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Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol IMAX (2011)

January 2, 2012

 

written by: André Nemec and Josh Appelbaum

produced by: Tom Cruise, J.J. Abrams & Brian Burk

directed by: Brad Bird

rating: PG-13 (for scenes of intense action and violence) 

runtime: 133 min.

U.S. release date: December 16, 2011 (IMAX theaters) and December 21, 2011 (in general theaters)

 

Tom Cruise may be crazy, but he’s no dummy.  As co-producer of the “Mission: Impossible” franchise, he’s personally sought out specific directors for each film. The result has always been entertaining yet not without its flaws, especially with the first two films (directed by Brian DePalma and John Woo) which lack substantial staying power. Despite that, each director has clearly brought their own particular tone and style to the outrageous stunts, clever gadgets and exhausting intensity these films specialize in. For the fourth entry, Cruise reunites with J.J. Abrams, director of the underrated yet exemplary, “Mission: Impossible III”, (now serving as co-producer) and now they’ve given the reins to Oscar-winner Brad Bird. It appears they could do no wrong with such a choice, considering his previous three movies (“The Iron Giant”, “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille”) are regarded as amazing animated features.

Considering this is Bird’s very first foray into live-action  and that most franchises typically tank after a trilogy, the anticipation and trepidation for “Ghost Protocol” was understandably high. Well, it comes as no surprise to me that Bird has done the impossible and delivered what I consider to be the best of the “Mission: Impossible” movies and probably one of the best action movies in recent years. It’s obvious Bird’s prowess in storytelling and action sequences is a perfect fit to a series that needed an even greater boost after the satisfying previous film.

The movie starts off in Russia, where an imprisoned Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), the age-defying agent of the Impossible Mission Forces (IMF), is about to be rescued by the covert U.S. agency he works for. Agent Jane Carter (Paula Patton, “Precious”) and technical field agent Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg, returning from the last movie) are assigned to break Hunt out of jail. What transpires kicks of the first of many incredible  action sequences involving clever acts of deception, dizzying physical stunt work, and semi-functional tech toys. Hunt teams up with the duo to infiltrate Moscow’s Kremlin in order to extract intel that will reveal the identity of a person-of-interest known as Cobalt (Michael Nyqvist, from the Swedish “The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo”) who has access to Russian nuclear launch codes and plans to trigger World War III.

 

 

However, the mission hits a disastrous snag when Hunt is blamed for a devastating  bombing of the Kremlin, which results in the U.S. government has no choice but to issue “ghost protocol”, essentially disavowing his IMF team. In order to exonerate themselves, the team must work off the grid with a suspicious intelligence analyst, William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), they hardly know. Their pursuit of Cobalt takes them to Dubai where they encounter a deadly Russian assassin (Léa Seydoux, “Midnight in Paris”) and Mumbai where they must extract vital information from Brij Nath (Anil Kapoor, “Slumdog Millionaire”) a wealthy Indian businessman, all the while alluding a Soviet secret service agent (Vladimir Mashkov) determined to bring Hunt in. The team must think fast, using every possible asset hey have in order to prevent a potential nuclear strike.

Through a series of unrelenting twists and turns, a treacherous sandstorm here and an intense car chase here, we are strapped in and take on a wall-to-wall action ride. Bird revels in such blockbuster bravura but seems to do so in an effortless fashion, taking care to inject the humor and characterization he’s known for. The director is accompanied by two Oscar-winning talents in cinematographer Robert Elswit (“There Will Be Blood”) and editor Paul Hirsch (“Star Wars”), and together they utilize every frame superbly, especially in the 30 minutes of IMAX film they employ. The exhilarating larger scope is used to amplify Bird’s own excitement and vitality. It proves that – in the right hands – IMAX can prove more immersive than even the best 3D.

 

 

Bird also re-teams with composer Giacchino (also a frequent collaborator of Abrams), whose work on “The Incredibles” evoked John Barry’s famous James Bond scores of the past. Like previous composers in the series, Giacchino uses the famous Lalo Schifrin Mission: Impossible Theme here but in a notably slick pulse-pounding fashion that brilliantly matches the story’s thrilling pace.

