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Ghost Protocol is the rarest type of film, one where I never once notice its length. It could have gone for three hours and I wouldn’t have noticed. It combines the best of a thriller and an action movie, where it entertains between all the big set pieces, and of course really shines during those big set pieces. Going in, I was a bit worried. Not only did I believe that movies are an inefficient medium for this type of entertainment, I remembered that I hated this type of film. It shares qualities of James Bond and Jason Bourne, but it’s actually a good-time movie, one with the imagination and light-heartedness to stand apart from its overly gritty contemporaries.
A few years ago, probably 2007 or whenever Casino Royale came out, I came to terms with my thoughts on the action movie, and the thriller movie. In trying to parse out just why I didn’t like Casino Royale, or any James Bond movie not starring Pierce Brosnan (although strangely I suppose I did enjoy The Man with the Golden Gun when I saw it), I happened upon a television, which had on display Jason Statham’s face. I decided that this was The Transporter, or one of its sequels, and thought hey I like Jason Statham. Something happened to me then that had never happened before: in ten seconds, I was overwhelmingly bored by a movie. It was just him expositing, talking about drugdealers or something. I recognized this scenario as one of obligatory exposition, and couldn’t handle it.
When two characters sit down and move forward the plot, sometimes that’s fine, if the story is interesting enough. The story in an action movie is rarely exciting, even if it isn’t formulaic: guy’s daughter is kidnapped, goes after those responsible to bring her back. Is that Commando, or Taken? If it’s girlfriend it could be The Marine and a number of side-scrolling beat-em-ups on the Nintendo. The Hollywood action movie is also typically a high-budget affair, so set-pieces are those invested in. You can’t pack ninety minutes of high-budget action into a movie — those in-between moments are a necessity. Some filmmakers are able to make the in-between just as entertaining, like Robert Rodriguez or Jonnie To. Others aren’t.
Now, when you say “thriller,” my mind goes right to Jason Bourne. When I saw The Bourne Ultimatum in theatres, I must have been fourteen. I wanted an action movie. But this thriller didn’t have enough action to compete with John Woo, and not enough drama to be anything else. I simply could not wrap my mind around what made those movies so popular. Nowadays I get it, though I still have yet to revisit that particular trilogy. Maybe when Jeremy Renner stars in The Bourne Legacy, I’ll check that one out. One series that this confusion still holds for is Bond, because none of those movies — with the exception of the nineties and early 2000s era — have over-the-top action (or Colin Salmon*). And of course, none of them have compelling stories or drama.
All that leaves is the character. James Bond is similar to Indiana Jones — he’s cocky and he’s a womanizer, but James Bond to me isn’t nearly as cool. Probably because being cool is the only thing he’s there to be. He drinks his drink and has PG to PG-13 sex with women, never once drinking from the Holy Grail or, I don’t know, tossing the idol. Where’s the draw? I’ll take Mission: Impossible over James Bond any day, although ironically Ghost Protocol is the only one I’ve seen in full.
Ghost Protocol does not deal in overwrought storytelling — its exposition is light on its feet, being delivered while other things are going on, and never the exact center of attention. While story is being processed, beautiful locales are on display and characters are interacting with their often witty back-and-forths. Here characters are actually intriguing despite being flat, such that I genuinely hope to see all four back in another movie, hopefully teamed up with Ving Rhames. Maggie Q I could go either way on. Simon Pegg is Simon Pegg — put him in a good movie and he’s great (in a bad one he’s good), Paula Patton is the attractive and very badass agent, and Jeremy Renner is the data analyst — with a secret. Each character gets his or her moment in the sun, so they don’t feel like dead-end red shirts or useless expendables here to make Tom Cruise look more like an action star. He does look an action star — I think the gratuitous rock-climbing sequence in Mission: Impossible II he demanded from director John Woo is evidence enough.
Beyond that, most of the time the actual exposition is, quite simply, compelling. As an operation is being laid out it’s pretty neat, but doesn’t of course match up to the execution. The gadgets and even the ingenuity these characters utilize make for very tense, very creative near-future espionage situations. It’s like Metal Gear Solid, but just a movie, not a movie with quick-time events. In one instance, a massive image screen is used to fool a guard into believing nobody is in the hallway, when in fact Simon Pegg and Tom Cruise are there, and in another, the team fools two people into believing they are meeting in one room, while in reality, two meetings are taking place, and they’re intercepting information. In the latter example, disguises and contact lens cameras are required, and when things go wrong, fast-thinking and briefcases that print paper inside get thrown into the mix.
While the ending maybe isn’t as climactic as one would imagine it should be, and the denouement feels a pint cheesy, I enjoyed it all. In fact, the former helped me along with the whole time thing. When the climax hit, I hardly realized. Tom Cruise was fighting the villain, and I thought to myself: Oh, this movie must be over soon. That’s kind of sad.
