MISSION IMPOSSIBLE : GHOST PROTOCOL
****1/2 (out of 5)
December 16, 2011
Tom Cruise as ETHAN HUNT
Paula Patton as JANE
Simon Pegg as BENJI
Jeremy Renner as BRANDT
Michael Nyqvist as HENDRICKS
Directed by: Brad Bird
BY KEVIN CARR
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The entire “Mission: Impossible” series is quite an enigma, and it seems to go against the standard logic of Hollywood franchises. Normally, you expect the first film to be insanely popular, with a fresh, original take on something. Then, rarely there is a sequel that is just as good, if not possibly better than the original before the quality faces a steep drop-off.
We’ve seen that sort of thing dozens of times, from “Star Wars” and “Aliens” to “Shrek” and “Superman.” But “Mission: Impossible” went an entirely different route. The first installment, made fifteen years ago by Brian DePalma, was mediocre and trampled on the very spirit of the original television series. Then, the sequel was a little better. Then, “Mission: Impossible III” really stepped things up. Unfortunately, Tom Cruise was in the middle of a public meltdown during that film, which seemed to cripple its box office.
But in a strange twist of events, the fourth film in the franchise is clearly the best one by far. And not only for the “Mission: Impossible” films, but for action films in general. Forget “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” and “Fast Five,” “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” is the best action movie of 2011… by a mile.
Similar to how the third film brought back the team spirit of “Mission: Impossible” (unlike the first installment which became a solo project ego trip by Cruise), “Ghost Protocol” sees Ethan Hunt’s team go rogue after a mysterious explosion at the Kremlin is pinned on them. Working outside of the system because they have been disavowed, the team has to stop a psychopath from starting a nuclear war by launching a Russian missile at the U.S.
Part of the charm of this film is the relatively simple Cold War storyline that worked so well from the 50s to the 80s. It’s not a terribly complex story, but that’s okay. Previous “Mission: Impossible” films, as well as other movies this film is competing against at the box office, are often needlessly convoluted. All we really want is a straightforward story with some great action sequences, and that’s exactly what we get here.
The team itself clicks well. Simon Pegg is hilarious as the nerdy tech guru of the bunch. Paula Patton shows she can hold her own as an ass-kicking spy (more believable, of course, when she’s beating up a tiny female assassin as opposed to the massive Russian bodyguards, but I’ll forgive this weird reverse sexism we see all too often in action movies). And the inclusion of Jeremy Renner as a reserved analyst with hidden hand-to-hand combat skills shows this guy is the right choice to carry on the Bourne franchise.
After making a total ass of himself in the public eye for several years, Tom Cruise has laid low for a while. This serves him well in this film because he slides back into the movie star role and works as the hero (even if his pectoral muscles have a disturbing sag to them, like a big-busted woman’s pendulous breasts in her old age). But what makes Cruise work, aside from the fact he’s not annoying people in the press, is the fact that he works with his team rather than making the movie all about him. It’s a strangely generous performance by Cruise, and this is a good thing.
But the real reason to see “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” is for the action. Director Brad Bird, who is most famous for directing quality animated films like “The Iron Giant” and the Pixar flicks “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille,” fully delivers with his first live-action outing.
The cinematography is fantastic, and the exclusive IMAX run offers a nice selection of 70mm shots that bring the epic scope. Bird throws action, action and more action at you. He only lets up to put in some needed pacing, exposition and background dialogue. But if you remember the kick-ass action sequences from “The Incredibles,” you’ll have an idea of how brilliant this guy is with cranking the excitement to eleven.
It might seem crass in the middle of award season to bestow such a high rating on such a relatively simple and basal film, but “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” is pure cinematic entertainment from titles to credits. Sometimes movies are just about having fun and entertaining the audience. That’s the real mission here, and it’s very possible.