Everyone is tired of the police procedural in television’s prime time lineup…while I admit the formulaic nature of the procedural gets old I’m really burnt out on saving the world. Really how many times can apocalyptic meltdown be adverted until I just wish the nasty villains of the world would smarten up and get on with it…
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011) was directed by Brad Bird, written by André Nemec and Josh Appelbaum, and produced by Cruise, J.J. Abrams and Bryan Burk. It’s the fourth installment in the Mission: Impossible franchise and became the highest-grossing of the four films. The film stars Tom Cruise reprising his role as IMF agent Ethan Hunt, Jeremy Renner as ex-agent William Brandt, Simon Pegg as agent Benji Dunn, Paula Patton as agent Jane Carter and Michael Nyqvist as Kurt Hendricks.
This is the synopsis on the official movie site: “This is not just another mission. The IMF is shut down when it’s implicated in a global terrorist bombing plot. Ghost Protocol is initiated and Ethan Hunt and his rogue new team must go undercover to clear their organization’s name. No help, no contact, off the grid. You have never seen a mission grittier and more intense than this.”
Naval Criminal Investigative Service: Los Angeles, NCIS: LA for short, is an American television series combining elements of military drama and police procedural genres. The show premiered on the CBS network on September 22, 2009 and is in it’s third season. NCIS: LA is a spin-off of NCIS which is a spin-off of the long running series JAG and has a couple cross story arcs with Hawaii Five-O. March 2012, CBS renewed the show for a fourth season.
This is what the CBS site had to say of their show: “NCIS: Los Angeles is a drama about the high-stakes world of a division of NCIS that is charged with apprehending dangerous and elusive criminals that pose a threat to the nation’s security. By assuming false identities and utilizing the most advanced technology, this team of highly-trained agents goes deep undercover, putting their lives on the line in the field to bring down their targets.
“Special Agent “G” Callen is a chameleon who transforms himself into whomever he needs to be to infiltrate the criminal underworld. His partner is Special Agent Sam Hanna, a former U.S. Navy SEAL who has seen action in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Assisting the team is the all-knowing Henrietta “Hetty” Lange, who oversees the staff and is tasked with providing everything from micro-surveillance cameras to cars for the team; Special Agent Kensi Blye, the exceptionally bright daughter of a slain Marine who lives for the adrenaline rush that comes with undercover work; Marty Deeks, a seasoned LAPD undercover detective who was recruited to the team by Hetty; Tech Operator Eric Beale, who has mastered every gadget and computer in the Ops Center; and the recent addition, Intelligence Analyst Nell Jones, who won the team’s respect with her spot-on intelligence assessments and her shrewd insights. Armed with the latest in high tech gear and sent regularly into life-threatening situations, this tight-knit unit relies on each other to do what is necessary to protect national interests.”
Yay! Kiss…Purr~ Moment
In the movie…Of course I loved the gadgets. Every one did, at least those who saw the movie. The moment that really shined for me though was when Jeremy Renner as Brandt decided to show his hand by helping Hunt in hand to hand combat with their attackers. You could actually see him thinking about trying to hide his skill and discarding the idea. I especially love this kind of acting in action movies as many actors tend to phone in these types of performances.
In the tv show…It’s all about the partnerships for me. I’m a self proclaimed lover of character, I’ll watch almost anything if the character is right and the same is true for this tv show. Callen and Hanna are the more experienced duo but Blye and Deeks are growing into their roles. Not only do the duos work separately but the relationships are well done as a foursome too. Without Hetty though the show would be unwatchable so I can’t forget to mention her.
Pro and Cons: A Review
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol was not a movie I thought I’d get to see. This is why I love cheap theaters, I just wish I could get over there more often. I really love the premise of the Mission: Impossible tv show and have wished since the first movie that they would have stuck to that format. Finally Tom Cruise has put his ego aside and gone back to the group mission. The thing is there are plenty of moments when Cruise has the screen all to himself with the audience in thrall, so it goes to show it can all balance out.
