Film Review – Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
Tom Cruise is back once again as super agent Ethan Hunt in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011), the fourth installment in the highly popular series. This time around, the film is directed by Brad Bird, the man who brought us some of the best animated movies in the last fifteen years in The Iron Giant (1999), The Incredibles (2004), and Ratatouille (2007). I was a little surprised that a person who is so associated with the animated world would be helming the next film of a franchise that has seen the likes of Brian DePalma, John Woo, and J.J. Abrams. Would his storytelling abilities translate well to a live action setting? Well, let me tell it to you like this: with a film that has the title Mission: Impossible, I walked in expecting over the top action, death-defying set pieces, preposterous plot twists, and really cool gadgets. I’m happy to report that I was not disappointed.
With all of the high tech equipment and up-to-date expertise that the film has, its premise feels somewhat old school. There’s a touch of James Bond and the Cold War going on here, as Hunt and his team must work together to stop a Russian terrorist named Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist) from launching a nuclear attack and literally starting World War III. This is the motivation for Bird to create a two-hour-plus movie that contains massive set piece after massive set piece, and that sees our hero globetrotting from Russia to India, jumping and shooting and running and fighting his way toward his goal. It’s kind of amazing to see Hunt do all of the crazy stuff that he does here—we see him being shot at while underwater, escape a Russian prison, scale the tallest building in the world (the Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai), and even try to outrun a sandstorm. But the absurdity that is the action set pieces is a part of the appeal of the film. Bird doesn’t waste much time before diving headfirst and cranking the pace up to an eleven, and he does it in a good way.
Another element that I appreciated was how the movie focused more on the “team” idea rather than on one individual. Each person has his or her own specific tasks that play as an integral part of the overall scheme. There are some sequences that don’t even have Ethan as the person who heads the action; he actually steps back and allows everyone else to have a chance in the spotlight. What’s nice about the performances here is that they all have a lightness about them; they know that what they’re getting into is incredibly unbelievable, but they seem to have a fun time going through it regardless. Simon Pegg returns from the third film as Benji, the technical wiz who yearns to get into some real action. He provides a lot of humor, especially with newcomer Brandt (Jeremy Renner), an analyst who may or may not have a shady background. And Paula Patton rounds the group out as Jane, the butt-kicking female of the team. Yes, Patton is an attractive actress, and the film unfortunately exploits her beauty during a number of scenes, but equals that with a good amount of ass-whooping and character development.
In fact, in a film that is so high octane, I was impressed at how it was able to weave in scenes that focused on character without losing its forward momentum. It’s unfortunately an aspect that I can’t go into much detail on here, as I would be spoiling some major reveals. What I can say is that motivations and backgrounds are sufficiently crafted. We take a look at Ethan’s background and how he ended up where he was in the beginning of the film; we learn why Jane is so determined to stay with the team, even when they learn that they have become disavowed and are no longer government-backed; and we also find out why Brandt, despite being incredibly efficient at field operations and hand to hand combat, hesitates when he tries to pick up a gun. Again, not necessarily as multi-layered as we may want (especially given the fact that all of this is happening while bullets are flying and explosions are erupting everywhere around them). but I think there’s just enough provided to make us actually care about these characters and want see what eventually happens to each of them.
The movie isn’t perfect, not by a long shot. For those who never really cared for the previous films, I don’t think this movie will change their minds about the series. While I enjoyed the exaggerated action, some may not buy in to it—Hunt and his people may be a tad bit too superhuman if they try to look at this from a real world perspective. One of the other issues is that the computer-generated imagery is fairly noticeable in certain scenes (which makes the Burj Khalifa sequence so amazing, because Tom Cruise actually went out there and did that). It’s tough to believe in the danger when you know that a building isn’t actually crumbling or that there isn’t really a sandstorm chasing after Tom Cruise. And while some of the twists and turns that happen in the movie are really clever (I especially enjoyed the scene in the hallway, the one set in the Kremlin), I did feel that the technology used was pretty hard to swallow. It felt as though any sticky situation the team found themselves in could easily be answered with the push of a button, or an easy “it was all a part of the plan” type of explanation.
But who cares about those issues?? Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol isn’t a film that tries to be realistic or probable. It doesn’t care about believability or reality. Its only goal is to make an action-packed experience with thrills pushing the limit, and I think it accomplished that exceptionally well. Brad Bird has proven that he can take just about any story and make it as entertaining and exciting as it could possibly be. Tom Cruise, regardless of how one may think of him, is good here, as likeable as he has been in a very long time. While I’m not quite sure that the demand for this film to be made was all that high, I did appreciate it for what it was and had a good time watching it— in my mind it’s the best entry in the series. Whether or not a fifth film will be made and despite how successfully that might turn out, the people involved here can rest easy, and know that they have made a good one.
Final Grade: B+