J.J. Abrams is a man who clearly understands the important beats and movements of a well-timed action flick, the ways to set up his audience for the big finish in order to leave them breathless, but he’s not so good with the subtleties. He’s all quick pans, dizzying camera work and 21st Century hyper-edits, all of which succeeds in inducing a head rush, so much so that its only after the movie ends and the lights come back on that you realize how inane and overstimulating the whole thing was.
With his second Star Trek installment, Abrams has more or less kept us where we left off last time. James Kirk (Chris Pine) is still irresponsibly bedding down comely alien women and making absolute hash of the Star Fleet regulations he’s supposed to commit to heart; Spock (Zachary Quinto) is still discovering the painful emotional experiences of his human half in a tumultuous relationship with this new-jack Lt. Uhura (Zoe Saldana); Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban) still gets to complain about everything; and the Enterprise and the rest of her steady crew are all finding out just how much damn fun it is following a captain who refuses to follow the rules when they don’t suit him.
Shortly after we begin, however, things take a turn for the worse. Kirk, due to an absolute whopper of a disregard for the Prime Directive (take no action that interferes with a planet’s development), loses his command of the Enterprise right around the same time Star Fleet is struck from within and a huge secret command center is reduced to rubble. No sooner does the high command convene an emergency meeting than they are all attacked by a rogue Captain (Benedict Cumberbatch), who seems to harbor a great deal of animosity towards Star Fleet for reasons yet unknown.
The Captain then flees to Cronos, the home planet of the Klingons, which, he assumes Star Fleet would never try to infiltrate for fear of starting a war. Naturally, this kind of mission is all Kirk needs in order to re-establish his command, a move blessed by Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller), an old-school warhorse commander who might be hiding a thing or two in his motivations.
Along the way, old-school “Star Trek” fans are given innumerable shout-outs, from the appearance of a tribble to famous lines — “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” (Dr. McCoy’s infamous “I’m a doctor, not a…” construction also gets trotted out) — even a throwback cameo from an old friend, all of which is throwing raw steaks to the lions, as it were.
All of which is made necessary by a plot that strains even the lowered standards of Big Action Flick fare. The film’s midpoint twist shocks you into submission at first, but an even remotely longer glance confirms that it makes almost no damn sense. It’s a re-hash of a re-hash of an episode from the TV show’s original first season, which might initially enlist gasps but quickly becomes almost comically ridiculous upon any sort of reflection.
The rabid fans of “Star Trek” are legion and legendary, back in the TV show’s initial mid-’60s run, they were the first fanbase to galvanize and successfully petition a TV network to bring back and otherwise absolutely doomed show (though, as the end result was the seriously misbegotten third and final season, “success” is somewhat qualified), and they have been supporting creator Gene Roddenberry’s vision more or less ever since, through various TV spinoffs, an animated series and innumerable feature films — most of which, pretty terrible. When TV demigod J.J. Abrams was brought in to reboot the original show, it was with the implicit idea that he would attempt to bring the original flavor of the TV show, while greatly enhancing its breadth, and re-populating the cast with hot, young actor facsimiles.
Most problematic of the first Abrams’ film was Chris Pine’s Kirk. For all his showy, pot-bellied bluster in later years (that pesky third season was when things started to go downhill for William Shatner), the first two seasons of Shatner’s captain were stalwart. Kirk was a man driven by his responsibilities, sometimes overwhelmed by them, but never less than gallant and respectful. Pine’s young Kirk was none of those things, a wise-cracking, sleazy lothario who abused authority and refused to keep anything in his pants.
In the new installment, most of the actors have benefitted from the previous experience. The whole ensemble feels more comfortable in their roles, more connected to each other, yet Pine is still playing Kirk as a particularly shameless frat boy, bedding down twin alien women and disregarding the squares in the Star Fleet hierarchy as he sees fit.
Fortunately, Abrams downplays Kirk’s involvement in the film’s thrill-rush climax, giving Spock the lion’s share of the most pivotal action scenes. By the end, it would appear as if Kirk has finally learned a thing or two about commanding a starship (his earlier boast to a higher-up that he’s “never lost” a crewmember despite his freelancing, shall we say, goes by the wayside), so we can only hope by the next inevitable sequel we get less of this preening, petulant captain and more of a true and reasoned leader of men.
At this point, Tom Cruise has appeared in so many sci-fi movies in his career, it’s starting to feel as if he really is from the future. An impending time where honorable, hard-fighting men get spunky haircuts and spend the vast majority of their time in extreme close-up, grappling with futuristic gizmos and laser blasters and driving expensive looking multiwheeled vehicles.