I’m not an especial fan of Tom Cruise. I think he has too much of a producer’s ego and way of mangling things that, at times, makes it’s way into his movies. Still he is a consummate professional, a rather decent actor and knows his abilities well. He plays to these as Ethan Hunt, IMF agent. I feel at times his character made subtle changes from movie to movie as his personal life changed; I suppose this is to be expected. One of the few negatives of the movie is the last chunk after the team has completed their objective. I didn’t need to hear about how Brandt was stupid to ruin his career for a woman not dead. I didn’t need to see that said woman wasn’t dead or that she’s still head over heels for her husband. I feel like this was better utilized at the beginning of another movie. It felt like a start of a thing instead of an end of a thing. I guess though that’s the point…suck you in for another movie. This is a perfect example of ego and mangling though. Sometimes you just wish actors would stick to what they do well…acting!
Jeremy Renner as ex-agent William Brandt stood out for me. I really enjoyed the subtle play of his character. He really took his role in a fluffy action movie seriously and went the distance in his performance. I did feel like his arc ended with an abrupt thump of his character hitting cement (in the end) but if you conveniently ignore that, as director/producer instigated, he’s great. In my opinion, Renner is directing his career in a Guy Pearce sort of way with a balance of high and low brow choices. This is a smart decision to me; makes me want to watch all of his works. The best thing about Renner, though, is that he has a really great presence but it’s not so aggressive that it fights with the others in the cast.
I feel like Simon Pegg as agent Benji Dunn added a nice comic relief through his role, especially with the e-screen scene where he really shined. Toward the end of the movie I think the writers phoned in his part leaving him rather limp. This isn’t his fault by any means, rather it’s laziness on the part of character development. Paula Patton as agent Jane Carter was a great feminine element. While she didn’t wow me, I didn’t hate her either. So many females in action movies are fluffy so much so I was just relieved she actually had plenty of meaty moments. I appreciated her moment to shine near the end of the movie when she needed to seduce Brij Nath.
Léa Seydoux as Sabine Moreau was a good call but rather underutilized and under wowing. Still I did enjoy the scene where they made the trade and the papers copied into the briefcase. Michael Nyqvist as Kurt Hendricks was a no go to me. His most memorable scene was the sand storm scene where he kept out thinking Hunt and in the end gets away. He wasn’t really even needed in that final scene…we could have just watched Cruise falling off cars. While the villains didn’t wow me they were at least smart (on paper) and driven. Nothing new really, but since when has any evil been branded as fresh?
I was seriously surprised how into the gadgets I got. They really made the movie. When I read that on another blog (when the movie first came out) I didn’t really get it. Gadgets? Like with 007? Yeah, but with James Bond there is almost a tongue in cheek sense about the gadgets he has to work with. You know there will be a situation where he will use said gadget and the fun is waiting for that moment to come. With Agent Hunt there was this sense of reality about the gadgets, like they might actually exist or at least almost exist.
The connection between story and use of said gadget was very fluid and in the moment. For example, the camera in the contact. You don’t question it’s use, it’s simply a tool to which the agents can exploit in a forward moving yet cool way. Adding to this sense of realism is the fact the gadgets frequently failed, only working long enough that the agents could improvise. For example, the gloves Hunt used to scale the skyscraper and the magnetic hover suit. If pressed I’d probably say my favorite gadget are those gloves as they were part of some of the best stunts in the movie. The tension from the “blue is glue, red is dead” element really kept the forward momentum up even through the muddy sand storm scene. As a distant second, I really appreciate that Cruise let Jeremy Renner and Simon Pegg have some fun with the hover suit failing. (Of course, he’d probably never let himself look that ridiculous in a hero’s role anyway.) For me the most breathtaking creation of a gadget though is the e-screen that holograms an empty hallway. So creative and yet so simple, this is gadgets done right.
