Before seeing Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol, before I took my first bite of Tom Cruise’s latest film, I was nervous. I was afraid the movie would be stale. After all, it is the fourth Mission: Impossible movie, with the first one having come out fifteen years ago. Sure, the fourth Die Hard was pretty good, but that had Bruce Willis, a gruff action movie icon. And while Cruise may be a movie icon, he’s a clean-shaven one.
Well, all of my doubts were destroyed after the film’s first ten minutes.
The second scene of the movie involves an escape from a Russian prison by that durable spy: Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise). Helping Hunt by taking control of the prison’s locking systems via a laptop and quick typing fingers is the witty hacker, Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg). The escape is nicely choreographed, funny, and suspenseful, as Dunn’s exasperated nature and Hunt’s rapid fist and foot fight moves play well off each other. This early delight successfully foreshadows an entertaining rest of the movie. Cruise and director Brad Bird pull out all the stops in a daring attempt to entertain the heck out of you, and their precision is almost flawless.
Following Hunt’s adventure in prison, a bombing of the Moscow Kremlin is blamed on his team of IMF (Impossible Mission Force) agents. Disavowed by the United States government, Hunt and fellow agents Dunn, Jane Carter (Paula Patton), and former IMF chief analyst William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) decide to form a rogue squad with the shared mission of clearing their names. They set their sights on stopping the real man behind the Kremlin bombing, former Russian nuclear strategist Kurt Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist). Hendricks thinks that humankind is due for a controlled apocalypse in order to rid the world of dead weight. After the Kremlin fiasco, he’s got the tools to start a nuclear war; now all he needs are those pesky codes to activate his weapons.
Bird and his camera crew deserve accolades for the film’s jaw-dropping visuals. And when I say jaw dropping, I mean enough to make Milk Duds fall out of your mouth. Chipped concrete prison walls give way to a Red Square ground shot of the looming Kremlin. The IMAX cameras the film is partially shot in paint a portrait of every architectural nook and cranny. The scene that benefits the most from this high definition cinematography involves Hunt crawling on the sheer glass walls of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa: the world’s tallest building. Equipped with only a pair of sticky gloves, Hunt has to climb some seven stories. Even though IMAX cameras are extremely heavy, Bird gives viewers a treat by following Cruise from all sides as he plays his own version of Spider-Man. I didn’t even see this movie in IMAX and yet this scene still made my brow and palms sweat. The constant view of nearby skyscrapers looking like dwarves compared to the Burj Khalifa, along with the whipping wind pressing against Hunt’s straining muscles, reminds you of how dangerous the situation is (and Cruise claims he did all of his own stunts!).
Even with the mystical visuals, this fourth mission would be a mindless, good-looking exercise without some great performances. The protagonists come through big-time for Bird, gelling into their roles and with each other as naturally as peanut butter and jelly. Cruise still manages to bring energy to Ethan Hunt, though his haunted gaze suggests that maybe he’s getting into the twilight of his field mission years. Plus, he’s mourning the death of his wife, a woman who in the third film was Hunt’s key to a happy retirement. Besides doing his own stunts in mesmerizing fashion (whether running or climbing), Cruise is convincing as a mission leader that can rally his troops with a stern warning or a smile.
Pegg displays key comic relief. He’s like a fanboy playing with his idols, his facial expressions shifting between disbelief and surging excitement. While undercover with Hunt in the Kremlin, Hunt has to tell Dunn to “shut up” because the computer geek is talking faster than a schoolboy who’s had too much ice cream. Fans of Pegg’s work in movies like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz will be pleased by the large amount of screen time the British star gets.
Renner is great at portraying a multi-layered character; one who bears a secret that could threaten the group’s existence. He exhibits everything in the emotional department: doubtfulness, sadness, dry humor (swapping some great lines with Pegg), anger, and exasperation.
Not to be outdone, the stunningly beautiful Patton provides a fierce dose of female power to the testosterone laced plot. The quick fight moves and furious attitude she shows off in a key fight scene with female assassin Sabine Moreau (Léa Seydoux) is a welcome addition to the film’s close calls category. In another, almost equally edge-of-your-seat scene, Patton struggles to seduce a playboy for valuable information.
My point here is Cruise isn’t the sole star, and as a result does not have to carry the entire film by overdoing his macho man act.
The script, penned by longtime writing partners André Nemec and Josh Appelbaum, has sharp, witty dialogue that’s often funny, occasionally heartbreaking, and always entertaining. The overall story is pretty basic and doesn’t require you to use your noggin, though. In this way it’s inferior to 1996’s Mission: Impossible, which you have to watch a couple of times to completely wrap your brain around.
I was also disappointed in the antagonist, Hendricks. Nyqvist does act well; it will be a long time before I can forget his unblinking eyes and toothy snarl while facing off against Hunt. However, you never get to really know Hendricks. He’s just this vague madman who needs to be stopped. He’s benched as a secondary, almost forgotten character.
Another negative splotch involves a chase scene in Dubai amidst a sandstorm. While the swirling clouds of grain particles do look great in high definition, I can’t call a footrace through the marketplace exciting when everything is almost blocked from view.
Bird’s movie works wonders as a big-budget popcorn flick in the long run. You don’t even have to be a fan of previous Mission: Impossible movies to like this one. The scenery alone will make you glad you found a seat.
I give Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol four stars out of five, with a B+ grade.
The Tuesday Movie Men saw this film in digital projection at the Carmike Wynnsong 15 in Mounds View, in auditorium number 15. If you like personable customer service, then Wynnsong is the theater for you. Every time I go there I’m greeted with sincere smiles and service that is efficient and smooth. It’s a home away from home.
Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action and violence. It has a running time of 2 hours and thirteen minutes and swung into theaters nationwide on December 21, 2011.