I got Blockbustered tonight!
It’s not as uncomfortable as it sounds, trust me. Well ok sometimes it is torturously awful, like every last gram of life force has been sucked from you molecule by molecule. You despair of ever gaining back those hours lost to entertainment so vapid, it makes some of our bimbo and himbo celebrities look like Nobel prize winners.
But occasionally, oh so occasionally a Hollywood blockbuster comes along that draws you in, suspends all your belief so comprehensively it’s like it never existed in the first place, and takes you on a ride so unthinkingly fun that you will never truly enjoy mere rollercoaster rides again.
Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol (MI4: GP) is just such a movie, and what a thoroughly engaging ride it was, even with Tom Cruise occupying far more of your retinal time than is recommended by health authorities in most Western liberal democracies.
In fact, and I daresay I could be drummed out of the Cynical Moviegoers Club for even saying this – it wouldn’t matter much since I am an occasional member at best, usually when a recurrent meme amuses me – I actually enjoyed Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt. He managed, quite against my expectations, to be vulnerable and real, in a movie which usually called for him to be brave, hung-ho, fearless, [insert stoic leading man quality here]. He was, yes, I must say it, quite good.
Now I have made that searing confession, in all seriousness, this was a brilliant action thriller. It was a consistently rewarding return to the blow-em-up, bash-em-up, chase-around-the-globe action thrillers I remember from my younger days. Movies which like Die Hard, Under Siege, and any one of the Schwarernegger movies. Movies which defied any reasonable grasp on reality, rolled like a pig in mud in a great messy pile of cliches and stereotypes, were chock full of characters with so much bravado they were just as likely to burst all over their enemies as slay them, and yet… and yet… they were absolutely brilliantly entertaining.
IM4: Ghost Protocol had all of those qualities. It was bombastic. Hyperbolic. Gloriously deliriously over the top. And it was a total delight to watch with some added post-modern touches to add to the classic action movie gloss.
The bad guy for instance, Kurt Hendricks (Michael Nyquist), wasn’t some pantomime cliche, over-explaining his elaborate scheme mere moments before Ethan Hunt foiled him. I mean, he was even Swedish for goodness sake! These are the people who bring you snow bound pine forests, ABBA and IKEA (to draw on a few random cliches of my own), not potential nuclear armageddon.
There were lovely touches of humour too in a movie which its bad ass credentials in a chunky gold chain around its neck with matching knuckle busters on its bulging right hand. The source of pretty much all of it was Simon Pegg, who reprised his role from Mission Impossible 3 (2006) as Benji Dunn, but this time as a field agent, something that initially catches Ethan Hunt off guard. But he managed to be funny and restrained at the same time, and once again the producers of the movie, which included the incomparable J. J. Abrams (Alias, Lost, Star Trek reboot), don’t go overboard, and Benji is allowed as much credibility as an agent as he is the fount of comic goodness.
The rest of the team too were allowed their brief emotional moments in the sun. They were as well-rounded as you can reasonably expect of any character in any action movie, especially secondary characters. Naturally Mr. Cruise got the lion’s share of Significant Emotional Moments but the team weren’t neglected and the movie was all the stronger for it since a lot of what the team did after that made much more sense since you believed they were, you know, a team.
If all that wasn’t enough, the movie even had a reasonably believable narrative. The idea that someone could gain control, with frightening ease, of a nuclear weapon, launch codes and a satellite isn’t all that 1960s James Bond-ish fantastical anymore, and while it was thwarted (like that’s a spoiler – of course Ethan wasn’t going to leave the world a smouldering ruin!) with a little too much ease, you didn’t mind because everyone played it straight. Even swept up in all the nonstop full-on action, the story had some degree of authenticity and so the suspension of any disbelief didn’t spend the entire movie desperately trying to stay aloft.
Yes, this is a classically good action movie, updated with a good heaping’ helpin’ dose of post modern sensibility, emotional gravitas, reasonably well rounded characters and a plot that actually had a modicum of consistency and believability to it. That meant that you totally bought the Kremlin blowing apart, or Ethan plunging 100m down a car park in a BMW (oh yes there was product placement – a whole garage of Beemers for instance) or abseiling 113 floors above the desert floor of Dubai. Well… mostly.
Build an over the top action movie like MI4: GP with a foundation of truth, or at least truth as Hollywood perceives it, and the crowds will love it. At least the one I was in did even in occasional downpours of rain (Open Air Cinema, Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, Sydney). We didn’t mind getting Blockbustered one bit, and I suspect neither will you.