“MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL” (2011) Review

 

“MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL” (2011) Review

Looking back on the “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE” franchise, I noticed that a movie seemed to appear every four to six years. There are a few things unique about the latest movie, “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL”. One, Paula Wagner did not co-produce the movie with star Tom Cruise. J.J. Abrams, who directed the third film, did. And two, for once the villain’s goal turned out to be a lot different from those in the past three movies. 

Directed by Brad Bird (who was responsible for Disney animation classics, “THE INCREDIBLES” and “RATATOUILLE”),“MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL” focused on the efforts of an IMF team led by Ethan Hunt to prevent a nuclear disaster. During a mission to procure the files of a terrorist named “Cobalt”, Ethan and his fellow agents are implicated in the bombing of the Kremlin. The IMF is shut down, causing Ethan’s team and an intelligence analyst named William Brandt to go rogue and clear the organization’s name. In order to do this, they have to find “Cobalt”, a Swedish-born nuclear strategist named Kurt Hendricks, and prevent him from using both a Russian nuclear launch-control device from the Kremlin and the activation codes stolen by an assassin hired by Hendricks to send a nuclear missile to U.S. soil.

“MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL” was highly received by both critics and moviegoers after its release. And it is easy to see why. This is a well-written story filled with personal drama, intrigue and great action. In a way,“MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL” reminds me of both the 1996 movie that introduced the franchise and the last act of the third film, 2006’s “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III”. In this movie, Ethan Hunt, his immediately colleagues and the entire IMF agency has been disavowed and only Hunt and his three colleagues are in any position to reverse the situation.

Personal drama is introduced in the opening scene that featured the murder of IMF agent Trevor Hathaway, who was romancing one of Ethan’s colleagues – Jane Carter. And the fate of Julia Hunt, Ethan’s bride from the previous film, turns out to have an emotional impact on Brandt, who is revealed to be a former field agent. Intrigue is revealed in scenes that feature the IMF team’s efforts to acquire the nuclear activation codes at a Dubai hotel from the assassin who had killed Hathaway, Brandt’s revelation as a former field agent, and Carter’s efforts to acquire satellite override codes from an Indian telecommunications mogul to prevent Hendricks from launching a nuclear missile.

But if there is one thing that many fans and critics seemed bowled over in “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL” are the actions sequences shot with great style by director Brad Bird. I could write an essay on the exciting sequences that filled the movie. But only two really impressed me. One involved a prolonged fight between Hunt and Hendricks over the launch-control device at an automobile processing plant in Mumbai. But the movie’s pièce de résistance involved the team’s efforts to acquire the nuclear device’s activation codes from the assassin that killed Hathaway. Not only was it filled with intrigue, it involved Hunt scaling the exterior of another high rise, two major fight scenes involving Hunt and Brandt against Hendricks’ men; and Carter against Hathaway’s killer, the assassin Sabine inside a Dubai hotel (filmed at the city’s highest building Burj Khalifa).

Tom Cruise returned for a fourth time as IMF agent, Ethan Hunt. I realize that the actor is not popular with many moviegoers. Personally, I guess I do not care. First of all, I have always believed he was a charismatic and first-rate actor. And his talents were definitely on display in his portrayal of the IMF agent. The cockiness of Cruise’s Hunt from the 1996 film hardly exists anymore. He is now older, wiser and a lot more subtle. Cruise’s Hunt has become a fine wine that has aged with grace.

Simon Pegg returned to portray IMF programmer Benjy Dunn, who has been promoted to field agent. I might as well confess. I found his Benjy slightly annoying in the third film. Pegg’s humor remained intact, but for some reason I found him a lot more funnier and not annoying at all. Paula Patton gave an excellent and passionate performance as IMF agent Jane Carter. Not only did Patton handled the action very well, she did a great job in conveying Jane’s efforts to rein in her desire for revenge against the assassin who murdered her lover and fellow agent. Once again, Jeremy Renner proved what a great actor he is in his portrayal of former IMF agent-turned-analyst William Brandt. I enjoyed how he conveyed Brandt’s fake inexperience in the field and his recollections of the assignment that went wrong – namely the protection of Ethan’s wife, Julia.

I also have to commend Swedish actor Michael Nyqvist’s subtle portrayal of the nuclear strategist, whose extremism led him to kick start a plot to rain a nuclear disaster upon U.S. shores. Unless he was using a stunt double, Nyqvist also impressive in the fight scene between Hunt and Hendricks in Mumbai. Josh Holloway of “LOST” made a brief appearance as the doomed IMF agent, Trevor Hathaway, who was murdered at the beginning of the movie. Holloway did a good job with what little he was given to do. But I must admit that I feel he is unsuited for the silver screen. If he hopes to become a bigger star, I would suggest he stick to television. His presence is more effective in the latter.

If I have one problem with “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL”, it was the villain’s goal – namely to send a nuclear missile to the U.S. According to the script penned by André Nemec and Josh Appelbaum, Hendricks’ decision to fire a missile stemmed from a desire to start a nuclear war and initiate the next stage of human evolution. What the hell!This sounds like something from a James Bond movie. In fact, it reminds me of the 1977 movie, “THE SPY WHO LOVED ME”. What on earth made Cruise, Abrams, Bird, and the screenwriters to pursue this cartoonish plotline? I found it so illogical and unlike the goals of the previous villains, who only sought either money or political and career power. I just realized that I have another problem with the movie – namely Michael Giacchino’s handling of the franchise’s theme song, originally written by Lalo Schifrin. Quite frankly, it sucked. I found it just as unmemorable as the adaptations of Schifrin’s score in the past two movies. Only Danny Elfman’s version of the score in the first movie really impressed me.

