Runtime: 2 HR 13 MIN
Director: Brad Bird
Starring: Tom Cruise, Paula Patton, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, Michael Nyqvist, Josh Holloway, Anil Kapoor, and Tom Wilkinson
Film Rating: 3 out of 5
It’s hard to believe the first Mission: Impossible was released over 15 years ago. While an absolutely imperfect film I nevertheless still enjoy the original film way more than I should. Conversely I abhor Mission: Impossible 2 and consider it to be a god awful mess that took everything I loved about the first film and destroyed it. Mission: Impossibe III however was a much better film but aside from the remarkable casting of Philip Seymour Hoffman as its villain is still largely forgettable. After the release of M:I3 rumblings began to arise about the continuation of the series stemming from concerns about the disappointing box office returns and the viability of Tom Cruise as an aging (and possible deranged) action star. Somehow an agreement was reached but Tom Cruise and Paramount have a lot riding on the success Ghost Protocol because if it fails it might be the end of not only a franchise but also Tom Cruise’s career as an action star.
Ethan Hunt and his IMF (Impossible Mission Force… it’s OK to laugh) Team are sent on a dangerous assignment to the Kremlin to retrieve some sensitive information about a possible terrorist before they fall into the wrong hands. Their mission is cut short by a bombing orchestrated by the very man they’re trying gather information on. Ethan’s IMF Team are then blamed for the attack and are of disavowed. Their mission, if they choose to accept it, is to clear their name by tracking down the perpetrators of the attack and to stop a full scale nuclear war before it’s too late.
Ghost Protocol is a mixed bag of success and failure which is a real disappointment because it could have been the series best installment since the original. As it stands it falls short of Mission: Impossible III but is light years ahead of M:I2. The two areas where Ghost Protocol really struggles is in terms of script/pacing/runtime and the lack of a truly great villain. Clocking in at 133 minutes M:I4 is the longest film in the series and that’s quite an accomplishment when each successive film has been longer than its predecessor. The story is damn tight through the first 2/3’s of the film but as it heads into its third act the story begins to crumble under to the weight of how complicated the plot has become. In an effort to simplify the story and clear the way for the heroes to save the day a very convenient character is added to the story that streamlines an otherwise complicated scenario into a dumbed downed final act that feels out of place with the rest of the picture. What’s almost unforgivable is that the film is overly long but fails to make good use the excessive time their given. Earlier installments, specifically the original, had an equally complicated plot but was nearly twenty five minutes shorter. Instead of focusing on the mission we’re treated to some out of place humor and far too much chit chat and exposition concerning the team member’s personal lives. Even the final moments of the film go on too long with forced conversations and meaningful glances that are supposed to be poignant and sincere but ultimately left me wondering “How long till they play the theme song again?” Along the same vein as the script is the lackluster writing of the film’s principal villain. He is as dull as dishwater and is about as terrifying as an old house cat. The initial premise for the character might have been sound; he’s simply a mad man that wants to set off a nuclear device in a heavily populated area. He doesn’t want money or power like most super villains, he just wants to cause as much death and destruction as possible. On paper that might have sounded terrifying since he’s essentially a villain that has nothing to lose by failing but in the end he’s a terribly boring James Bond villain without a cool hideout and no skimpily clad women by his side. Any action-adventure film is only as good as its villain whether it is 007, Jason Bourne, or Mission: Impossible if the bag guy isn’t up to the job of challenging the heroes than it’s just that much harder to suspend disbelief that the bad guy might actually win. In the case Ghost Protocol the villain just simply wasn’t up to scratch and the film overall suffers for it.
