M:I-GP – Brad Bird Does the IMPOSSIBLE.

19 12 2011

When lil’ Steven Spielberg found himself with the keys to Hollywood in the post-JAWS late 70’s, one of the first projects he expressed interest in pursuing was a James Bond film. Having grown up on the Sean Connery films, the Bond series must have represented for Spielberg a cinematic rune – timeless, tried and true – and it was to be considered a real honor to carve your notch on it. Following a snubbing by Cubby Broccoli and a Hawaiian vacation with George Lucas, however, Spielberg’s Bond became RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, (it’s no coincidence that Connery plays Indy’s father in LAST CRUSADE.) But what would a Spielberg Bond film have looked like? If you’re anything like me, that’s a question that keeps you awake every single night. But with Brad Bird’s MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL, I think you and I may finally be able to sleep. Because this film strikes me as more or less just the sort of Bond film Spielly would have turned out. And yes, coming from the 100% Official Spielblog, that’s high praise.


Bird, an auteur with a background in animation, has chosen for his first outing in live action to carve a notch not on the Bond series, but on a series whose existence is inextricably tied to Bond (the M:I TV series came about in the spy-crazed 60’s as a direct response to Bond’s popularity.) And Bird, like Spielberg, is a terrific choice to enliven a waning spy franchise, because Bird also understands that when people say they like the gadgets of films like this, we’re not just talking laser wristwatches and underwater cars, we’re talking about the mechanisms of the films themselves: the sequences of suspense constructed around raising stakes and upending expectations – and laser wristwatches. These are the gadgets of the Bond and MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE series. Luckily, the nifty hand-held gadgets of GHOST PROTOCOL are matched by the sequences in which they’re displayed. The story hurtles precisely from setpiece to setpiece, all novel, and all, more importantly, exciting – not merely explosive. The mid-film Dubai tower heist is arguably the best stand-alone chapter in the whole series, a half hour of pretty exquisite editing and stunt work.

Tom Cruise, People Magazine's Sexiest Man Alive (1990)

As a 90’s kid, I enjoyed the first MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE. But that motherfucker was serious, sometimes to the point of dour-ness. DePalma’s trademark over-stylization fit the plot, which amounted to an elaborate ‘through the looking glass’ manipulation by corrupt members of Cruise’s own team; an interesting way to start a film franchise. The second MISSION, as well as the third, were made in an age (so very very long ago) when Tom Cruise still had commercial viability as a romantic lead – so each of them was saddled with a fast-forward-worthy romance element. In the bizarre M:I-2, duties went to Thandie Newton. In the forgettable M:I-3, to Michelle Monaghan. Since about 2005 though, Cruise’s appeal for the ladies has steadily diminished (I can’t imagine why,) and GHOST PROTOCOL wisely doesn’t fight against the tide. It reflects Cruise-as-action-star, and wastes no time on Cruise-as-romantic-lead. Certainly, Cruise himself deserves credit for this choice. As a producer of GHOST PROTOCOL, he could have shoehorned in a love story. And he wouldn’t have been the first aging movie star to insist on casting himself as Casanova past expiry. So, thanks, Tom.

The plot of GHOST PROTOCOL is not worth a sentence summary, we’ve seen it that many times before. (Quick, disable that thingy before the other thingy does its thing!) It meets franchise protocol, let’s just say that – but Bird artfully jumps the expositional chatter, and renders any complaints about the plot more or less moot. Bird’s film is an embodiment of action over words, and in that sense it’s a better MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movie than we’ve ever gotten. On its fourth go-round, here is a series that surprisingly, finally seems to have found its proper tone. Humor and tension keep it afloat, as opposed to logic-bending betrayals, excessive angst, or spies-in-love bullshit. And in the case of John Woo’s sequel, dramatic slo-mo pigeons. Not a one here.

Brad Bird cut his teeth on the best seasons of the best television show ever, THE SIMPSONS, from 1989 through 1998. From there, his resume gets only slightly less impressive. THE IRON GIANT. THE INCREDIBLES. RATATOUILLE. His live action debut is nothing more, or less, than a near-perfect James Bond flick – and the world could always use one of those. Where does Bird go from here? Don’t care. Can’t wait.


Arclight Cinerama Dome, Hollywood

Sunday December 18, 5:30pm showing




One response

19 12 2011

Your blog helps my writing.
Thank you. Miss you. Best.

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