Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (United States, 2011)December 16, 2011
Ghost Protocol is the fourth big screen Mission: Impossible movie and the closest the 15-year old franchise has gotten to being an unofficial James Bond adventure. Globe-trotting and action-saturated, the movie offers everything a good 007 yarn should have - eye-popping stunts, explosions to make Michael Bay's mouth water, high speed chases, and a megalomaniac villain with a deadly sidekick - although Tom Cruise exudes grunge more than the suave sophistication one expects from Bond. Ghost Protocol is pretty much wall-to-wall action, to the point where it can be argued there's too much of it. At 133 minutes, it's at least a half-hour too long, and the third act (in Mumbai) has an anticlimactic feel after the spectacular segments in Moscow and Dubai. The film reaches its pinnacle (both literally and figuratively) around the 70-minute mark and has trouble maintaining momentum after that.
The basic storyline is fairly straightforward; no one is going to confuse this with Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Veteran IMF agent Ethan Hunt and his team are hunting down the Swedish-born international terrorist Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist), a nutcase with a 190 IQ who's interested in gaining control of a few nuclear weapons. Their mission, should they accept it, is to keep Hendricks from achieving his goal, which would result in MAD becoming real some two decades after the end of the Cold War. Hendricks and his thuggish henchman, Wistrom (Samuli Edelmann), are nasty pieces of work who kill without compunction and don't blink at the thought of firing the first shot in a war that will obliterate billions. (Hendricks seems to think that the only way to true peace is through nuclear annihilation.)
Hunt's team consists of four agents (including himself). There's Benji (Simon Pegg), the Q-like computer whiz who's returning from installment #3; Brandt (Jeremy Renner), the analyst with some field agent training; and Jane (Paula Patton), who adds a dose of estrogen to an otherwise testosterone-laden production. Of course, this is really all about Hunt/Cruise, who gets the best lines and the most daring stunts. Once Hendricks blows up the Kremlin and frames IMF, the President exercises the "ghost protocol" and "disavows" the group. They still have their mission, but now they're doing it off the grid, without external support. Hendricks' trail takes them from Moscow to Dubai to Mumbai, where the final confrontation occurs.
Ghost Protocol is 90 minutes of a fantastic movie and 45 minutes of an unremarkable one. The problem is one of structure: once the filmmakers have blown up the Kremlin and provoked Hunt to scale the world's tallest building in the advent of an approaching sandstorm, what's left? The Mumbai portion of the film, as it turns out, is less ambitious, with a climax in a futuristic parking garage that seems more like a video game level than a motion picture sequence. (It's an exercise in literal platforming.) Still, director Brad Bird, making his live action debut after helming two of the best mainstream animated films of the last 20 years (The Iron Giant and The Incredibles), buys so much good will during the movie's first two-thirds that, exhausted though we may be, we stick with him to the end.
Ghost Protocol is big and brassy, doing many of the things its predecessors did but, in the words of Nigel Tufnel, turning them up to "11." It was made with the big-screen format of IMAX in mind (in fact, it's getting a one-week exclusive run in IMAX venues before its regular opening). There's nothing understated about any aspect of Ghost Protocol. Exposition and character-building moments are shoehorned in without impacting the pace. The cinematography is bold without becoming confusing or distracting, with grand, sweeping helicopter shots and rock-steady depictions of ground action. The CGI is seamless - it's difficult to intuit whether a computer was involved during the vertiginous Burj Khalifa sequence (the producers say "no"). And Michael Giacchino's score is one of the best of the year, mixing new material with the iconic "Mission: Impossible" theme.
One open question is whether this is Tom Cruise's final outing as Hunt. In the past, he has never rushed back to play the role (the average gap between movies is about five years), but this has always been a reliable franchise for Cruise to return to. By introducing the Hunt-like character of Brandt, the series now has a Cruise replacement in waiting. Should the star curtail his participation in a potential Mission Impossible 5, Jeremy Renner will be ready to step in. Based on his limited action-oriented exposure in Ghost Protocol, Renner is ready. Paula Patton provides the requisite sex appeal, although her character gets a tragic backstory to accompany the high kicking girlfight in which she displays her athleticism. Simon Pegg, one of the few returning cast members from an earlier Mission: Impossible film, is the comic relief.
With its mix of old fashioned action sequences and super-modern technology, Ghost Protocol is relentless in its pursuit of high octane thrills and suspense. The movie concentrates so hard on its set pieces that the storyline often feels insignificant and, at times, is easily forgotten. During the memorable sequence when Hunt is clambering like Spider-Man up glass windows more than 1000 feet from the ground, no one is thinking about why he's doing it. It doesn't matter that it takes a ridiculous contrivance to get him out there. It's all about being in the moment and enjoying the rush. Ghost Protocol as a whole is like that - at least until it runs a little too long and we start wondering when it's all going to wrap up, and whether it will do so with a bang or a whimper. (A little of both, as it turns out.)
Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (United States, 2011)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Screenplay: Josh Appelbaum & Andre Nemec
Cinematography: Robert Elswit
Music: Michael Giacchino