Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
Starring: Tom Cruise, Paula Patton, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, Michael Nyqvist
Directed by: Brad Bird
I’m not sure why Hollywood tries so hard and fails so easily at making a big budget action film that ends up usually being a remake, sequel, or reboot. The audience won’t care about what is going on if what’s going on is so quick we can’t tell who is who and what is what, and the special effects are so overblown that we don’t believe for a second any of these actors are in actual danger. Movies this year like “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” (even though Ghost Protocol is just as bad as Dark of the Moon) look stunning but are so fast-paced, so overlong, so unnecessarily comedic with unlikable characters the movie becomes a overlong chore than a satisfying blockbuster. Enter the fourth sequel to Mission Impossible, which has been a strange franchise. Each installment has had a different director and a different style. The first was more of a 70’s Cold War spy paranoia thriller, the 2nd was a asian influenced action film, and the 3rd helmed by J.J. Abrams was a big budget version of his television series “Alias.” Each had their own strengths and weaknesses, the newest installment is most similar to the third movie and ends up being the best in the series.
IMF agent Ethan Hunt and his team are implicated in the bombing of the Kremlin in Moscow and are disavowed by the government and are forced to go rogue and clear their names while stopping a worldwide nuclear missile attack.
Much like this year’s “Fast Five” this sequel took everything people loved from earlier installments and throw the kitchen sink into the screenplay that gives the audience an adrenaline fueled sensory overload without giving you a headache. Tom Cruise, pushing 50 is one of the oddest celebrities on the planet, but for some reason is an insanely lovable presence on screen. Not many actors can be a wackjob in real life and still have an overwhelming charisma and physicality to perform his own stunts. Tom Cruise has slipped into his role of Ethan Hunt seamlessly and is an absolute joy to watch. He is also joined by probably the best team he has ever had in the series. While the presence of Ving Rhames is sorely missed, the rest of the team is filled with roles just as likable as Hunt’s character that they never become expendable. I actually cared about characters other than Cruise in this film. Paula Patton, stunningly gorgeous and equally dangerous is one of the best kick-ass females to appear in the movies of 2011. She is a welcome addition that becomes her own person with her own heartbreak that is a good mix to Ethan Hunt’s conflicted character instead of being used as a one-note potential love-interest. Simon Pegg also returns as techie now field agent, Benji. Pegg already is known to have a goofy, fun personality, has opportunities to become more than just comic relief (even though he’s still hilarious), however I felt like his techie skills became too conveniently good. (small nitpick) Last but not least is the addition of Jeremy Renner as Brandt, an analyst whose character has more to him than you might think. Renner is a great go-to action character. He’s stylish, charming, and a badass. While the tension between him and Cruise isn’t milked for as much as it could, their relationship has a pay-off that doesn’t feel forced by the script.
Much like the third film, the movie starts fast paced and never lets up and globe trots from Moscow to Dubai to Mumbai. Scenes in Moscow are great fun and more of the traditional Mission Impossible antics that feature fake identities and a great trick with a portable green screen to distract a guard. Once the film moves to Dubai is when the film really hits his target. A long second act featured primarily in the world’s tallest building is one amazing set piece after another. Of course, the most talked about is Cruise’s character scaling the building himself which is an eye-popping visually arresting scene like no other. Especially in IMAX, the scene is a terrifying joyride worth the price of admission alone. What most films would use as a climactic scene features a death-defying scene of Cruise jumping, running, and nearly falling off the side of the building. Following that scene is a foot chase sequence through a dust storm that is remarkably shot and edited. The entire Dubai sequence is a quality feat of amazing camerawork, acting, directing and editing that sets the bar extremely high for big-budget action films.
After the Dubai sequence and the film features Mumbai for its third act is when I thought it could have used some trimming in the editing room. The first and second act are so thrilling that the film tries to add in a ridiculous sequence featuring Jeremy Renner wearing a magnetic suit. A cool sequence that feels out of place and too extra for a film overloaded already with action set pieces, and an awkward scene of seduction between Paula Patton and the gameshow host from “Slumdog Millionaire” felt like padding to get to the ending. The film does climax in an impressive scene in a car factory that reminded me of a modern version of Cruises‘ “Minority Report.”
Overall, this film is probably the best action movie of 2011 and will be held as a standard for blockbusters. Director Brad Bird (in his first live-action film) knocks it out of the park in terms of technical quality and a great script and reliable actors even if the third act feels overstuffed and the villain’s motive is the same ol’ James Bond world destruction gimmick. Brad Bird definitely sets the bar for how an action film should be made and then leaps over it.
Now the Hollywood studio’s mission (should they chose to accept it…sorry bad joke) should be to make big budget movies that are fun and don’t insult the moviegoer’s intelligence, and realize that we don’t always need 3D and an overload of CGI to exhilarate us for two hours or maybe that’s just the power of Tom Cruise.