As much as Bird’s impressive visuals are highly gratifying, credit must be given to screenwriters André Nemec and Josh Appelbaum (both come from Abram’s Alias) for injected a practical dose of refreshing characterization to their suspenseful script. In between action beats, we learn important backstories and motivations to the agents, particularly characters played by Patton and Renner, that give their roles a more fulfilling presence on the screen. Ordinarily, in action films that require superhero heroics, these characters would simply be seen as human weapons, but what is provided adds more weight and drama to the action we see.

There may be a complaint that Nyqvist’s villain is too thinly-drawn, his motivations being too vague and hardly as threatening as he could be. But to me, these movies have always been more about the mission instead of a real charismatic formidable foe (except for Philip Seymour Hoffman in the last film), something you’d find more in a Bond film.  When you think of each “Mission: Impossible” film, what predominately comes to mind are the elaborate action set pieces like jumping from a bullet train or climbing up a cliff.

 

 

In this case, what people will remember most is seeing Tom Cruise scale the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, which the star did himself. Such a feat recalls the “crazy” mentioned above, but say what you will about the actor and his off-screen antics, the fact is he continuously proves to be a charismatic and committed presence on-screen. Cruise can be seen running at top speeds in just about every one of his movies, but seeing him get bounced around and battered in “Ghost Protocol” is exhausting. Watching a guy nearing 50 go through this made my bones ache just sitting in the theater.  There’s talk of Cruise phasing out of the series and letting Renner take over, but from what I see here, I highly doubt it.

On that note, I must say this movie showcases the best IMF team yet. Maybe it’s the desperate situation they’re in, but these four characters are fun to watch, specifically Patton (showing outstanding action shops) and Pegg (offering more than comedy relief), but Renner as well, which comes as no surprise if you’ve been following his work. Renner handles the action well, but the complex drama he brings to the role, which is slowly revealed, is what gravitates you to him.

You won’t have to be well-versed in any of the other movies to enjoy this one. Although if you are, Bird has a few cool surprises and knowing nods in store for you. While I enjoyed seeing Bird in his live-action debut, my hope is that Cruise (and hopefully Abrams) continues to select a new directors for future films. Whether or not Ethan Hunt chooses to accept another mission is yet to be seen; but your mission, if you choose to accept it (and I can’t see why you wouldn’t), is to see “Ghost Protocol” in IMAX.

 

 

 

RATING: ****

 

 

8 Comments leave one →
  1. January 4, 2012 11:15 pm

    I just watched this tonight. I went to the theatre expecting a good Hollywood action movie, and considering how many good reviews it got, I was really surprised by how torturous it was. IMO, it is highly overrated.

    There were some tense moments and the action was…actiony. But every single moment of this film felt stolen from other films. It was one cliche after the next. Tom Cruise totally phoned it in. I didn’t care about his character in the least. Compare Cruise’s acting as Ethan Hunt with Daniel Craig’s as James Bond…or Matt Damon as Jason Bourne. Where’s Ethan Hunt’s humanity? I didn’t see it.

    Simon Pegg delivered, but delivered what? A totally unbelievable character were it not for the fact that we have seen so many like him before in other movies.

    The script had almost no life in it. Jeremy Renner deserves an Oscar for transforming those lines into something CLOSE to feeling real. You know a movie sucks when the most memorable thing about it isn’t anything to do with the story, but the images of the two attractive women (Patton and Seydoux) and Jeremy Renner’s face. That’s how desperate I was to find something visceral to connect with. I can appreciate action as much as the next guy, but when the story or acting is lacking it’s like getting the sizzle without the steak. It feels like showing off. If the audience isn’t on the edge of their seats during a film with this much action, then you know you’ve got a stinker…because if I cared about those characters I should have been biting my nails.

    At least my local cinema only charges $5 a ticket on Wednesdays.

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