There is the other side of the argument that these gadgets are ridiculous and are a long way from existing in reality. I totally disagree with the idea that a gadget should be dismissed because it stretches your suspension of disbelief. Uhh, duh, isn’t that what you want from a gadget? Or would you rather they bungee jump off the side of the tallest building in the world? What? You mean low tech gadgets weren’t what you meant…
The prison sequence was fun, funny and a great way to start the movie. I liked how the team walked into the trap at the Kremlin. It didn’t feel so obviously like a blunder but at the same time it so obviously was. I was totally stunned when (Tom Wilkinson) the IMF Secretary’s head got blown off. I felt like the detective pursuing Hunt was rather the most device like of all the characters. Sad but not unexpected. I think that’s why Jeremy Renner’s story arc worked. It was unexpected, at least when he was first introduced in the car, maybe less so after he got to tag along. To me the best scenes had multiple characters, as the best a movie can offer is seeing one character playing off another. I actually liked the sandstorm scene, it was rather unrealistic with it’s lack of sand but the idea of it, of pursuing the villain into whatever circumstance you have to in order to get the job done, was a good one. While the plot worked, it didn’t blow me away…just because something works doesn’t mean it’s beautiful. Ghost Protocol got the job done, cool and proficient.
This is because Brad Bird played to his strengths. Coming from his animation background he understands that each shot has importance, a message and must be connected to the shots on either side. He doesn’t worry about creating a huge blockbuster moment but an action sequence that works within the framework of the story. The series of scenes where Cruise is hanging from the tallest building in the world is a perfect example. These scenes are actually rather minor to the actual plot but because of how he composed the shots they became central to the entire story. I believe it’s this skill with making unimportant plot matter for both plot’s sake and character sake that saves this movie. (It mitigates the lack of motivation present in the characters, both hero and villain.) It does quite a job blowing an action junkie’s mind too.
While I admit to Cruise making leaps and bounds with his ego problem I do wish there was more of a puzzle aspect to the modern Mission: Impossible series. (This is more a writer’s purview so I can see why it’s lacking here.) There is more to life than the special effects stunt. Nowadays a professional’s expertise is played down for the ‘everything man’ in our modern heroes. On the MI tv show there was a participation from the audience to put together where the different experts fit into the larger plan. (And hence a need for a team rather than a lone agent.) There are no longer any “ahhhh, I get it” moments where you are rewarded for taking on the larger cast of characters and the lack of explanation in the setup. We want nothing so complicated as thinking involved in our action flicks and so rely heavily on looking good instead. There is nothing wrong with being hot, but do you really want to spend your life with your brain off to compensate?
There is much to admire in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and so much improvement from previous installments. While I long for an action movie with a brain I’ll settle for a well thought out brainless version. In the end it doesn’t matter, we know how an action driven story like this will play out…since when has the modern action hero not saved the world?
Naval Criminal Investigative Service: Los Angeles, hereafter referred to as NCIS: LA, had been written off by me after the pilot. I didn’t like the lead blonde woman (see I didn’t even bother to get the character or actress’ name) and none of the characters really called to me. We already watched NCIS and loved those characters so why change when nothing compelled us? Well when the real show started they’d made a major change in the starting line up: they added Linda Hunt as Henrietta ‘Hetty’ Lange. My family and I love Linda Hunt and immediately changed our minds about trying this show.
And we weren’t disappointed. In the end, Linda Hunt was worth watching. In fact, she makes the show. Without her we wouldn’t care for Callen or Hanna as it’s her feelings about them that motivate us. It’s her support of Deeks that reluctantly made us wait and see with him. It’s her knowledge of Callen and her willingness to go after his enemies that carried us through procedural plot. Anyone sent to take her place is seen as our enemy and we long to see them eliminated. We wait for the little sounds bits from this diminutive character squirreling them away like precious nuts. Actually the two information analysts add to Hetty’s character in a remarkable way. I was a little shocked when they added Nell as I thought Eric did a fine job without her but Hetty really made the addition work. (Hehe, actually it’s probably the writer but like I said they really add to her character.)
