Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol

The remarkable franchise that is Mission: Impossible is quite the long-burning fuse. Starting as a television series in 1966, it runs for 7 years, then bides it's time for another 23 until adopted by a Mr. Tom Cruise. Cruise handled with care, consistently releasing mostly solid outings (MI2 is the weak link here by far) every five or so years since 96. So it really shouldn't have been a surprise to me, or anyone else, when 5 years after the third, and best MI yet, Cruise and friends did it again. And oh boy, they have definitely done it.

This time around we find the much aged, but still on-his-game Ethan Hunt (Cruise, but you should know that) in a Russian prison, but not for very long. Agents Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) who has finally graduated to field agent, and newcomer Jane Carter (Paula Patton) break him out to help them try and patch up a failed mission. I won't go into details, but they fail in that too, and the Kremlin blows up. Now things are really bad. The Russians think Ethan's team is behind the bombing, and the entire IMF is disavowed. The Secretary gives Ethan one final mission before being promptly shot in the head by angry Russians. Ethan escapes, along with the high-strung chief analyst William Brandt, (Jeremy Renner, taking over Hollywood one franchise at a time) making a group of four that is the unknowing world's last hope. Their mission? Prevent nuclear war. But, as usual, things are easier said than done, and this Ethan's most impossible mission yet.

If this movie is lacking in anything, it would perhaps be in intensity, or emotional investment. I never felt as involved emotionally as I did in numbers one and three (I seriously did not like two at all) but, I honestly didn't mind. In fact, I've decided it's good, because bits do involve you, but never so much to make you lose the sense of fun and style you're watching. So, take from that whatever you will...
The characters feel real and rounded, with subplots slowly cluing you in on their individual baggage. Including the mysterious absence of Ethan's wife, Carter's recent tragic loss, and the past haunting the secretive Brandt. None of their problems feel terribly important though, because, comparatively, they're not. Even the characters themselves try to put aside their differences and problems until the world is saved.
My brother would probably tell you the plot and it's devices are thin, or just an excuse for a neat stunt. And I suppose it's true, but if you had a choice of watching Ethan riding the elevator, or have to climb up the outside of the tallest building in the world, (yes, that was real!) what would you choose? Even if you had to write a little excuse to make it happen? Yeah, me too, and that is what this movie is all about.
The film's bad guys felt the same way. Never truly hate-able, or complicated, and no good guys surprise you with a betraying turn to the dark side, but again, that's just not the main focus this time around. And though I do wonder if it could have been better if they had spread the focus out more, I really can't say for sure. It might have just made a mess.
As it is, this is rather reminiscent of Director Brad Bird's animated features, like The Incredibles. More mature, sure, but lighthearted, with sparkling scenes that move in a brisk, stylish pace. Bird made the jump to live action with this picture, and he gives it such a fresh feel, you forget it's also totally classic. I say job very well done to him. J.J. Abrams and Tom Cruise also deserve some of that praise, as they shared the producers chair, and obviously work very well together, as previously evidenced by MI3. If they stick together for number five, I'm sure It'll turn out too.

From the very beginning, when Ethan says "light the fuse" and the theme starts in all it's glory, I was grinning from ear to ear, and I can't be sure if I ever stopped. So, take a seat, grab some popcorn, and enjoy the ride! Mission 4 is a consistently solid, upbeat, and packed with quality action; an impossibly good time. Mission... accomplished!

4-and-a-half/5 stars

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Avengers

Marvel's The Avengers. If you haven't heard of it, you've probably been living under a rock. Ever since the first Iron Man movie in 2008, we have been teased with the promise of this movie. Now, after four years, two Iron Man movies, two Hulk movies, (each with a different actor as the title character) and a movie each for Captain America and Thor, the Avengers have assembled. And what an assembly they make.