The initial impulse behind time travel flicks often starts with a perfectly reasonable and noble intention — let’s say like baking a simple Kaiser roll — but quickly enough the complexity and intricacy of the action become overwhelming and before the beleaguered baker knows it they’re stuck trying to make a French crescent in a battered biscuit pan. In other words, the filmmaker better have a clear idea of what they’re doing going in, else the whole enterprise will sink into its multiple and maddening layers and become utterly inedible.
Fortunately, Rian Johnson is a writer/director with a keen vision and reliable intellect, and the twisty, heady time travel genre seems tailor made to his particular aesthetic. His new film is filled with gangsters, molls, trippy drugs of the future, ancient weapons, and the kind of jubilant reverence for language that helped make his first feature, Brick, so richly satisfying.
The set up is this: In the future, there will become a pressing need for minor-league assassins and hitmen, because 30 years from their future, time travel will be possible, and the organized crime syndicates have jumped on the technology as a way of taking out their intended victims in the past, and having the body disposed of then and there, as it is apparently much more difficult to get rid of such evidence in the future. So it is that we come to meet Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a young assassin (dubbed a “looper” because, as a way of tying up all loose ends, the young hitmen are eventually asked to take out the 30-years-older version of themselves, in effect, ‘closing the loop’). Joe is young, ambitious and dangerously addicted to a powerful eye-dropper drug that fuels his long, partying nights.
He spends his time shifting from monotonous hitjob after hitjob — always the same spot in the same Kansas corn field with the same sorts of victims tied up and heads covered with a sack — to partying endlessly with his fellow looper cronies and more or less living for the moment when his loop will be closed out, storing his silver pieces in his apartment for the day he’ll shove out of the city and start traveling the world before his time is inevitably up. Thing is, when his older self does appear (Bruce Willis), there is no sack obscuring his face, and Joe can’t bring himself to do himself in. Once escaped, the older Joe raises hell in an attempt to take out the young child who will eventually grow into the arch-evil crime lord who created this whole future murder enterprise in the first place.
Johnson, whose previous con-within-a-con flick, The Brothers Bloom, was criminally neglected in the box office, is very much in his element here, with an eye for detail (the short-range, clumsy weapons the loopers are given for their jobs are called “blunderbusses”) and a love of the kind of snappy, slang-filled dialogue that calls to mind Clifford Odets by way of Dashiell Hammet (“Big heads; small potatoes” one character says of the competition).
He’s created a veritable world of the near-future, with the exact same kind of aimless hedonism and live-for-the-moment angst that affects the young and feckless in the present day.
If the film has one Achilles heel, however, it’s Johnson’s risky decision to establish character continuity between his two leads. Gordon-Levitt, whose brilliant lead turn in Brick established him as an authentic film actor at the beginning of his ascent, is all done up in prosthetic make-up to make him seem a more credible, younger version of Bruce Willis. They’ve changed his hairline and the bridge of his nose, stiffened his lip, and given him Ben Affleck’s eyebrows, all of which are a distraction. Worse yet, Gordon-Levitt has thrown in the trademark squinting smirk and smug half-smile of Willis’ action movie heroes, which seems to dampen his own performance, a bit like something he might do in an “SNL” parody of one of the Die Hard pictures.
You can certainly understand why someone as exact and logical thinking as Johnson would shudder at the potential discontinuity of two very different looking actors playing the same character, but one has to wonder if his laborious solution — which never quite allows you to buy into his main character — threw out the baby with the bathwater in the process.
Dubious prosthetics aside, Johnson has created a successful thinking-man’s action picture, in this day and age of overblown CGI ur-reality and relentless boom-boom hyperbole, as rare and difficult a delicacy as a well-made French pastry.
A lot, it would seem, has changed since Paul Verhoeven’s original campy scifi extravaganza blasted onto summer screens back in 1990. As but one example, take the film’s star, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who in the last 22 years has endured a career crash, the exposure of an affair and a love child out of wedlock, and, of course, the governorship of the most populous state in the country. So, maybe it is time for a different take on Philip K. Dick’s original story, “We Can Remember it For You Wholesale.” Hell, in this day and age, a remake that comes in more than two decades after the original feels like utterly fair game.
