“I got to hand it to you Hunt when they told me you were your own worst enemy I thought it was a metaphor.” – I.M.F. Director Hunley
Tom Cruise is my favourite actor. His best roles are usually the ones which subvert his squeaky clean image. P.T. Anderson shaped Cruise’s early appeal as a lady’s man and made it a trap in Magnolia. He was Oscar-nominated for playing a reformed asshole in Jerry Maguire. Another memorable turn in Collateral channeled his focus into a refined killer. He portrayed a similar invincible pathos as a studio executive in Tropic Thunder. That pathos inverted in his two Spielberg films: Minority Report and War of the Worlds. The latter was the final film before he went into Hollywood exile, never to portray a human being again. Through it all I ask where does his most famous role as Ethan Hunt fit into this?
Cruise has portrayed Ethan Hunt for a long time and it is amusing how undefined the character is. Pointed out in an AV Club review of Ghost Protocol. IMF Agent Hunt has ping-pong’d in vulnerability with Cruise’s charisma the only constant. A rotating chair of directors have been able to keep things fresh. Brian De Palma in 1996, John Woo in 2000, J.J. Abrams in 2006, Brad Bird in 2011, and Christopher McQuarrie in 2015. Three years later and career worst films in-between Cruise bet big on this one. McQuarrie returns while the age/ price factor for stunts has gone up. His injury halted filming for eight weeks and added $10 million dollars to the record budget. All to please the audience he says. Commercial-wise it seems to have paid off.
But what does this film gain or lose in comparison to the franchise? Let’s start with the good. McQuarrie has staged more confident and elaborate set pieces this time around. An IMAX skydiving sequence leading to a nightclub and a bathroom brawl are standouts. He doesn’t offer the cartoon physics of Ghost Protocol’s Brad Bird but has a clearer visual eye than J.J. Abrams. Cinematographer Rob Hardy (Annihilation, Ex Machina) follows Oscar-winner Robert Elswitt. He offers a dark and glossy look. Pretty, but I do not care for lens flare. Composer Lorne Balfe follows Danny Elfman, Hans Zimmer (his mentor), and Michael Giacchino. His score is memorable but intrusive. The impressive stunt work underlies the few spotty special effects. So what’s the big problem?