It was either amazingly brilliant, or unbelievably lucky when Joss Whedon was hired to script and direct this film. I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt and say it was brilliance. Because it was. Whedon was creator and director of this little cult tv series called Firefly that was canceled after only 14 episodes, but was still so popular, he made a movie (Serenity) which was way more and better than just wrapping up the plot for all those loyal fans. When I heard Whedon was writing and directing the Avengers I knew it wouldn't be the mashed-up jumble full of miserably underdeveloped characters I was previously worried it might turn out to be. I saw Firefly/Serenity, so I know; Joss Whedon is king of ensemble casts. He successfully defined, developed, and meshed nine main characters in the tv show. "But," you might say, "The Avengers isn't a tv show, it's for the big screen!" Yes, a really big screen. It's gotta have lots of explosions. And fighting. And the using of amazing superpowers. And you can have all that, but it's not worth anything without a good script. A script with plot. Character development. Drama. Just cause it's a superhero movie doesn't mean it should be all pow, bang, and Hulk smash with corny lines. No worries. Whedon and co. deliver in all departments.

Some plot aspects from Captain America and Thor continues for this movie. Loki, (the ultimate of sneering baddies you'll just love to hate, played by Tom Hiddleston) Thor's brother comes to earth and steals the Tesseract (that blue cube that was on the bottom of the ocean at the end of Captain America) from the SHEILD base, giving him the power to summon an alien army to help him conquer the earth. This forces Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to restart... the Avengers initiative. And the avengers are...

Robert Downey Jr. As Tony Stark/Iron Man, Downey Jr. is as good as - or possibly better than - his solo outings. The hilarious script gives him his sarcastic, bone-dry one-liners, that he delivers with his signature style, but also remembers to give the character... well, character, even if he hides it most of the time. But Stark doesn't get all the good lines by any means...
Chris Hemsworth as Thor says the line I laughed the most at. Thor has matured since his last movie, making him a lot more likable. He feels responsible for his brother's evil deeds, and is the only one who doesn't need a kick-start from Fury to try and bring Loki to his senses, or justice.
Chris Evans is Steve Rogers/Captain America, who is still thawing and in culture shock from his 70-year slumber buried in ice. He's a natural born leader who holds on to his morals and ideals of his time. Which causes him to clash with Stark, and his loose, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants attitude. But he is not resentful, and helps Tony out when he needs to, even if he annoys him.
Mark Ruffalo as Dr. Bruce Banner/Hulk is the new guy, the third to tackle the role of the Hulk, too big (ha) for his two predecessors. Ruffalo slyly slips away with scene after scene, as the understated Dr. Banner, trying to keep his cool, and, once he loses it, gives suspense, terror, and then a bunch humor to his angry side, "the other guy."
Scarlett Johanson as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow is more fleshed out than she was in her Iron Man 2 role, here she's more than just the obligatory hot girl in a leather suit. Her mysterious background is slightly more explained, but it only makes her all the more intriguing. Even without superpowers, Natasha can hold her own with, and be just as useful as the men. I wouldn't be surprised if she gets her own movie soon. Or maybe she can costar in a film with her assassin buddy...
Jeremy Renner. Renner plays Agent Clint Barton/Hawkeye, master at archery. He had a small cameo in Thor that anyone who didn't know of the upcoming Avengers would've missed. But he's just as important as the rest of them, both in terms of adding to the plot, and adding to the group in general. Unfortunately, his adding to the plot subtracts from his screen time, but gives his character more depth later, which almost makes up for it. Renner is a great actor, who's been nominated for two Oscars, and plays Barton in a ultra cool Bourne sort of way, (he's staring in The Bourne Legacy this summer) and makes me wish he had more screen time. I guess I'll just have to wait for Avengers 2.

You've probably by now got a good sense of what I thought of the script, but let me just add that it was truly funny. I don't often laugh out loud at movies, but this had as many good laughs as almost any comedy I've seen. And the action sequences - there's a lot of them - had all the pow, bang, and yes, Hulk smashing you'd ever want, all the while staying comprehensible and involving. The plot is perhaps a tad simple, just an excuse to fight, but this is, after all, a superhero movie. Don't worry. Certain giant flying aliens crashing through skyscrapers may be slightly reminiscent of Decepticons, but Transformers this is certainly not. The Avengers is how Transformers should have been; blowing you away with dazzling action sequences, cheer-able moments, and a truly fun movie experience.

The Avengers flew away with $200M this weekend, completely shattering records, and nothing could be more deserving. This is an action-packed, visual feast of a superhero pic with heart... and a brain. A real blockbuster. And easily the best two-and-a-half hours I have ever spent in a movie theater. Avengers Assemble!
-5/5 Stars