This year, we’ve seen superheroes, aliens and boy wizards explode onto the big screen, but where have all the real action movies been? I’m talking about the ones featuring people, not pixels. The ones where the actor dangles perilously from the world’s tallest building, and not from a wire in front the world’s widest green screen. What happened to those action movies? Don’t they get made any more?
Well, it turns out they do. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is real action movie. As real as Die Hard or True Lies, you might even say. And even if 2011 was chock-full of real action movies, this would still rank among the biggest and the best.
The irony here is that the film has been directed by Brad Bird, who up until now, has only worked on animation, the antithesis of reality. But take a closer look at his Oscar-winning CV, which includes The Incredibles and Ratatouille, and you’ll see a man with a knack for crafting terrifically cinematic and fluid action scenes. After all, animated action requires a far more disciplined and discerning eye than live action because everything within the frame is built from scratch and must be excruciatingly planned and storyboarded. You can’t just rock up on the day, film a few fisticuffs and hope to make sense of it in the edit. I mean, just imagine if all live-action directors were as meticulous about composition as animators have to be: Hollywood’s obsession with shaky camerawork and rapid editing would be a thing of the past!
It’s a shame the story wasn’t as well thought out as the action, but hey, you can’t have anything. Things kick off with super spy Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise; Knight and Day) breaking out of a Russian prison with help of his fellow IMF agents, Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg; Paul) and Jane Carter (Paula Patton; Precious). With no time to waste, they head off for their next mission at the Kremlin, where a nuclear lunch device waits anxiously to fall into the wrong hands. Sure enough, those hands belong to Kurt Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist; Abduction), a Russian nuclear stagiest who believes that the only way to achieve peace on Earth is to blow it up. Decidedly unconvinced, Ethan and his team — which now includes rookie analyst Brant (Jeremy Renner; The Town) — follow Kurt to Dubai in a bid to stop him from getting the launch codes needed to put his apocalyptic plans into practice.
Why Dubai? No real reason at all, as far as the story goes. But for the sake of the action, Dubai is home to the world’s tallest building, Burj Khalifa. And if that’s not the perfect location for a scene where Tom Cruise must scale a building with nothing but a malfunctioning pair of electromagnetic suction gloves, then you tell me where is.
That is essentially how the screenplay by Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec works: the nuclear terror plot is really only there to help the movie segue from one action spectacle to another, but it does a good job of making you think otherwise. And the chit chat about Ethan and Brant’s shadowy past is really only there to trick you into thinking these are people and not glorified stuntman, even though that’s exactly what they are.
But what stuntmen! Tom Cruise mightn’t be the world’s greatest thespian, but the guy isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. Whereas other A-listers stand aside and let their doubles do all the dicey stuff, Cruise will happily perform his own stunts, even if it means putting his life on the line. That can be the difference between a spectacular stunt and a lacklustre one, and in Ghost Protocol, they’re all spectacular. Bird knows how to film an action scene, and Cruise knows how to star in one. It’s a winning combination, one that frequently saw my heart pounding against the back of my eyeballs like they were the only things stopping it from bouncing down the aisle.
So do yourself a favour and see this movie on the biggest screen you can find. You’ll have a blast; it’s impossible not to.