A funny thing happened along our journey with Hetty…Callen and Hanna won us over. Normally with chemistry we’re worried more between a woman and a man but it’s also important between partners, or rather actors portraying partners. Chris O’Donnell and LL Cool J have chemistry. It was a great starting point because until we got to know more about this duo it’s really all we had to go on. As we watched we found their characters balanced each other out nicely as well.
Callen is really the central character, before or after Hetty, depending how you look at it, whoever you love more. He doesn’t know much about who he or his parents are, what his first name is beyond G or why people tend to try to kill him. O’Donnell plays the chameleon well even though he never really changes. I thinks this is so because it’s about embodying the type of man you would imagine a chameleon would be rather than actively being a quick-change artist. His character arc was incorporated from the beginning, and you can tell, as it is worked very fluidly into the regular cases. I believe this is key to the popularity of the show as anything that shakes up the typical procedural format is looked upon favorably by television audiences.
Hanna is a straight shooter, a perfect foil for the silent Callen, and a strong, moral character in his own right. You can believe his background as a former U.S. Navy SEAL and yet delight in the fact his story arcs tend to be about doing the right thing. It adds a lot of depth that it’s his ability to speak an Arabic dialect and his affiliation as a Muslim that leads him to these story lines. By taking this character another direction, having him have a rather typical background, as compared to Callen, we can explore how his skills take him places you wouldn’t expect. O’Donnell and LL Cool J take turns as to whose story arc will take precedent and I really like the unexpectedness of this. You as a viewer aren’t always sure where the story will take you as far as the personal stories are concerned.
At first, Kensi Blye was just the token female for me. She was hot, badass and skillful with guns…what’s not to like? It wasn’t until one of her fellow secondary characters was killed that she really came into her own. Her development really kept you watching during the first couple years of the show as you could see her character come into her personality. I especially enjoyed her recent character arc while she dealt with her father’s past and his death, working on her trust issues. Many times it’s not until you are much older that you really see your parents for what they were/are. In my opinion it was smart to link her to the Hawaii Five-O crossover as of all the characters we knew the least about her and it immediately added depth to her character. Especially as Terry O’Quinn was the connection point, as her father being a friend of his makes total sense. Daniela Ruah does Kensi justice in all the right places.
I have to admit I hated Marty Deeks, though I wasn’t sad to see the back of Nate Getz either. Eric Christian Olsen gradually won me over as his partnership with Kensi developed in tandem to the flourishing of her character. Deeks’ personality is such that he’s a great foil for the distrustful Kensi, he can wear her down and teach her intimacy. Do I want Deeks and Kensi to get together…no, to be honest. As soon as they do I feel like it’s the death keel of the show. They like each other, they even love each other as partners do, but as of now I like that they are motivated for each others’ well being and otherwise keeping it on a professional level. Now Deeks is simply part of ‘Kensi and Deeks the partnership’ and I no longer wish for his sudden irreversible death.
The producers and writers are making good choices for this show as far as killing off characters, eliminating dead weight and developing the areas of back story and character that we love or have come to love. The one flaw of the show rears it’s ugly head quite often when I’m watching this show…it’s a procedural with all the procedural faults. Yes, NCIS: LA has the characters to back the story up. The audience enjoys watching them no matter the current difficulties, whether it’s just a threat to national security or literally saving the world. It’s also repetitive and non-threatening…since when has Hetty, Callen, Hanna, Kensi or Deeks not come through? And that’s a problem.
