Review: Brad Bird's 'Ghost Protocol' is Best 'Mission: Impossible' Yet
by Jeremy Kirk
December 16, 2011
Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol, the fourth film in the ongoing franchise, is, without a doubt, the best of the series. It's more straightforward than Brian De Palma's labyrinthine and overly-convoluted film from 1996. It's more grand in scope and action than J.J. Abrams' M:I III. The less said about John Woo's action-heavy, plot-nonexistent M:I II the better. What first-time, live-action director Brad Bird and the writers have crafted is a film solid with story, heavy on character, and absolutely mind-blowing in terms of stylish action that leaves you breathless more than a few times. An eye-locking adventure that utilizes all the state-of-the-art gadgetry that made the TV series a classic, bringing new life to a film series that seemed to be inching along, and, for the first time since it began, the next installment is anticipated more than ever.
This time around Ethan Hunt, played once again by Tom Cruise, and his Impossible Missions Force team are on the hunt for a madman who has stolen the codes for Russian nuclear missiles. After the Kremlin has been bombed and he's accused, Hunt and his team find themselves completely on their own. The entire IMF has been disavowed, and a race against time begins for them to stop the mastermind and clear their names.
See? Fairly straight-forward. Thankfully, Bird and writers Josh Appelbaum & Andre Nemec have learned from the errors of the past films. There are left turns, quick ones, in Ghost Protocol's plot, but it's never more than can be handled. The audience is never lost as to who is on which side, who is trying to achieve what, and how the IMF team are planning to attain their goal. What we're left with instead is mountainous highs and steady lows. The highs come early on when the team, Simon Pegg returning as Benji Dunn and Paula Patton as newcomer Jane Carter, breaks Hunt out of a Russian prison, Dean Martin's "Ain't That a Kick in the Head?" playing over the loudspeakers the whole time. It's not a grand sequence of action, just enough to whet your appetite for what's to come, and, to be sure, there is plenty to come.
The lows are those moments between the action pieces, when the team reflects on their mission as well as each other, particularly Jeremy Renner as William Brandt, an IMF analyst who finds himself in the field after an ambush. Unlike Dunn and Carter, who are, more or less, one-dimensional - Pegg's dry wit keeps his character from floating into obscurity and Patton's Carter has something of a forced back story that drives the character - Brandt has a dark past, a secret he wants kept hidden that has lead him out of the field and behind a desk. When his secret is revealed, it sends shockwaves through the film and, in fact, the entire series, and is perfectly staged when and how it comes out.
Likewise, Hunt's character has a dark history. Even though this is a character we've seen three previous times, the years between the Mission: Impossible movies give time for changes in their character to come about, moments in the character's life that you see him reflecting on in the quieter times. This period between films isn't something either of the two sequels before have utilized, but, again, Appelbaum & Nemec as well as Bird have done their research and have made the Ethan Hunt character all the more interesting.
But enough about story and character. Ghost Protocol has some of the most amazing action sequences—intense and hard-hitting all the way through—in recent memory. The gadgets the team utilizes, some of which are a little too convenient, but we'll let that slide for entertainment's sake, allow for some of the more engaging moments. A whole section in the middle, really three or four scenes pieced back-to-back, takes place in Dubai and, from start to finish, is jaw-dropping to say the very least (especially in IMAX). By the time we find Hunt scaling the side of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, our hearts are already in our throats, and that's long before the car chase in the middle of a sandstorm kicks in.
It helps that Cruise, still all gum and perfect stride, insisted on doing his own stunts, especially the skyscraper climbing. But Bird, already proven as a master artist with animation, shoots the action in the most interesting and engaging of ways. He puts you out the window, on the side of the building with Cruise, and just in the right spot to gather enough visual information to keep you always intrigued. But, most importantly, the action in Ghost Protocol is always important, never superfluous as to where it fits in the story. The action here rides that perfect line where it's both grand in scale, heavy and very real in execution, and necessary to the plot, a perfect combination that this series hasn't seen until now.
It's taken 15 years and 4 films, but the Mission: Impossible series has finally reached its pinnacle, a perfect film version of the classic series—the team aspect is very important here, something else this film does far better than its predecessors—and a near spotless actioner that keeps its audience riveted.
Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol proves you don't need complex storylines to keep your spy thriller engaging nor nonsensical set pieces to keep the action flowing. It tears on screen, blasts you with excitement for over two hours, and still has you wanting the adventure to continue. If Ghost Protocol is any indication where this series might be headed, especially if, for the first time, a director returns to take on another IMF adventure, the Mission: Impossible franchise could be in for a very exciting future. At least it would make us all but forget that Mission: Impossible II was ever made.
Jeremy's Rating: 9 out of 10