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Some Ramblings - Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol
By Srinivas Kanchibhotla
mission impossible ghost protocol

Tom Cruise can run, alright. And he can rock climb, and hang off precipices, and bungee jump, and ride any motor vehicle like the wind, and do many more things that only Navy SEALS and the finest the military can accomplish. But he can also act, if the collaborations with Kubrick, Anderson and Crowe are anything to go by, which is why it comes as a surprise as to why he still insists on running as though to prove that the fast advancing age can never catch up to him, when he could otherwise expend his time and spend his money on cementing his position as a risk taker in acting pieces. Ethan Hunt, in the MI series, is a challenging role as an acting part, only because there is so less meat on the lean and mean bone to cut teeth into. It doesn't have the rough edges of a troubled hero, a la a Batman or a Bourne, nor is it steeped in idealism, a la Superman, or is just the epitome of suave, a la Bond. He is essentially a point man spearheading clandestine activities. That's it - no character, no traits, no edges, no sides, a plain vanilla action hero, who can get things done immaterial of the obstacles standing in his way. An essential 'KA-POW' guy, in comic book speak. And so the challenge lies in finding the humanity in his role, where his character exhibits a little vulnerability, even in his utter invincibility, as to appear a little more human than a mere action automaton. And in the four parts of this action franchise, the first and the third built his character up, the second went seriously astray taking the route of an afternoon soap opera with its romantic dalliances and jealous squabbles, and finally this fourth one strapped him into an action straitjacket and let him loose (pardon the irony), and that's not necessarily a good thing. The situations reminds of a scenario created by the Coen brothers in their surreal drama 'Barton Fink', where a famous Broadway playwright, Fink, known for his social themes, is brought to Hollywood and made to script a 'B-movie Wrestling picture'. While Fink tears his hair out day and night, overstaying his welcome and using up his good will and reputation, trying to find a figment of humanity, struggling to create a subtext of good vs evil, rich vs poor in an otherwise straightforward wrestler vs wrestler movie, the studio head thunders 'WRITE THE DAMN PICTURE, GOD DAMN IT! IT IS JUST A WRESTLING PICTURE!'. Guess that's the message that 'Ghost Protocol' wants to send out. It's an action picture, DAMN IT, not an acting picture.

...which is a tad unfortunate, because the movie is studded with stellar action sequences, and all it needed was a bit more character development, as against the already well worn out theme of the rogue agents on the prowl trying to clear their names. While Robert Towne, the brilliant writer of the first outing, had a seemingly easy job of merely introducing the characters for the first time, he still wove a fantastic yarn of suspense and intrigue, with the action pieces assisting in unravelling the mystery one layer at a time. And that's what makes J.J.Abrams' take on the series in the third venture even more commendable, as, by that time, Hunt was already established in his ways and means. So what else can be mined from his character that was not yet public knowledge? Well, his softer side, as a mentor, as a husband, and that automatically comes with an inbuilt vulnerability when evil hits a little closer to home and loved ones. And it certainly didn't hurt having Philip Seymour Hoffman play a menacing, no nonsense, hard hitting villain. Again, the action pieces serve well to avenge the losses and harm to his person. Unfortunately 'Ghost Protocol' has none of that, with just wall to wall action, where characters move tirelessly from action set piece to another, globetrotting and rounding off all the important prospective box office destinations, changing gears and costumes at each location, serving merely as props in the (jaw-dropping, no doubt) spectacles. Which makes one wonder, what difference would it have made, had it been Ethan Suplee instead of Ethan Hunt in those body suits. The script seems written by fan-boys, one who were enamored by the aura of the action character, and therefore promptly proceeded putting him in one action sequence after another, each with increasing flair and difficulty. It would have served well in the hands of a seasoned writer, who would have still kept all those glorious stunts, but supplied the characters little more realistic motivations and personalities. Was Brad Bird, the director, just a hired gun on this picture? This is the same guy who made the Pixar's 'The Incredibles', the first and only family friendly super hero action adventure animation, who weaved together at least half a dozen diverse genres into one heart warming strand of action and intrigue, romance and adventure, all rolled into one. Is this the same guy who has now chosen to make Hunt into a one dimensional carboard cutout figure, who merely jumps through the hoops, only because the script says so.

Next, the stunts. The guys have a gadget for everything, they can break into any network, however secure it might be, simply by finding and replacing the right CAT 5 cable, they can control gravity, alter perception and reality, hold breaths....well, defy deaths, put simply. They are all powerful men and women meant for all weathers and all seasons. Just where is the fun in that, where the gadgets do all the donkey work, while all that the guys have to do is stand up and zip up. Again the same, Suplee-Hunt argument. Physical stunts never tire out, never age and never fail to excite (remember the parkour sequence in Casino Royale, or its inspiration, the French movie, District B13, which made an art form parkour into an action form), and gadget stunts can only dream to reach the level or create the excitement of a well execute physical stunt (remember the overturning of a 16 wheeler on its length in 'The Dark Knight'?) Wish Cruise has insisted on making the stunts a little more hands-on than just making sure that the writers accommodate his unhealthy obsession for manic running. In all 'Ghost Protocol' is a vanity project of gigantic proportions showing the world that Cruise still has the glutes and the chops to compete with the twenty-somethings, even when he his pushing 50. An exercise video could have accomplished all that for a fraction of that budget.

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This article is written by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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