I was not excited for this movie. The trailer left me underwhelmed, I didn’t see MI3, and like everyone else I was beyond tired of Tom Cruise (except of course when he’s playing the bad guy like he did so marvelously Collateral and Tropic of Thunder). But as an action star, I considered Cruise gone and the MI franchise dead. But in the course of critical duty, last night I paid the outrageously high ticket price for an IMAX showing. And now I’m saying mea culpa.
Yes it’s a silly plot device. Some lunatic bad guy wants to start Armageddon for no other reason than he’s a lunatic bad guy. To make matters worse, the team gets disavowed. With the sole exception of the always wonderful Jeremy Renner as Agent Brandt, all the character drama scenes, frankly, slow down the film. But at the end of the day, Director Brad Bird has quite simply redefined the MI team’s field mission ploys to create the most exciting sequences EVER in the film franchise’s history.
The film begins with a series of maneuvers that end in death, followed by an escape from a Russian prison set to Dean Martin music. Benji (Simon Pegg) masterminds the whole thing using automated doors opening and closing. While there’s violence and explosions, (this is an action movie after all), the film’s real strength lies in its use of the team circumventing impossible situations and brilliant cons. Everything from breaking into the Kremlin (where they manage to transform two guys making their way across a hallway into a masterpiece of suspense and ingenuity), from an elaborate charade in the Burj Khalifa that will terrify any audience member afraid of heights, a chase scene during a freaking sandstorm, to the movie’s climax battle in a mobile parking garage. The last one is especially good not just for its kinetic energy and originality but because you actually see Ethan Hunt get hurt. None of that usual nonsense where the hero takes a brutal beating without a mark to show for it and struts off later. Here you can almost feel every bruise as he limps through trying to complete the mission at all costs, and with both hero and villain making bold and unexpected kamikaze moves.
Perhaps even more importantly than the awesome action and gorgeous sets (we travel from Russia, Dubai, to Mumbai), is the sense of team camaraderie. There’s no question that Cruise is the team leader, but Ethan is forced to admit that even he can’t do it alone. He needs help and fortunately he’s got some of the best—Renner’s Agent Brandt, a so-called analyst with surprisingly good field skills, Paula Patton’s seductive but lethal Jane, and Simon Pegg’s Benji who is the team’s technical genius and comic relief.
One of the problems with MI2 is that it became all about Ethan the Action God and there was no team function at all. In some ways Cruise’s travails have worked in the movie’s favor. The film’s creators have produced a better movie by concentrating less on Cruise and more on the ensemble effort. MI4 is more in keeping with the spirit of the original show. It also helps that no one on Ethan’s team uses the full head masks.
In the closing scenes we have all four of the Mission members signing on to work together as a team in a style like a television pilot setting us up for the series. (TV, after all, is where Bird got his start). It’s practically an on screen promise from Bird for more adventures to follow. The movie ends with a resurrection of someone believed to be dead; perhaps deliberately echoing the fact that maybe, just maybe, neither the MI franchise nor Cruise’s career were as dead as originally supposed.