After seeing Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol I noticed that the same thing irritated me about both movie and tv show. While it’s perfectly legitimate for the team of NCIS: LA to save the world at times, I find it highly aggravating and rather boring. I believe it’s because we see it so often now that it’s become a stereotype. For the most part, writers don’t even bother to supply a villain who could actually take down the world (in reality) but simply make a show of one that could, by telling us they can. It’s not to say that saving the world isn’t a worthy goal…it is. It’s just the “world” isn’t really threatened that often and when it is it should be grave and really deadly. The proper support must be put in place to save it in a legitimate way that feels more than just writers manipulating characters and events.
Ideas become stereotypical due to the fact the model works. People enjoy that type of character or that type of plot. The same is true for saving the world. If the production team (from writer to producer to director) cared about how they built their story then this would become less of a stereotype problem. (I say less as caring doesn’t always make things go right when there is little to no skill involved as well. Typically it helps a lot because then instinct is utilized more than over thinking.) This idea links directly to my philosophy. Just because something is stereotypical doesn’t mean it has to feel stereotypical to the audience. If you have proper motivations and well developed heroes and villains where action rises from character rather than writer desire then a plot has less of a chance of feeling stereotypical.
In this way I think NCIS: LA does a credible job trying to alleviate the stereotypes of the procedural. Perhaps in reality the men and women of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service do not have such close personal bonds as portrayed on television. Who cares though? You don’t because the way a plot plays out in an episode is in direct connection to the characters participating in said plot. Their personality, present and past relationships and associated hangups and strengths all play a part in their perceptions so it’s important to include these aspects of the characters.
In Ghost Protocol (even more so than other Mission: Impossible movies) there is a marked lack of personal rise to action. In other words very little passion. The actor in moments where loyalty and rise to action are supposed to happen they emote it but it’s not very evident in their character. There’s no hints at it in the other parts of their scenes and actions. Basically it’s a job…they are IMF agents and have a mission. Sure everyone goes in to work because they get a paycheck…but everyone stays in that particular job everyday because they get something out of it. (Basically a personal rise to action.) Perhaps the job is stable. Easy. Invigorating. A chance to help others. Without stress. Whatever your motivation, even with jobs you hate you are staying because it hits you emotionally.
Even secondary characters must have this personal rise to action. Typically it is a little simpler than the protagonist and antagonist but their reasoning must be there. Now Agent Carter wants revenge for her partner. Very stereotypical and because everyone should understand wanting revenge there is little to back up these feelings presented in the story. In fact, Sabine Moreau was really used as a device. Her killing the unit leader started the IMF on this whole string of missions. That’s pretty much it. The revenge thing was the stereotypical story element to add in. Carter has to want revenge for more than the fact he was her partner. The personal rise to action present in this case is so limp I’m having trouble knocking it down.
This is not to say that we only want story lines where the personal is central to the mission. This can blow up in the face as much as too little personal. There really is a balance and I find with a movie this is even more so than a television show where you expect the personal to become involved to help fill the time and add depth. This lack of credible rise to action, besides the stereotypical saving the world, is the movie’s greatest weakness. It seems the production team became aware of this as they tacked that clumsy ending onto the movie trying to personalize some of the events and characters.
Overall, this lack of personal rise to action plays little in making or breaking Ghost Protocol (even though as a writer it saddens me). Our expectations are low and we simply hoped they would get the Mission: Impossible series back on track character wise and keep the plot group-oriented. Still it keeps the movie from being the best it can be and the next story should try to fix this oversight with personal touches and reflections in the course of the action. (A gander at Burn Notice [post to come] would also supply much good examples here…rarely is it a case of saving the world so much as saving Michael’s world).
This leads nicely into the purpose of my post… dissecting ”saving the world.” Ghost Protocol was obviously written with this mandate in mind and yet the writers kept this part of the story as basic as they could. (Why I’m not sure…to concentrate on gadgets? Perhaps due to limited writing time?) The villains were barely sketches with even less dialogue. While the actors did well portraying a character with their emoting abilities…they didn’t have much by way of story to back them up. It became more about the base actions of how Hunt and his team save the world while the audience were forced to assume they were up for the challenge. And a wild ride it was, the stunts and gadgets carried the movie.
