There is a theory to be found on the internet that states that in some weird reverse-Samson effect, the length of Tom Cruise’s hair in a Mission Impossible movie is inversely proportional to how good said movie actually is. And judging by the flowing hair in the trailers for this, acclaimed animation director Brad Bird’s first live-action feature film, I expected to be a bit disappointed in this fourth installment in the series.
Well, it would seem that I should learn to stop believing everything I read on the internet.
In an inspired choice, it appears that Mr. Bird has taken some influence for the look and feel of the movie – despite the over-abundance of futuristic tech on display – from the original 1960’s and 1970’s TV show that the films were based on. The most easily recognizable of these inspirational cues is composer Michael Giacchino’s musical score, which eschews the current action blockbuster trend of just recording fog horns over what appears to be robot fart noises. Instead it has a heavy reliance on retro sounding piano riffs, flutes and jingles, instantly evoking nostalgia for the heydays of the super-spy genre.
And “super-spy” is definitely what this movie brings to the table. This is not a small-scale, gritty and grounded in reality opinion piece. This is agent Ethan Hunt and his very hi-tech team – after being framed for the bombing of the Kremlin and subsequently disavowed by their government – out to accomplish nothing less than the saving of the entire world from a certified madman with a really big bomb.
It’s a bombastic story reminiscent of old serials, the slightly over the top tone of which perfectly matches the film’s exquisitely choreographed action sequences, which are simply massive in scope, mind-bendingly clever (that rear projection screen trick is sheer genius), filled with crazy futuristic technology (Dear Santa, can I please have that BMW. I’ve been a good(ish) boy all year) and absolutely thrilling to witness. The vertigo inducing setpiece based in, around and on the outside of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa tower is easily the highlight of them all, but every globetrotting scene is pulse pounding in its own right.
Adding an extra layer of tension to these sequences, is the fact that these spies, as skilled as they are, are not perfect. Plans go awry, equipment fail in the most inopportune moments and plain simple human nature sometimes rears its head.
The latter of which is mainly as a result of the series debutantes; Jeremy Renner’s agent William Brandt, whose shady past causes trust issues in the hastily assembled team, and a personal vendetta by the team’s femme fatal Jane Carter, played by sultry Paula Patton. The team is rounded out by Simon Pegg, reprising his role from MI3 as the local tech wizard, Benji Dunn. Pegg’s natural comical abilities help him to steal a few scenes from his co-stars, as he brings just enough levity to the film without it sliding into slapstick territory.
The only casting stumble is Michael Nyquist (famously from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) as the main antagonist, Kurt Hendricks. He simply doesn’t have much to work with, as his character is relegated to the role of human Macguffin. Compared to the charismatic menace that Phillip Seymour Hoffman brought to the role of villain in MI3, this was a disappointment.
Much like the original TV series, Bird drives this film more as a team vehicle, instead of it just being the Tom Cruise Show (couches beware!) for 120 minutes. This team-centric approach means that everybody gets their time to shine, although it’s Hunt’s borderline psychopathic stunts that are the highlights. He handles these stunts cooler than an arctic Walrus and judging by the crazy level of some of them, Ethan Hunt is apparently just as well endowed.**
This is not deep, thought provoking cinema, but it sure is a hell of a lot of fun. What makes it different from other so called “popcorn flicks” *cough*Transformers*cough* is that it doesn’t just rely on flashy graphics for its thrills. The fun factor is driven by deft directing, clever and crazy action sequences and memorable character moments. In short, popcorn entertainment at it’s very best.
**Fun fact for the day: the Walrus possesses the largest baculum (penis bone) of any land dwelling mammal. Well except for Ethan Hunt, of course.
Last Updated: December 29, 2011