Darth Vader) before taking him/her down. The lack of one here doesn't reduce the effectiveness of the film.
Director Brad Bird makes a seamless and elegant transition from the animated world to that of live action. Several of his sequences are sweeping, but he doesn't get lost in them. Bird is tightly focused in action scenes and allows the film to breathe when it needs to. There are a couple of cameos in the film, and fans of the franchise will silently laugh at the way this film makes fun of itself at times; again, the comedy is welcomed because it doesn't bog down the story. I strongly recommend seeing this film in IMAX, and make sure you go to an authentic theatre, which means you need the 6-story screen. There is a tradeoff however in that you're watching projection film which, over a very short period of time, can degrade. See this film 2 weeks from now and it will look a lot different than it would on a digital screen, which is perfect every time (think a Blu-Ray player with a massive screen). Another reason to see MI:IV is the 6-minute prologue to the highly-anticipated The Dark Knight Rises. I'll be reviewing that on a separate posting, but make sure you see it.
People have slammed Tom Cruise over the years, and with good reason. It's time however to give the guy his credit and perhaps let him back into the party. Cruise delivers a solid, comeback-film performance in Mission Impossible IV: Ghost Protocol, and frankly I hope audiences look past his errors and gaffs and give the guy and this film a chance. Cruise has served his time in "I'm an idiot" prison long enough. Consider that before looking the other way on this one.