Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol review
I’ve been a fan of the Mission: Impossible franchise from the get go. Seeing Tom Cruise leap from an exploding helicopter onto a moving train in a tunnel will do that to you. Having never seen the original TV series (and still having no desire to do so), I have enjoyed the gadget-induced action/spy franchise in each incarnation, each with their own signature style. Originally, the intent was to hire a new director per movie to put their own stylistic spin on the franchise and for the most part, they’ve succeeded in that.
The first MI, directed by Brian DePalma was a nail-biting caper with some outlandishly exciting stunts. It also turned the original series on its ear by making the long-running MI hero, Jim Phelps, into a villain, paving the way for new blood Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise). It was a crushing blow to loyalists of the show (who are what? 60?), but a bold move for an adaptation.
The second MI was directed by Hong Kong action maestro John Woo who splashed his slow-mo bullet frenzied style all over the film, creating a more action oriented film than a spy film. It was essentially an opportunity for Cruise to work with Woo and get to shoot two guns at once in slow motion. (It’s also the movie that cost Dougray Scott, the film’s villain, the role of Wolverine in the X-Men films, due to extended shooting).
The third MI was a perfect hybrid of the first two films and injected with the slickness of director J.J. Abrams clean, fast style. It was also the first film in which Ethan Hunt was given an emotional core and a bit of a history. Up until the third film we learned very little about Ethan Hunt. We know he is a super bad ass agent, can use every gadget tossed his way, likes to climb, ride bikes, and alternate hair styles. Essentially, Ethan Hunt WAS Tom Cruise.
In the fourth, latest installment, the keys to the MI franchise have been tossed to Brad Bird, director of the Disney Pixar films Ratattouie and The Incredibles, two very fun, energetic, imaginative, and even exhilarating films from an unlikely choice to direct a big-budget, live action franchise. However, I had faith in Bird from the start. An animator is going to see things differently and bring something new and fresh to the live action realm and I felt that Bird would succeed greatly.
And I was not wrong.
Bird brings his signature to Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol with ease. The haute tension, the playfulness, the characters, all of it is there. In many ways I could see the film as a Pixar film. Bird stages his frames and shoots cleanly. It’s obvious that he paid close attention to how he put the film together and you won’t find any of the lazy “handi-cam” shots that were done so well in the Bourne Identity series, but copied by so many other films with much less success.
This time out Cruise’s Hunt is thrust into the action from the very beginning and doesn’t let up until the very last scene. Given everything that he goes through in this film, especially in such a short while you have to wonder if we should label the MI franchise a superhero franchise. Cruise performs a number of high wire stunts, including climbing the world’s tallest building in Dubai. Have fun trying to spot the stuntman. It’s never obvious as Cruise did the majority of his own stunt work. For a 49-year-old actor that’s pretty impressive.
Everything is amped to the next level in this film; the action, the stunts, and the stakes. And the movie just flows. I never felt the urge to know what time it was or the sense of urgency to “get on with it.” The intensity was always at a level that kept me in the moment and that’s a difficult feat to accomplish in today’s short-attention spanned minds. Including mine.
This is also the first MI film that continues story threads from the previous film. The first three films could all have been standalone entries, but the fourth one picks up characters and story threads from the third and continues them. For the first time, Ethan has a true history and begins to formulate into a character rather than Tom Cruise just being himself. It’s a welcome surprise and the storyline is handled in a way that keeps you guessing until the very end when all is revealed. It’s clever and fun and provides that much more depth to Cruise’s Hunt.
Cruise deserves his kudos here. I mean, the guy got blasted for jumping on a couch on Oprah and for speaking out about his Scientology beliefs. For that, he was all but “Gibsoned.” Cruise suffered some box office sputtering with the solid “Valkyrie” and the not-so-solid “Knight and Day,” and swallowed his share of humble pie as a result, even if he didn’t really deserve it. However, with MI4, Cruise is back in top form. He’s starting to show his age, even if only a little, but his maturity is what helps to put him back on top. Cruise, it seems, has accepted this to a large extent, yet doesn’t let anything hinder him from putting it all out there. I think we can let him back in the clubhouse now.
Naturally, the MI franchise has its supporting cast to contend with and this time out they used MI3’s Simon Pegg, now a field agent, instead of the usual Ving Rhames tech, a change that I feel was absolutely necessary. Pegg is his usual funny and clumsy self, making his Benji character an easy fit. Jeremy Renner comes onboard as an “analyst” with a few secrets of his own. He slides in perfectly with the cast, playing off each character with ease, charisma, and humor. Finally, we have the absolutely lovely Paula Patton who is stunning, sexy, and tough as an agent with an eye toward revenge. Also, GREAT cleavage. That’s important.
There’s a few star cameos, including Lost’s Josh Holloway and the always awesome Tom Wilkenson. The main villain is none other than the star of the Swedish “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” films, Michael Nyqvist, who is compelling and scary as a Russian terrorist seeking to set off nuclear devices around the world.
The film is go, go, go from opening to closing frame. It’s an unrelenting action spy opera with enough action, chills, charm, humor, and stunts to leave you much like you’d be after stepping off of a kick ass rollercoaster ride; exhilarated and ready to go again. Michael Giacchino’s score pulse pounds the film for every frame and is so absolutely fitting it’s almost sickening. The locales and the gadgets are exceptional, neither being too much of a retread and with plenty of sparks of originality. I also like the gadgets don’t always work perfectly and sometimes just fail outright. It’s unique touches like that, which makes MI4 retain a sense of newness. It’s familiar, but certainly not rehash.
For his part, Tom Cruise must have set a world record for “most running in a movie,” as he just never stops running. His physicality is every bit a part of his performance as anything else and he absolutely proves he’s up to the challenge. There’s a certain intensity that he brings, which has always been there I suppose, that really shines through with this entry and it’s great to see.
You would be hard pressed to find a better action film this year, especially one that is as smart and witty as it is thrilling. For my money, the fourth entry is the best of the bunch and I hope to see the ever-growing character of Ethan Hunt continue his trek until Cruise no longer can.
One of the best of the year: 10/10