Verhoeven’s film, messy, idiotic and over-the-top, was nevertheless the work of a kind of visionary with a specific — if peculiar — camp sensibility (one that served him either faithfully or deserted him entirely on Showgirls). This film, directed by Len Wiseman, takes its popcorn-‘n-butter premise far more seriously. In place of the gargantuan Schwarzenegger we have the far more compact Colin Farrell — presumably what we lose in muscle mass we make up for with acting competence.
At least, that was the plan. The film is in a bit of a tricky spot, attempting to update and reinforce Dick’s story, while paying sufficient ode to Verhoeven’s film, in order to avoid alienating fans of the infamous three-breasted-babe. The result is yet another loud, screaming mish mash of a summer spectacle, wanting to be taken seriously, while at the same time applying as much boom boom and relentless stuntcasting as possible.
As far as Dick devotees go, neither film has all that much to do with the author’s original story (though with such shuddery prose as “I’m still picking up your mentational processes by way of your cephalic transmitter,” maybe that’s for the best) which works as sort of an O. Henry piece for the robot-and-laser-beam set.
In this version, we’re in the last vestiges of the 21st century, after a massive chemical war has rendered all but two places on Earth uninhabitable. The first area, the United Federation of Britain, entirely controls the second area, the Colony, formerly known as Australia, connected only by a giant, super-fast tube called the Fall, from which commuters can use to travel back and forth. Farrell plays Doug Quaid, a mild-mannered factory worker stuck in a grinding job on UFB, and married to a ravishingly beautiful woman (Kate Beckinsale). As we meet him, Doug is suffering violent nightmares where he dreams of being some kind of secret operative and running from crowds of robot security guards.
Quaid is restless enough to try Rekall, a false-memory inducing center designed to offer hopelessly dull and miserable people a chance to feel as if they’d lived fantastically exciting lives. Once there, though, things seem to go haywire right before the process is meant to begin. A slew of police suddenly show up and open fire, leaving Quaid running for his life. The running, more or less, continues throughout the rest of the film, as Quaid meets up with another beautiful operative (Jessica Biel), and the two of them race against the clock to disrupt a planned invasion of the Colony by the UFB’s evil Chancellor (Bryan Cranston, a bit out of his element here).
Along the way, there are many of the usual sorts of action spots and insane escapes amidst the techno-porn (though somehow, even by the end of the century, a giant crew of robot security guards holding massive guns with enormous firepower still can’t ever seem to hit their target), and characters getting punched in the face a dozen times without so much as a bruise to mark them.
It’s no worse than the standard-issue summer action spectacle, I guess, but for its curious insistence that it is somehow more meaningful and necessary than it is. It takes itself far too seriously, which only dooms it to fail even more blatantly than if it would have embraced the original film’s sense of humor about itself. Far be it from me to hype Verhoeven’s version, but, push to shove, I’d take Schwarenegger’s ridiculous post-killing quips (“Screw you!”) to Farrell’s pseudo-philosophy (“An illusion, no matter how convincing, is still an illusion”) any day of the week.
Despite the popular uproar about Sony’s decision to re-boot their signature franchise a mere four years after the previous installment, I think the question needs to be reframed: It’s not whether or not a studio should bring back a film series before anyone had really missed it, it’s whether or not the reboot can significantly improve on the original.
After all, it’s not exactly as if the Sam Raimi-helmed Spider men were above reproach. Many found Raimi’s campily comic sensibilities well in keeping with Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s single greatest comic creation, but I was not among them. Raimi’s films stuck to the facts for the most part (though they made allowances for Peter Parker’s love interest), hit the major plot points, but somehow the series felt devoid of the spark of originality. They weren’t unenjoyable, exactly — at least the first two; I think we can all agree the less said about Spider-Man 3, the better — but they were a bit wearying, and the series had at least one other fatal flaw: an absolute inability to conjure a villain worthy of Spider-Man’s attention. Instead of Red Skulls or Gods of Mischief, we had a series of flabby, well-meaning brilliant scientists who somehow lost their marbles along the way.
Marc Webb’s film, then, had the opportunity to give the franchise a swift kick, righting the wrongs and making us all forget Peter Parker ever had a James Brown dance number. Unfortunately, despite the film’s somewhat more serious tone, and a terrific lead performance from young Andrew Garfield, many of the same vexing issues from the first series persist.
To begin with, the positive differences: The essence of the main protagonist is a good deal closer to Stan Lee’s original character. Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker was always slightly above himself, as if constantly winking to the audience, which was far more in keeping with Raimi’s ham-fisted approach. By contrast, Garfield plays him much more straight, all shy glances and nervous tics, a massive amount of insecurity wrapped around a skinny, good-hearted kid. It’s unclear which one makes a better Spider-Man, but it’s obvious who’s the better Peter Parker.
