Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (Two Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo) (Three and a Half Stars)
U.S.: Brad Bird, 2011 (Paramount)
If you have even a little fear of heights — as I do myself — there’s a scene in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, that should leave you breathless. Producer-star Tom Cruise, playing the Mission Impossible series’ head impossibler, Ethan Hunt, has to sneak from one room to another in Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, a skyscraper in the United Arab Emirate. That’s the building that’s currently the world‘s tallest: 160 stories or 2,723 feet high. (Compared to Burj Khalifa, The Empire State Builiding (102 floors) and the old World Trade Center (110 floors) would be somewhere way down there.)
Deciding to do things the hard way, Ethan knocks out a window in the Mission Impossible crew‘s apartment, which is, oh, about 123 stories up. (Yikes!) A whole empty wall is now facing Cruise (we‘ll call him Cruise from now on), and he swings outside, with a climbing harness and wires, and suction gloves that stick to the buildings side. (Ai Yi Ai….) All Mission Impossibled up, he goes climbing up the side of the Burj. And, because this scene was shot in deep-deep-deep-focus IMAX, and is being shown on both regular and IMAX screens (I saw it in IMAX) and because cinematographer Robert Elswit and company are very good with cameras, we seem to be able to see all the way down to the ground, or at least to the tops of those other little smidgens of skyscrapers, way, way down there. The effect of being really up there is astonishing, terrifying. (Yow! Yow! Yow!).
Anyway Cruise keeps climbing up. He has that intense, focused Tom Cruise look on his face. But since we’re 123 stories up, it must be a little windy. And — wouldn‘t you now it? — his equipment starts to show some bugs. Specifically, one of the suction gloves starts to peel off the wall, and he has to throw it away. Cruise…has…to…take…off…the…glove…and…throw…it…away. While he’s up there, 123 floors high. And with assassins who want to kill them still in the building. (Ay-yay-yikes!)
I’m not going to tell you the rest. You’ll have to see it yourself — and when you do, see it in IMAX. There’s a big difference. I still think, even after Scorsese’s Hugo, that 3D is a gimmick I can take or leave, but I love IMAX. All I have to say more about “The Scene” — in a movie for which Cruise is reported to have insisted on doing his own stunts — is that if he really did do all of it, without CGI, and without a net, and without fakery of some kind, I think he deserves a special Oscar for the most totally crazy performance by a star movie actor in 2011 who has succeeded in scaring the living hell out of his audience. He has no competition.
That scene alone though is worth the price of the ticket, especially if you see it in IMAX. And the movie has four or five more that, if not quite as nail-biting (parts of which are obviously faked), are still pretty spectacular, and are better and scarier than what you’ll see in most any other action blockbuster around. This is the fourth of the MI movies, which started in 1995, with the original show directed by Brian De Palma (and the next two by John Woo and J.J. Abrams, who co-produced this one). In the movie, Cruise and a thrown-together supporting crew — tough gal Jane Carter (Paula Patton), wise cracking techno-whiz Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg, a holdover from MI3) and moody agent William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) — get together on a ghost mission (they have no support, no visibility, no deniability and no help) to foil an insane nuclear terrorist who wants to blow up the world: Michael Nyqvist as Hendricks.
This was the best big-budget action movie out last year not just because it has the best action, but because the characters are interesting too: everyone we‘ve mentioned, plus the uncredited Tom Wilkinson as a spy boss, Lea Seydoux as a cold-blooded knockout killer, and Anil Kapoor (of Slumdog Millionaire) as a fashion plate baddie. Bird, who directed those modern animated feature gems, The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and Ratatouille — has a clean, clear, expert-looking filmmaking technique full of visual gusto and visual wit. His other showpiece sequences here include a terrific prison break, a bizarre gadgety break-in capped by the explosion of the Kremlin, a terrific car-chase and, the second best scene, a fight over a briefcase with the nuclear button, in an indoor garage, with hero and villain battling on independently rising and lowering parking spots.
But that Burj Khalifa Tom Cruise climb sequence: that’s pretty amazing. Not as funny as Harold Lloyd’s human fly routine in Safety Last, but definitely the scariest thing I’ve seem or hope to see in a movie, this year. Tower Heist, eat your heart out. By the way, the Burj Khalifa has a low occupancy rate, due to the world’s economic woes, but they do have somebody up on the 16oth floor. I just hope it isn’t Philippe Petit, the daredevil acrobat French guy who walked on a high wire between the Twin Towers in Man on Wire, with a guerilla filmmaking crew shooting it. And if it is Petit, I hope he didn’t sneak in a camera and a camera guy. Or Tom Cruise.