I highly recommend, “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol,” which I believe is the best action film of the year. When I wrote about the more serious tone of post-9/11 action films in September, I discussed several movie franchises, but not the Mission Impossible series. I did so in large part because the films have not been particularly memorable. Indeed, it is safe to assume that although it is his only film franchise, none of the first three movies will be remembered as among the most important of Tom Cruise’s long film career.
Upon further review, however, Mission Impossible underwent the same transition to greater seriousness that Batman and James Bond did between the 1990s and the post-2001 era. The first two films, released in 1996 and 2000, respectively, were merely crowd pleasers, without much else involved. The third film, which was directed by J.J. Abrams (“Lost,” “Star Trek”) and released in 2006, featured a much darker story in which the villain’s scheme involves a pseudo-neoconservative plot to create a pretext for a pre-emptive strike against terrorists. At one point, it appears Ethan Hunt’s (Cruise) wife is murdered (turns out to be someone else wearing a mask). Premiering shortly after Cruise’s well-publicized engagement to Katie Holmes and his couch-jumping exploits on Oprah, the film underachieved at the box office.
“Ghost Protocol,” the fourth film in the series, may signal the emergence of a lighter touch in action films, as the memory of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon begins to fade. Like this past summer’s “X-Men First Class,” it bears a strong resemblance to a pre-Daniel Craig Bond film. (SPOILERS) Like many Bond baddies, the film’s megalomaniacal villain manipulates U.S./Russian tensions to his own nefarious ends. In this case, the antagonist steals Russian nuclear codes in the hopes of precipitating a global nuclear war. While “Ghost Protocol” features a spectacularly filmed 21st century terrorist attack on the Kremlin, the film is more reminiscent of the over-the-top, Roger Moore-era Bond movies like “The Spy Who Loved Me” (1977) and “Moonraker” (1979). As I said in the September post, it was too early to tell if the serious strain would last and by the same logic, “Ghost Protocol” is not sufficient proof that campiness is returning. Indeed, the “Dark Knight Rises” trailer appeared before the film and it looks deadly serious (more on that in the next post).
The film may also herald a comeback for Cruise, who has been the biggest movie star of his generation, but has not had a hit in some time. Hollywood star power has clearly faded in recent years as Cruise, Harrison Ford, and to a lesser extent, Tom Hanks have appeared in a number of commercial bombs. Only Will Smith can guarantee a huge gross these days, a fact that will be severely tested by the release of the highly unnecessary “Men in Black III” next year. Time will tell if Cruise can regain the star status he maintained from the mid-1980s to mid-2000s and if “Ghost Protocol” represents significant cultural change.