Despite my misgivings about the villain’s goal in the story and Giacchino’s take on the famous theme song, I really enjoyed “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL”. I enjoyed it so much that it became one of my favorite films of the year. And I hope that the success of this film will lead Cruise and the others to do a fifth film.

“ABDUCTION” (2011) Review

“ABDUCTION” (2011) Review

It is very rare to find a Hollywood action film that features a leading man under the age of twenty (20). But I recently came across one, when I saw Taylor Lautner’s new film called “ABDUCTION”

Directed by John Singleton and written by Shawn Christensen, “ABDUCTION” is an action thriller about a Pennsylvania teen, who sets out to uncover the truth about his life after finding his baby photo on a missing persons website. Nathan Harper has a recurring nightmare featuring the death of an unknown woman and consults a psychiatrist named Dr. Geraldine Bennett to discover why. One day, Nathan is partnered with his neighbor and fellow classmate Karen Murphy for a school assignment about missing children. When Karen finds a website that shows how the children would look like as adults, Nathan discovers that a young boy named Steven Price would look exactly like him at an older age. Searching in his basement, he finds the same shirt that Steven is wearing in the picture and realizes that he and Steven are the same person. Nathan calls the website’s owner, unaware that he is a Russian terrorist named Viktor Kozlow.

Not long after Nathan’s call, Kozlow sends two of his agents to Nathan’s house. They attack Nathan’s parents, Kevin and Mara, who tell him to run before being murdered and the house is destroyed. Nathan and Karen escape and attempt to call the police, but the call is intercepted by CIA operative Frank Burton, who tells Nathan that he’s in danger and sends a team to pick him up. Before the CIA’s arrival, Dr. Bennett appears and tells Nathan that Burton cannot be trusted and reveals that Nathan’s adoptive parents were CIA agents assigned to look after him. She also reveals that Nathan’s biological father, Martin, is a CIA agent who stole a list from Kozlow with the names of corrupt CIA operatives. Kozlow had created the website in order to locate Nathan and use him as leverage to force Martin to return the list.

When I first saw the preview for “ABDUCTION”, I had assumed it would be another “HANNA” – namely about a genetically enhanced adolescent trained in self defense and to be an assassin. Thankfully, it did not turned out that way. I suspect that many critics would have been more satisfied if “ABDUCTION” had been another “HANNA”. Personally, I found “HANNA” to be a pretentious bore. And the last thing I wanted to see was another “profound” movie about some highly skilled teenager wanted by various governments and terrorists. “ABDUCTION” does feature a hunt by an intelligence agency and terrorist for an adolescent. But this hunt has nothing to do with him being genetically enhanced. Instead, he is wanted as a bargaining chip for a source of valuable information.

Was “ABDUCTION” any good? Most critics seemed to think otherwise. A great deal of negative reviews practically swamped this film. And if I must be frank, “ABDUCTION” is not another “DIE HARD” or “LETHAL WEAPON”. However, I do not find this surprising. No Hollywood producer would ever heavily finance an action thriller starring an 18-to-19 year-old star, who is only known for co-starring in a series of adolescent vampire flicks. But I must admit . . . “ABDUCTION” was not a disappointment. In fact, I thought it was an entertaining movie. One, the movie featured a solid story about a teenager being used by the CIA and foreign terrorists, because of his father’s profession. Two, thanks to director John Singleton’s direction, “ABDUCTION” was a well-paced film that featured exciting action sequences and solid dramatic moments. I also have to commend Peter Menzies Jr. for his beautiful photography of Pittsburgh and the area around southwestern Pennsylvania.

Singleton also worked well with a cast that featured solid performances from the likes of Maria Bello, Jason Isaacs, Sigourney Weaver, Michael Nyqvist, Dermot Mulroney and Alfred Molina. Any of these performers could have easily carried this film. But it was all up to the likes of Taylor Lautner and his co-star, Lily Collins, to achieve this task. And while many critics and moviegoers may believe that these two failed, I do not believe they did. Actually, they did a very good job – especially Lautner – in carrying the film. More importantly, both Lautner and Collins managed to create a great screen chemistry. Screenwriter Shawn Christensen could have easily ended this film on an illogical note by allowing the Nathan character to save the day and outwit the highly skilled Kozlow. Fortunately, the screenwriter used common sense and allowed Nathan to receive some much needed help in the end.

Would I view “ABDUCTION” as a potential film classic? No. I would say that it is a near-mediocre film. I say . . .near-mediocre, because I feel that it was able to raise above the line of mediocrity. I would never consider it at the same level as the likes “DIE HARD” or “LETHAL WEAPON”. But I must admit that it was a pretty solid action thriller that would be great to watch on a rainy day, thanks to director John Singleton and leading man Taylor Lautner. Speaking of Lautner, he is probably too young to be seriously considered as an action star. But he has the looks, the presence and talent to achieve this goal in less than a decade. Good luck to him.