Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol: An Analysis: Why Do We Watch Tom Cruise Movies?
Most movie stars manage to brand themselves in order to generate ticket sales. People watch movies starring Jennifer Aniston because they like Jennifer Aniston. People watch movies starring Arnold Schwarzenneger because they like Arnold Schwarzennegger (unfortunately, they voted for him for the same reason). If Will Ferrel is in a movie, he’s pretty much guaranteed a healthy turn out of Will Ferrel fans. Which makes Tom Cruise a curiousity. People don’t watch Tom Cruise movies because Tom Cruise is in it, but in spite of the fact he’s in it.
That wasn’t always the case. If ever there was a modern age box office Golden boy, a bona fide member of Hollywood royalty, it was Tom Cruise. Fans, critics, actors all admired him and wanted to be him. Then came Scientology and some bizarre television interviews, and suddenly everyone seemed to hate him. Not with the same moral outrage hammered onto Mel Gibson. But at screenings of Mission Impossible 3, Tom Cruise is punched in the face early on in the film, and audiences cheered. Which says a lot about how people generally feel about him. Yet it begs the question, if they didn’t like him, why were they in the theater in the first place?
The fact is, Tom Cruise can make a good movie. Yes, there are missteps (War of the Worlds). But he commands enough respect that he can bring in the budget and the talent that few others can. And when you get the right talent with the right vehicle, you get Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocal.
For example, if you acknowledge the fact that no one likes your lead actor, bring in an actor who is sympathy personified–Simon Pegg. Pegg has become the Dennis Eckersley of movies, brought in to provide comic relief as opposed to relief pitching. And no one plays the bumbling everyman caught in bigger than life situations better than he does. It doesn’t seem to be an accident that he’s given so much screen time in this movie.
You want a more traditional hero arc? You get Jeremy Renner, playing the agent with a mysterious past, looking for redemption. Most people know Renner as Hawkeye, but I remember him as the best, and maybe only good thing, in SWAT. He can act. He can carry a story. And a scene where he disarms Tom Cruise is one of the best action scenes in the movie.
And there is Paula Patton, playing the sexy agent bent on revenge, who has to fight, kick, and seduce her way to saving the world. The movie could’ve been about any three of the above actors, but I can’t see Simon Pegg telling a producer “I think you should shell out the cash to fly everyone to Dubai, so I can climb the world’s tallest building.”
So what does Tom Cruise do? Mostly, he runs. There is lots and lots of running in this movie. There’s more running in Ghost Protocol than Chariots of Fire. This movie is probably one of the fastest moving films I’ve seen in a long time. It harkens back to the summer action films of the eighties–all action. Even the act of catching a train is brought up a notch with various dangerous objects slamming into the protagonists.
Cruise also climbs the tallest skyscraper in the world, and yes, that scene is as good as the trailer makes it look. He’s also responsible for looking very stern as he barks out the said mission, and explains why it’s impossible. Interestingly enough, when I think back about the movie, Tom Cruise has almost no story arc. There is one, technically, but it’s told in narration.
I think the real star is director Brad Bird. He’s one of the geniuses at Pixar, having directed The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and the criminally under rated Iron Giant. Having an animation director make a live action movie might seem odd. But The Incredibles had a very palpable James Bond feel. And he sticks to the three “F’s” of a big budget action movie: Fun, Fast, and Full of shit. If you think too hard about the plot, it really doesn’t make a lot of sense. Try to figure out the last scene, when hero and villain are in an automated garage, with mechanical lifts going up and down for no reason except that it makes it harder for Tom Cruise to catch the bad guy.
The beauty of this movie is that it doesn’t need to make sense. It moves so fast that I really didn’t care. It’s fun. It’s great to look at. It’s a guilty pleasure. It’s why we watch Tom Cruise movies.