I really don’t have much to say here: it’s a very good time at the movies, a true blockbuster that doesn’t push genre boundaries, but revels in its form. I don’t know why this movie wasn’t called Mission: Impossible IV (who am I kidding, of course I do) but hopefully it isn’t the last sequel, and there’s much more to come. And although I did mention earlier that movies are an inefficient medium for this kind of thing (something I’ll try to expand on later), TV or video-games can’t always have Tom Cruise scaling the largest skyscraper in the world.
Man, when he said “mission accomplished,” and pushed the button, I died in laughter.
*Colin Salmon is a totally cool guy. Anybody who likes Paul WS Anderson movies should recognize him, and he was going to be the next Bond on the recommendation of Pierce Brosnan. But the studios went with Craig. Nothing against Daniel Craig, of course. He was great in the Dragon Tattoo, another movie out right now worth seeing. Make it a double feature.
Man, I really missed science-fiction. The last few posts have been pretty Movie-centric in terms of the Movie/Science-fiction split on this website, so this should be a nice return to form. I guess the posts here do happen to reflect my movie-watching habits – lately I’ve been watching a lot of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World – and I’ve seen some cool non-SF movies like Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans and Mulholland Drive, it was nice to finally sit down with a movie about cops in the future.
It was also nice to see a movie I knew I was going to like – and liked! I assumed I would like End of Days, but it didn’t have the one liners or the action of other Schwarzenegger classics, but Minority Report certainly worked out. It’s a good movie.
It’s definitely a Spielberg thriller; elements of drama, elements of action, elements of genuine science fiction, but none of these are more pronounced than the others. Combined, it’s an entertaining film, but right in the center of Dick adaptations to the right of A Scanner Darkly and to the left of Paycheck. It’s a great premise, and throwing in this convulted murder mystery seemed to be the right way to go, but everything non-Philip K. Dick and not pertaining to the look and feel of the film was formulaic. The tortured backstory for Tom Cruise, the twists and turns, the one dimensional secondary cast – those didn’t add up to much in the movie’s favor.
In the original short story, “The Minority Report,” John Anderton is a middle-aged bald fat man, but in the film adaptation he’s Tom Cruise. That should begin to illustrate the level of adaptation we’re working with here: not quite as faithful as Linklater’s rather strict constructionist take, but then again not as overtly “Philip K. What?” as John Woo’s extremely embarassing outting, just another in his line of extremely embarassing American movies.
It is perhaps more Spielberg than Dick, but that is never a bad thing. Spielberg is ace at nearly everything when it comes to that little thing we call filmmaking, so Minority Report may not be one of his better science-fiction blockbusters, but this is really only due to of the weakness of the script.
A wonderful irony here is that the screenwriters didn’t take any risks. My guess is that they had only the gall for one risk, and that was adapting something by this author whose popularity was only beginning to show, and was kind of weird. The script isn’t wholly reflective of ‘weird,’ for example the PreCogs are just psychics rather than deformed and mentally challenged mutants, but this I believe actually works in the movie’s favor. In the end it’s really just bland dialogue that doesn’t allow the movie to get deep with either emotion or judicial philosophy and morals.
To go back to the PreCog thing – I remember hearing one complaint about Inception, and at first I took it as a legitimate criticism, but quickly realized why the movie was the way it was. Essentially the moviegoer was hoping to see more dream stuff, as assumedly inside someone’s dream anything is possible, so why is it that the craziest thing to happen was the buildings folded over? We could’ve had robot unicorns eating the sun but instead we had some pretty cool gun fights – what gives?
That’s an issue that comes to production and art design. Christopher Nolan was going for a specific look as he did with the very Blade Runner-inspired Batman Begins and the period piece The Prestige. Inception was meant to be something of a neo-noir, and it was science-fiction but not embarassingly so. It had to have consistent art design, and therefore couldn’t have superfluous robot unicorns.
This is analogous somewhat to the world of Minority Report, which is one originally created by Philip K. Dick. The author made a habit of writing stories where time travel and space travel often co-exist, where off-world colonies hide ESPers and where androids see the future.
Because of the limited scope of the screen, filmmakers like Spielberg and like Nolan need to streamline. Some elements that some viewers may find distracting of what’s most important in the narrative (like deformed mutants) need to be altered, or adapted, to fit with the Minority Report look and feel. It’s a movie about cops in the future, and it works pretty well, looks really cool, moves forward most of the time.
In this case and in the case of Blade Runner, we actually benefitted by less Dick. Odd, but certainly not every filmmaker is capable of such a thing.