At this point, I could really give a jumping hell about whether anyone saves the world. The outcome is rather obvious and the idea can only be made interesting if carried by excellent characters (notice I said characters and not actors) on both the hero and villain side. NCIS: LA saves the world quite nicely most weeks because it’s fun to watch Hetty, Callen, Hanna, Kensi and Deeks make it despite the odds. Does it matter how they do it? Not in the least…just get the job done and don’t worry us with too much detail. Sure we never worry about LA being blown off the map or our society crumbling but at least we know by their actions than when push comes to shove the NCIS: LA team will do everything in their power for us.
Saving the world, just because it’s a stereotype, isn’t bad. Lazy writers and lazy heroes, by extension, are. Whether it’s how (like in Ghost Protocol) or by who (like in NCIS: LA) the world is saved. The secret is balancing both.
So why pay to save the world? Sure NCIS: LA has great characters and knows how to enliven boring, old stereotypes and especially an overused genre (the procedural). Plus as an added benefit it’s free or basically so (minus cost of cable if you don’t go the internet route). Well Mission: Impossible (as a franchise) has the potential to turn the old procedural on it’s ear if it would take a page from NCIS (as suggested above).
Due to the franchises’ natural “puzzle” nature and with a new team coming together under Hunt’s command a writer could piece together a more enlivened plot. In this way, help the plodding nature of the save the world format (that is inherent in spy stories). Also the gadgets add a bit of the James Bond excitement when done properly (like in Ghost Protocol) that you just can’t include on this scale in a tv show. This is a lot of ifs, ands and buts yet it’s totally possible that not only can the Mission: Impossible franchise save the world but rule it as well. In the end though we will have to be satisfied with a decently excellent television show in NCIS: LA while we wait to see if they can bank on that potential in the next Mission: Impossible movie.
I don’t have a cell phone.
Okay I’ll give you a second to take that in.
Yup. I said I don’t have a cell phone.
I know, I know. It’s like saying I only have one arm because I cut it off or that I store my brain on a server. It’s not that I’m bizarrely against communicating with the small computers (I can hold it up to my ear or better yet connect to some wireless earpiece – see I know my options). I even have an ipad in the #1 spot on my wish list…so I’m no gadget hater either.
It’s just that I work from home and can easily answer my much cheaper land line. What about friends? What about texting? How can you even bear to stand talking to someone when you can type vowel-less abbreviations? The funny thing is, ironically, I’m totally afraid of the phone. Or rather of making phone calls.
It’s an odd phobia to dislike talking to a person on a phone. And totally against personality. I mean a short post from me is 4,000 words on a good week. Surely a phone call is the best way to flood out as much information as possible without bogging a person down…
Let’s just say a phone call with me gets the job done and that’s it. Well eventually I’ll have to take the plunge and buy a cell phone. For now I’m satisfied with my old-fashioned land line. At least you can never claim I’m a stereotype.
In the end, NCIS: Los Angeles saves the world better than Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol…but this doesn’t make the movie bad, in fact the franchise has way more potential that the television show to blow us away.
NCIS: Los Angeles is a solid show because there’s characterization. There are individual roles, developed interpersonal relationships and character arcs that all make the ho hum procedural plot worth watching. Depth is added to the characters because their perceptions are dictated by their back history and personalities.
In Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol it’s a job. One that happens to include gadgets – cool, cutting edge gadgets, but gadgets none the same. We are basically watching someone balance books, make coffee or write a ticket. Sure, due to the nature of the profession, there is some drama but worth paying for (a DVD)…not until the potential of the franchise is more fully realized.
NCIS: LA is one of the most popular shows on television…are you a fan?
Who is your favorite character?
Do you enjoy watching the world be saved?
What are your desires for a 5th installment of Mission: Impossible?
Do you believe a “thinking” action movie is possible?