The origin story has also been tweaked, not necessarily for the better, but one that’s slightly more in keeping with the rest of the production. Here, Parker sneaks into Oscorp, in the hopes of finding out more about his parents, who vanished shortly after depositing him with his grandparents in Queens one rainy night when he was a little boy. There, he happens to run into Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), his biggest high school crush, who is the lead intern for a brilliant, one-armed scientist named Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), Dr. Connors is continuing Peter’s father’s work in “Cross Species Genetics,” a theory that, if proven, could lead to virtually eradicating health issues across the board, even going so far as to re-growing lost limbs (see if you can tell where this is going).
On his initial visit to the laboratory — a gleaming glass-and-steel monolith with Oscorp branding everywhere you look, set in a towering Manhattan high-rise that looks like a giant, metallic claw scratching at the surface of the heavens (not ones for subtlety, those Oscorp architects) — Peter also gets bitten by the infamous radioactive spider, which ultimately gives him his various spider-powers, though the producers do take pains to make Spidey’s web production non-organic — the kid develops electronic web shooters he straps to his wrists.
In any event, Dr. Connors eventually injects himself with his own serum, which has the usual bad repercussions, and we’re on our way. Clearly, the film is still stuck on the scientist-as-sympathetic-villain bit, which is a notable disappointment. And that’s not the only place where the film drops the proverbial ball: By the end of the movie’s 136 minute running time, enough nonsensical plot holes and outright logic gaffes have permeated the proceedings to disavow some of the positive early efforts. Finally, and I admit this is obviously something of a personal preference, I’m not at all sure I want to live in a world where venerable, aged Aunt May (Sally Field) can be portrayed by Gidget.
It serves Jason Statham well, his diminutive physical stature. He’s not a giant Schwarzeneggerian action hero, he’s short and stocky; a bulldog, not a Doberman. He earns an audience’s sympathy by seeming so out-gunned, that is until he attacks — all whipping fists and thunderbolt feet — and then they cheer him for confounding their expectations in the first place.
In his action movies, he often plays the reluctant hero, the man who just wants to get on with his life and not worry about anyone else, but in Boaz Yakin’s new rough-and-ready punch-em-up, we’ve perhaps never seen him so alienated and alone.
He plays Luke Wright, a low-level MMA style fighter in Jersey partially allied with the Russian mafia, until he screws up a money fight and gets his wife killed as a result. The mob spares his life, but only to keep him on constant guard, indiscriminately killing anybody with whom he comes into any kind of social contact. A former NYC cop on an elite strike force of totally corrupt officers, he’s also run afoul of his previous partners for not taking the bribe money offered his way for his services. Bereft and (seemingly) helpless, Wright contemplates ending it all in a subway station right until he happens to spy a young Chinese girl, Mei (Catherine Chan), frantically trying to get away from a familiar band of Russian thugs.
Defending her, Wright regains his will to live, a service he turns out to be in great need of, under the circumstances. The girl, a math prodigy kidnapped from her native country and forced to work for a nefarious Chinese syndicate run by Han Jiao (James Hong), is on the run from her handlers, as well as the Russians, and Wright’s former team of corrupt cops, because she has memorized an enormously long series of numbers that promise to somehow lead to a bank vault and fabulous riches.
As an action flick, it passes the simple beat-down test, moving frenetically from scene to scene, sometimes with a discombobulating editorial whoosh. Yakin, who has previously shown a good touch with intellectually gifted youngsters in the critically acclaimed Fresh back in 1994, keeps the frantic action pace humming along, but manages to give Mei enough of her own presence to keep from merely being another prop for Statham’s brand of bloody carnage. She’s gifted intellectually, but also cursed with understanding the cruel and senseless ways in which very wealthy evil-minded men conduct their business, and has learned plenty of bitter lessons as a result (“I’m not a child!” she snaps, after Wright offers to take her hand and lead her to safety).
Statham’s character is a bit more of an enigma. Despite his pitiful stature when we first meet him, it turns out he’s a super-agent, able to wipe out dozens of men any which way, even offering standard issue violent bon mots (“I never collected garbage,” he snarls at Russian before popping him, “I disposed of it!”) along the way. A wolf in grubby, homeless clothing — the corrupt mayor at one point informs his underlings Wright is so unstoppable there is only one man in the city who could dare take him on one-on-one — it’s somewhat unclear why he’s allowed himself to be so downtrodden at the beginning. It’s no matter: By the time he stops slinking around in ragged woolen skull caps and spending his nights in homeless shelters and commences to beat the holy hell out of his various enemies, you will probably cease to ask so many questions about him.
