Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011) – Directed by Brad Bird – Starring Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton, Simon Pegg, Michael Nykvist, Léa Seydoux, Vladimir Mashkov, Samuli Edelmann, Anil Kapoor, Tom Wilkinson, Josh Holloway, Ving Rhames, and Michelle Monaghan.
It’s a bit hard to say which is the more unbelievable feat regarding MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL, the continued, strong existence of this franchise or that a film could be this deftly directed by a guy known for doing animation.
PROTOCOL is a very good, very slick, rather clever espionage flick, but I’d be lying if I said the expectation game didn’t leave me feeling a little underwhelmed. This film is getting amazingly good press and one review I read said this was the best action film since Casino Royale.
Eh … let’s agree with that for a moment. Let us say that it is the best action flick since Daniel Craig first started taking orders from M. PROTOCOL is good, but there’s an ocean between how good this film is and how great that film remains. I also think it pales a bit in comparison to MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 3, but not by enough of a margin for me to feel like this film is a letdown.
GHOST PROTOCOL is a good film, well worth watching, and highly enjoyable from the opening frame to the last. Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Paula Patton, and Jeremy Renner comprise this edition of Ethan Hunt’s IMF team, and while three of the four have some ghosts in their closets to deal with, they largely stay focused on the task at hand. It’s a kinda brilliant example of the ability of these agents to compartmentalize their demons. Hunt (Cruise) was in a Russian prison for killing six Serbians who killed his wife. Jane Carter (Patton) is dealing with the loss of her team partner and apparent lover, Sawyer from LOST (Josh Holloway), who was shot by a a sexy cute assassin named Sabine Moreau (Léa Seydoux).
Meanwhile, Ethan is in a Russian prison and so Carter and Benji (Pegg) break him out. The film bored me a bit through this part. As a prison extraction sequence it’s not bad, it establishes that Ethan is a good guy because he goes and rescues a Russian prisoner to take him along, and it provides some good comic relief between Ethan and Benji, but I always get a bit peeved at elongated sequences that establish what we know will happen from the trailer. If the whole marketing campaign is going to be built around the idea that Ethan and IMF are disavowed by the U.S. government, then let’s get to it. The whole bit with Sawy- sorry, Hannaway getting shot and Ethan breaking out of prison just takes too long to get through, because then we’ve got to sit through the opening titles, Ethan leading a break-in at the Kremlin, the Kremlin getting blown up, Ethan waking up in a hospital, Ethan escaping from the hospital, Ethan getting told by the IMF Head (Tom Wilkinson) that Ghost Protocol has been issued, the Head’s limo getting shot, the Head getting killed, and Ethan and analyst William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) escaping.
That’s a whole lot of sitting through stuff just to get to what the film tells us in the title and the trailer has been promising for months.
None of it is necessarily bad, though some of the bits (such as Ethan and Benji using a projector screen to fool a single guard inside the Kremlin) go on too long, but it’s not necessarily all that hot, either. There’s so little here that’s unique that it’s good without being memorable or really engaging. Pegg’s humor is the best part of the pre-ghosting; he’s a field agent now and adds some much-needed levity to all the action. There’s a nice bit of rapport between Ethan and Russian agent Sidorov (Vladimir Mashkov ) during Ethan’s escape, and it’s this moment, I suppose, when the film starts pushing hard in the right direction.
I could break down all of the plot points for you, but it’s a spy movie. There’s bad guys trying to destroy the world. There’s lots of foreign locales. There’s lots of exciting action.
Here’s what’s important – the interaction between the four leads is really good. The bad guy is a complete contrivance. The stunts are top notch. The much ballyhooed sequence in Dubai is very strong, from the moment Ethan begins climbing the world’s tallest building to the sandstorm chase through the city. Director Brad Bird keeps this film humming along, and the physicality of the action is intense. When Ethan’s jump into an open window is too high, he slams his head into the glass with such ferocity that I felt my own head snap back. Cars slam into each other with all the sounds the theater’s system can handle. Everything is fast and assured through the Dubai sequence in terms of action.
That leads to the strongest story point of the film; since everyone has some kind of personal issue to deal with, these skeletons come out every now and then, but once a decision has been reached, these agents act like pros. They’re capable, able to think on the fly, and able to overcome their own mistakes. In short, this is a fabulous team that Bird has assembled here, and the paces he puts them through is highly enjoyable.
GHOST PROTOCOL is one of those films that’s good without being great; there’s nothing wrong with it, but it doesn’t move me like Casino Royale or The Bourne Ultimatum or Die Hard. It is a visual feast, though, full of great sequences and great characters. It takes a bit too long to get going, and the villain’s plot could be taken from any movie since the Russians first had nuclear capability (it’s another launch code movie – really, they’re still pumping out Russian nuclear launch code plots). It’s a bit of a shame that while Michael Nyqvist’s most well-known role is in the theaters right now being played by Daniel Craig in David Fincher’s version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, he’s here playing an awful, cardboard James Bond villain ever.
It’s the relationship between Ethan and the other three agents that makes the film really work, though. Ethan moves through a stage with each of them: Benji in the first third, Carter in the second, and Renner in the film’s epilogue. Cruise exudes total confidence and experience here; this may seem a strange thing to say about an actor with the resume of Cruise, but there’s a real sense in this film that he’s reached some new level of attainment. He’s confident and assured, but also easy going and willing to laugh at himself. It’s one of his better performances, and ultimately it’s what puts GHOST PROTOCOL over the top.