I had thought that this franchise died a kind of death with the last film. Perhaps death is too strong a word, because the last film wasn’t necessarily a bad film, per se. As a film, it worked well on a number of levels: it ramped up the emotions for a number of the characters (not least for Ethan Hunt), and Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s Owen Davian is about as cool and calculating a baddie as they come. He’s the guy who is the most infuriating of the lot: the guy who you know is evil and wrong and yet is sneaky enough to be able to get away with it. He didn’t, of course, but Ethan did, and the film’s ending gave the impression that the happy ending is only and exactly that: the ending.
As a blockbuster summer flick…well, it didn’t really make as much money expected.
Of course, with lessons learned, now it is repackaged and released in the winter instead. That seemed to work wonders; at the time of writing, Mission Impossible 4 practically made enough to write the cheque for the next film as well.
Why is that? Well, the simple answer to that would be that it made a lot of money. Dig a little deeper, however, and like any other spy action flick you come across, you won’t find things to be quite as straightforward as well.
Certainly the beginning of the film asked a lot of questions. “That guy does not look like Ethan Hunt,” I quietly thought to myself. It isn’t; it’s Agent Hanaway (Josh Holloway) falling backwards off a rooftop. He’s another agent within the IMF setup who was escaping on a mission. Unfortunately, he would meet his demise very, very quickly, to be killed as he were by a female assassin, Sabine Moreau (Lea Seydoux). Hanaway’s girlfriend, Jane Carter (a pretty Paula Patton) decided to break Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) out of a Russian jail. What he’s doing there to begin with will be a story unveiled as the film progresses, but with the help of Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), they manage to do so.
Of course, then the Kremlin gets blown up and the Americans get the blame. IMF themselves were considered to be the rogue factions behind the bombing, so with the help of a mysterious William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), the four remaining members set out to find out what’s going on, and why. This involved the discovery of a number of baddies like Kurt Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist) who has strong intentions of nuking the world. It is up to Ethan and his team, then, to sort things out.
I have to mention the similarities that I think can be found with this film and a number of others. The ‘Transformers’ series, for example, have the same element of ‘government turning against its own when it should have known better’. While the political impact of such an element is further emphasised in ‘Ghost Protocol’ (I’m tempted to just call it ‘MI4’, but everyone else calls it ‘Ghost Protocol’), I’ll be damned if I didn’t see a similar plot in ‘GI Joe: Retaliation’. Cool trailers with (re)appropriated pre-recorded songs are not the only things they have in common, and I wonder whether Hollywood now is at the stage where the story of ‘eating one’s own’ becomes the formula. Maybe not, but it is worth a thought, I reckon.
Having said that, such a plot does help to heighten the tension for this film on a number of levels. On a more non-diegetic plane, it is a big risk for the director Brad Bird. He has been successful in making animated films, but this represents a complete break with almost everything he has done before. Though I was very excited by the idea of Brad Bird’s first live-action feature film, I was also wondering how much control he would have over such a production, when the actor himself is the main producer of this film. My minor concerns came to nought, because I detected quite a number of characteristics initially identified within his own Pixar oeuvre. I find my suspicions to be misplaced, and was delighted for that to be the case; trust me when I tell you that some of the most tense moments in the film also carried with it its biggest laughs.
The film moved forward at a breakneck speed. It managed to pack in quite a lot of action and laughs within its perimeters, and you do not feel that the film is a long one. Some films feel incredibly short (I felt slightly cheated at ‘The Three Musketeers’), and though that was the case here, I felt somewhat satisfied because there were enough characters you cared about. This is interesting, considering only one of them had any character development worth mentioning prior to this film. The elevation of three (or four) major characters here meshed in well with the action, which is a good thing given that the villains themselves were as 2D as the format the film was made in. In between the bombs blowing up, the espionage bits and the film’s star hanging outside the world’s tallest building, there was enough talking between all of them to get me interested.
For example, I feel for Jane, not just because she’s so pretty, but also because of Hanaway’s death. Being his girlfriend and team leader, that stung more than just a little, and you do see her wanting to get revenge. You want her to get that revenge. The same goes for Tom Cruise, who did not reveal as much, but the film rewards those who stuck with him through not only this film, but previous ones as well. He shared enough moments in between to make you wonder about the events that happened between this film and the last.
I also thought William Brandt (a character rumoured to be replacing Ethan Hunt as the lead of the series in the future) as an interesting guy. Once again, he obviously has a past that would unspool as the film went on. I have to admit, though, that when he and Ethan faced off in the film, and everyone wondered where he learned his obvious military skills, I had expected him to coolly disengage his weapon, flip it back into his holster, and say, “I was in ‘The Hurt Locker’, bitches.” Yay for another ‘Wing Commander’ alumni.
I saved the best for last, and that is the surprising character anchorage performed by Simon Pegg. No, I just came up with that word off the top of my head, though I’m sure a Google search will turn up a pre-existing definition somewhere. Yes, Benji was supposed to be the comic relief of the entire film. This he performed to a tee, because every other thing he does or says helps to bring a smile, a laughter or at the very least lighten the mood. Remember what I said earlier about the tense moments being the biggest release of it? More often than not, you would find Benji to be at the centre of that.The Burj Khalifa scenes would illustrate this well.
More importantly, however, is how his character becomes the guy who enhances everybody else. We see him in enough moments with the other characters, to make Jane seem more angry and hurt, to make Brandt seem more unsure and insecure with his abilities during one stunning action scene, and to make Ethan seem more serious. Serving as the foil to reflect all this helps to make the other characters seem more serious, credible, more human. I’ve often told my students of how characters should complement each other, rather than take away from one another. They should not be the same or similar, though that may bring with it its own benefits, but the differences are the sources of conflict and credibility. In this case, Benji’s difference (and sometimes, indifference) helps to make him more than just a comic relief character, but also as the one guy who served as the character center of this film: character anchorage.
Beyond all that, however, this film is a fun film to watch. There are plenty of action sequences that is simply astounding (though the Kremlin bit seems a bit fake, for some reason). Everything else is as you would expect it to be: Michael Giachinno’s score mixes the old and the new well enough to get your juices flowing, and the film itself is just…fun. At the end of that day, it doesn’t matter what kind of characters you have, so long as the movie is enjoyable enough. In this case, it was a nice and easy film to get into, and I enjoyed it very much.
And how could you not get excited by Eminem’s song in the trailer, oh…
Fikri‘s mother paid for his ticket.