Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol
The latest Mission: Impossible film, an enormous piece of product said to have consumed some $140-million on its way to an IMAX pleasure dome near you, has one idea, and you already know it. The idea is: Run for your life!
In Ghost Protocol, the fourth installment of this 15-year-old franchise, Tom Cruise—short of hits in the five years since the last film in the series—returns as Ethan Hunt, star agent of the Impossible Mission Force, that U.S. government espionage squad dedicated to squashing colorful malefactors in picturesque locations around the world. This time out, Hunt has a new team: brainy-hot Agent Jane Carter (Paula Patton, smart choice); displaced intel analyst William Brandt (Jeremy Renner, over-qualified for this sort of exercise); and, also back again, tech wiz and comic-relief specialist Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg). Their target: nuclear terrorist Kurt Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist, of the Swedish Dragon Tattoo movies), whose rather Bondian ambition is to destroy the world and then rebuild it into a new, improved, presumably more Hendricks-centric society.
The story begins inauspiciously. Hunt is confined in a Moscow prison, for reasons we don’t learn till much later. Carter and Dunn bust him out, and they all set off in search of the nuclear launch codes that are a key component of Hendricks’ scheme. There’s an unexpected complication, though: The Kremlin explodes (in a burst of exemplary CGI) and Ethan’s team is set up to take the blame. At this point, the government disavows all knowledge of the IMF, leaving Ethan and his little band to accomplish their mission with no further support. Since the launch codes have fallen into the hands of a pouty freelance assassin named Moreau (strikingly upholstered Léa Seydoux), and she’s on her way to Dubai to hand them over to Hendricks, Ethan and company have no time to mope over their new outcast status.
The story is inevitably generic: a frenzied international chase sprinkled with squibbets of backstory and occasional intrusions of emotion. But the script, by Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec, is cleverly structured (especially in a montage of duplicitous negotiations taking place in separate hotel suites). And director Brad Bird—the Pixar wonder kid lured away from Oscar-winning animation (The Incredibles, Ratatouille) for a first foray into live action—is resolute in keeping cliché pyrotechnics to a minimum: Most of the thrills here are provided by practical stunt work, for which Cruise must be given abundant props. Amid all the usual spy technology (an “eye cam” contact lens, a portable invisibility screen, a weapons-stocked safe house tucked away in a freight train) and a furious chick fight of which James Bond himself would surely approve, we find Cruise being banged around in a wild car chase through a blinding sandstorm and body-slammed from one to another of the moving platforms in an automated parking garage.
His most spectacular feat takes place on the upper reaches of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, whose glassy façade rises more than half a mile skyward. (The owners of this super-hotel, which has been something of a financial bust, were no doubt delighted to host a money-stuffed Hollywood production.) Here the actor is required to climb from one floor up to another on the outside of the structure, using a pair of computerized “Gecko Gloves” that prove to be not all that reliable. As he dangles and swings, cinematographer Robert Elswit frames the star’s perilous progress up the side of the building, with the city itself spread out far below, to vividly demonstrate that what we’re seeing is real, not digitized. I know I was impressed.
The story moves on to India for some sillier fun at a champagne-fueled mega-party in Mumbai, site of the movie’s preordained wind-up. Ghost Protocol is a picture calculated to extract maximum profits from a global audience, and surely it will succeed. Just as surely, another sequel will be called for. But will Cruise, now pushing 50, be up for another punishing workout? At the end of this film, one character says to him, “I’ll see you in Kandahar.” You do the math.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
In 1893, having wearied of his most famous creation, Arthur Conan Doyle sent Sherlock Holmes tumbling off a Swiss mountain ledge to his death in the foaming Reichenbach Falls, still locked in battle with his nemesis, Professor James Moriarty, “the Napoleon of crime.” Holmes stayed dead for eight years. But then…
Well, I don’t want to suggest the non-possibility that director Guy Ritchie has no sequel up his sleeve to follow A Game of Shadows, his second neo-Holmes movie. This new one retains some of the virtues of the first—mainly the irrepressible Robert Downey Jr. in the title role; amiable Jude Law as his prickly colleague, Dr. Watson; and Sarah Greenwood’s plush Victorian production design. But it also continues, and compounds, the shortcomings of that earlier film, chiefly the edited-to-death incoherence of Ritchie’s action scenes, with their tedious slo-mo trappings and kung-fu anachronisms, and his complete indifference to the elegant charm of Conan Doyle’s famous “consulting detective.” I mean, Sherlock Holmes in drag? Please.
While Conan Doyle did bring Moriarty out of the shadows in The Final Problem—the Holmes story to which this movie is largely irrelevant—Ritchie drags the evil brainiac onto center stage, which is a predictable mistake. Any character so malign must shrivel in the light; and Jared Harris (of Mad Men), who plays the nefarious professor, is too genial a presence to pass for sinister.
In Ritchie’s iteration, Moriarty is secretly a munitions magnate plotting a huge payday by fomenting a European war. Holmes will of course have none of that, and his determination to foil his arch foe’s plans takes them from London to Paris to, finally, Switzerland, with many noisy complications along the way. Rachel McAdams returns to the proceedings, very briefly, as Irene Adler, who is both Moriarty’s confederate and the object of Holmes’ affections. But she’s quickly replaced as the plot’s female focus by Noomi Rapace (from the Swedish Girl with the Dragon Tattoo movies), playing a gypsy fortuneteller and onetime anarchist bomb-plotter called Sim—unfortunately, a waste of this intriguing actress’s time. Stephen Fry does manage to make something out of Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock’s portly older brother, even when Ritchie requires him to parade around in the nude. (Mycroft also addresses his younger sibling as “Sherly,” another of the series’ clunky homophile insinuations.)
As for Downey, he seems already to have exhausted the possibilities of this jokey, wisecracking Holmes, who’s little more than an ornament on a movie of such contemporary action-flick excess. The Holmes of Conan Doyle’s stories would easily have figured that out. If only someone had thought to consult him.