In my initial review of Mission: Impossible 4 — Ghost Protocol I should have given it points for being very well cut, engineered and choreographed. It’s a shallow and steroid, but nicely mechanized. It’s shrewd, tight and hard. But another thought hit me as I watched it for the second time last night at the Zeigfeld. It’s a kind of sequel to T2: Judgment Day.
The action stunts in that landmark 1991 thriller were extreme and out there, but this was logically allowed by the fact that Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s Terminator and Robert Patrick‘s T-1000 were cyborgs with super-powers and the ability to absorb all kinds of blows and body trauma.
And now, 20 years later, here we are with Tom Cruise, the star of M:I4, performing many similar stunts. He gets hit by cars, runs after moving cars, crawls up the side of a glass Dubai skyscraper with only one grip-glove, drives a car that drops 35 or 40 feet and crashes into a steel platform, etc. Okay, he limps a little bit toward the end but otherwise Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is much more cyborg than human.
The makers of M:I4 — Cruise, director Brad Bird, producer JJ Abrams — are anything but stupid. They know how dopey it is to show Cruise doing all this stuff, and they know that most audiences will roll with it. But the bottom line is that they probably felt they had no choice but to go full cyborg, and not just with Hunt’s stunts but those performed by costars Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton, Michael Nyqvist and Josh Holloway.
That’s because today’s big-scale action films are so stuck in the box, and so beholden to absurdist, gravity-defying dynamics, that super-flex action heroes are often obliged to perform stuff that only Schwarzenegger and Patrick were allowed to do in James Cameron‘s T2, but which no humans could have done because it would have been, like, ridiculous. Because Cameron is a realist. He shows us wild stuff, but he believes in logic and “rules.”
Director Andrew Jarecki, producer JJ Abrams during last night’s MOMA after-party.
But it ain’t ridiculous any more because the bar has been raised and there’s nowhere for action-movie directors, writers and producers to go except to keep upping the voltage and making action films nuttier and more cartoony.
This is why I said three days ago that there’s only one kind of thriller that can work these days — i.e., the human-scale, back-to-basics-and-believability model found in Steven Soderbergh‘s Haywire and Nicholas Winding Refn‘s Drive. I love thrills and action and dangerous situations, but it’s so much better when you can truly believe (or at least mostly believe) what you’re seeing on a screen.
That said, Mission: Impossible 4 — Ghost Protocol is going to be very popular and make loads and loads of money.
Thanks to the good friend who got me into the premiere and after-party last night. It was a nice time all around, and the food was fantastic.
Katie Holmes, Tom Cruise on Ziegfeld red-carpet.