Just for the hell of it, I’m going to attempt to write this review in under 20 minutes — approximately how much time it took screenwriters James Mather, Stephen St. Leger and Luc Besson to cook up this little futuristic action thriller, whose first jarring punch begins about six seconds in.
Our hero is a man named Snow (Guy Pearce) a rough-and-tumble former CIA agent, who as we meet him, is getting pummeled by a muscle-bound CIA operative during an interrogation. Snow is equally quick with both fist and corny joke, no matter how bad things may look for him, which serves him well here. He’s beset by CIA operatives, including a dour man named Langral (Peter Stormare), the head of the SS, who has Snow captured and interrogated for some bit of flim-flam involving a double-agent and a briefcase filled with what we can assume is something pretty substantial.
But wait, there’s more. Meanwhile, up on an orbiting max security prison, the president’s comely daughter, Emily (Maggie Grace), there to check on the living conditions for the cryogenically frozen prisoners, is taken hostage by a pair of menacing Irish brothers, one, Alex (Vincent Regan), the brains of the outfit and the other, Hydell (Joseph Gilgun), the spastic wild card. Snow, for reasons never entirely explained, is the “only one” who has a chance at infiltrating the under siege space prison and save the first daughter (“He’s the best there is,” the president is duly informed, “but he’s a loose cannon.”), so Langral has to reluctantly let him go in order to make a bunch of wrong things right.
This would have been about the best movie ever conceived of by a production staff of eight-year-olds, but as it is, the people who made it were (mostly) adults. It’s the kind of movie that demands that you completely shut off your common sense chip, while not giving you much of anything in return. The action is ongoing and formidable, but generally without weight or particular merit (a motorized unicycle chase scene early in the film is so rife with CGI and physical implausibility, it might as well have been out of “Mass Effect 3”), enhanced not in the slightest by Pearce’s slick funnyman of a hero, who belts out lines such as “Yeah, I thought I smelled you coming!” and “Yeah, I should have stayed in college!”, without ever actually appearing to be in on the joke.
John Carpenter made a few films utilizing this kind of plot trajectory and silliness, but he did so joyfully, making otherwise standard action films such as Big Trouble in Little China and Escape From New York into fun-filled bloody romps. It helps when your actors are given something — anything! — to do that doesn’t involve punching, smirking or making horrible quips at each other. As it is, about the only one who really appears to be enjoying himself is the ever-juddering Gilgun, who attacks his role with the wicked gusto of a man on the third day of a red bull and crystal meth bender. Apart from the ridiculous set-up and obvious action overlays, there isn’t anything much else going on here, other than the usual kind of sexual “tension” between the two leads, who hate each other so intensely when they first meet, their only possible outcome is true love.
And we’re done. Technically, it actually took me 22 minutes, but that’s because I had to look up “juddering” in a thesaurus. And even that showed more effort than this film does to bring on the thrills.
Steven Soderbergh, who seems to threaten retirement after every new film he makes, must be getting bored. Tired of shooting glossy, A-list capers like the Ocean’s series, and weary of making big-deal ensemble dramas like Contagion, Soderbergh gets a rush from trying odd combinations of things just to see what might happen. Like a small boy bored of his toys and mashing them all together into some other kind of contraption, Soderbergh fuses together elements of avant-garde techniques, non-professional actors, non-lineal storytelling, digital film, whatever seems to tickle his fancy at a given time. That many of these experiments might be considered failures is entirely beside the point: It’s his way of staying interested in the form.
Which brings us to his latest madcap mishmash: He takes a pretty standard-issue international double-crossed assassin storyline, adds a bunch of high-ranking Hollywood males to go along with a breathless whirlwind of international locations, and then utilizes a non-professional actress, known previously for her work in MMA cage matches as his heroine, and shoots the whole thing on lo-fi digital media so that at times it looks like a Mexican soap opera, replete with awkward hand-to-hand combat scenes that are unlike any you’ve seen before, but not in the way you might think. When we first meet the heroine in question, the esteemed agent-for-hire Mallory Kane (Gina Carano), she’s already on the lamb from her former boss and lover, Kenneth, played by Ewan McGregor (one of curious affectations of the film is all the male characters are identified solely by their first names), who has betrayed her for unknown reasons shortly after completing a successful extraction in Barcelona. As a target for Kenneth and his multitude of shady connections, Mallory has worked her way back into the U.S. after a near-miss in Dublin, by another one of Kenneth’s men, Paul (Michael Fassbender). Along the way, she has to contend with Aaron (Channing Tatum), another agent hot on her trail, and try to track down the mysterious circumstances of her double-crossing.
For all her lack of cinematic experience, Carano certainly doesn’t lack for physical ability; in fact, her purposeful physicality roots the character in a kind of verisimilitude that you won’t find from the smugly sleek Angelina Jolie-types who usually populate these kinds of affairs. Her acting, while not professional, is reasonable, though you get the sense her range would be on the limited side. Where the film truly gets weird is with the bread-and-butter scenes for a typical action fest: the fights. Beat down after beat down, Mallory puts the wood on her myriad of male attackers, crushing them between her thighs, choking them out under her bulging biceps or getting repeatedly kicked in the head, but the scenes have a curious, choppy quality to them which Soderbergh seems to relish. The choreography is herky-jerk and stagey; the movements broad and unfocussed, like watching two six-year-olds pretend to karate chop one another. The narrative, which gets lopped from one timeline to the next (Soderbergh and screenwriter Lem Dobbs have never met a jumbled structure they didn’t like), rushes us all over the country and Europe, but almost never stays in one place long enough for the scenes to separate themselves. Short of the house of Mallory’s father (Bill Paxton), whose stunning New Mexico abode is straight out of “Architectural Digest,” the film never wants us to get terribly comfortable with where we’re setting.
Marketed as a straight-up piece of boom-boom, I suspect the action/adventure crowd won’t really know what to make of this curious amalgamation, but as scores of A-list male actors go down to the furious fists and feet of this super-agent, there’s at least a decent possibility they won’t much care.
In director Brad Bird’s version of the IMF — the ultra-secret, covert division of the government that run a non-ending series of near-unimaginable capers — things go horribly wrong time and again. And it’s not just the human element: unplanned for acts of nature intervene at inopportune moments, meticulously planned operations get gummed up by unforeseen technicalities and gadgets go haywire at the worst possible times. As a near direct result of all these foibles, this blockbuster sequel to a once-proud franchise is without a doubt the best action flick of the season, if not the year.
Bird, whose biggest previous efforts were with Pixar making the redoubtable Ratatouille and The Incredibles, brings a much-needed element of inventiveness and humor to the previously ice-cold world of Ethan Hunt and co., while still commanding over a full-fledged action showcase. The sharp screenplay by Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec finds Hunt (Tom Cruise) hot on the trail of a brilliant Swedish madman (Michael Nyqvist) intent on starting a nuclear war to cleanse the earth of all the horrible people on its surface. Without the support of his organization, which is forcibly “ghosted” after a catastrophic operation in Russia, Hunt and a small team of agents, including strong arm operative Jane (Paula Patton), computer expert Benji (Simon Pegg) and former field agent Brandt (Jeremy Renner), have to go it alone.
Cruise, who produced the film along with J.J. Abrams among others, takes the film by the throat. It moves at a blistering pace, jumping from country to country and ever-more complicated operation after operation, but rather than just blending into a blurring mess of CGI-enhanced stunts and explosions (see Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows for that dubious experience), each mission gets its full due, stacking the deck so far against the small team that you can’t help but thrill to their narrow victories.
Bird understands the only way in which an action film can truly be stirring is to put its protagonists into such a deep hole the audience can’t see the way out for themselves. As such, the extravagant middle of the film, which finds the team leading an extremely difficult operation in Dubai amidst a roaring sandstorm, stands out as the tactical high point — one the ending, as rousing as it may be, can’t hope to match — with obstacle after obstacle thrown in the way of a successful completion. We are to understand that an enormous part of Hunt’s success is his formidable will, his refusal to accept the failure of a given plan, despite absolutely everything going wrong all around him. Naturally, there are some significant plot holes and gaps in logic (a fully-armed nuclear warhead is launched at the U.S. and our government does nothing in retaliation?), but, frankly, you’ll be having too much fun to care much about such trivialities. By not allowing his heroes to hide behind a trove of high-tech gadgetry to get them out of trouble, Bird has allowed the flawed surviving members of the IMF to flourish on their own guts and guile, which is exactly as it should be.