Not all is lost however because there are a lot of thing to like about Ghost Protocol it’s just unfortunate that its failings are so severe that it really hinders the film from being great instead of merely good. First off let me address one of the major advertising points of Ghost Protocol which is the fact that it was partially shot in IMAX which is a first for the franchise. While not as impressive as say Transformers Revenge of the Fallen or The Dark Knight, the IMAX effect is simply stunning and left me wanting more. There’s only about thirty minutes of IMAX footage including several of the large action set pieces but they pack a lot of punch. The scenes featuring Tom Cruise climbing Burj Khalifa Tower (the world’s tallest building) in Dubai are equally mesmerizing and terrifying. I don’t care for heights and when Ethan steps out of the window and the IMAX camera pans straight down 100+ stories it made me grip my sit in anxious excitement. A lot of the IMAX footage is used to establish location shots which looks great but when it’s utilized for the action scenes is when it really shines, it’s too bad the entire film wasn’t shot with them. Ghost Protocol visits Moscow (namely The Kremlin), Dubai, and Mumbai which are all interesting and in some cases very unusual locations to shoot an action film. The exotic locales give Ghost Protocol more of an old school James Bond feel than earlier films in the franchise. The Dubai location provides the back drop to Ghost Protocol’s signature sequence and the rest of the picture feels a bit like a letdown. That harkens back to my earlier complaint about the film’s script and pacing because an action sequence near the middle of film shouldn’t completely overshadow the finale like what happens here. The original Mission: Impossible is one of the few action films I can think of that didn’t feature a car chase but it did have the helicopter vs. high speed train sequence to make up for it, M:I-2 rectified this “oversight” by having numerous car chases in addition to the often spoofed motorcycle showdown, and Mission Impossible III featured some more down to Earth chase sequences. Ghost Protocol continues the trend set by M:I-3 by continuing to try and showcase more realistic car chases all of which seem to be sponsored by automaker BMW. It’s pretty amazing how BMW after BMW continue to pop up conveniently whenever a chase is about to break out. The cars and the chases all look good and I’m probably nitpicking a bit but rare BMW’s aren’t exactly the most inconspicuous cars for on-the-run spies with supposed limited financial resources. I’m probably in the minority on this particular gripe but a little automobile diversity goes a long way to make the corporate sponsorship seem a little less obvious. Overall the action sequences, either hand-to-hand, on foot, hanging off a building, or via car are all well choreographed. The CGI is near top notch with only a few shots taking me momentarily out of the flow of the film, it’s not perfect but its damn close.
Tom Cruise returns for his forth outing as IMF Agent Ethan Hunt. This being an even numbered Mission: Impossible Mr. Cruise is sporting is signature long hair whereas in the first and third film he sports his hair high & tight. Whether or not the length of his hair actually affects box office performance might actually be decided with Ghost Protocol since M:I-2 so far is the largest grossing film of the series. If Ghost Protocol out grosses the first and third films I think we could mark this theory as confirmed. Hair aside, Cruise’s performance is on par with previous portrayals of Ethan Hunt. Further attempts to try and add more depth to the character via family back story continues to feel forced in the eye’s of this reviewer because in the long run Ethan Hunt could be a closet homosexual scientologist weirdo and as long as he still kicked a lot ass not one single fuck would be given by me. For a 49 year old I still think Cruise has some gas left in the action star tank, he looks fit and his face hasn’t completely started to go down hill… yet. Look at Liam Neeson, he and Cruise are almost exactly 10 years apart in age and I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of anything Neeson is dishing out in Taken. Sadly Ving Rhames’ character of Luther Stickell is reduced to a very small cameo. His absence is noticeable as he was the only other regular cast member to carry over from the original film. His role in the IMF Team is filled by Simon Pegg in the role of Benji Dunn. Benji appeared in M:I-3 and is now out of the office and in the field working alongside Ethan in mostly a support style role. Having Pegg return to the role is one of the smarter casting decisions of the film especially with Rhames’ role being all but phased out. As I mentioned earlier there is some out of place humor thrown into the film, rest assured the out of place humor does not come in the form of Simon Pegg because as usual he nails it perfectly.
Less effective in their roles are Paula Patton as Jane Carter and Jeremy Renner as William Brandt. Patton looks worldly in the sense that I couldn’t tell you her ethnic makeup so I like that kind of casting in a spy movie. Unfortunately, her character is an emotional cripple which seems out of place in a spy movie since you’d think emotional cripples would be weeded out of the IMF program early on. She lets her emotions get the best of her numerous times with almost disastrous results which begs the question of “Why is she an IMF Agent?” At one point she is tasked with trying to seduce the world’s horniest man and completely fails because of her inability to flirt or at least appear easy. I guess I have a bigger problem with how Patton’s role is written than with her performance but her role is a bit of a letdown. Brought in as a possible future replacement for Tom Cruise is Jeremy Renner whose star is definitely on the rise. Much like Paula Patton I think he struggled with the role of Brandt because of uneven writing. For little over half the movie he plays the role of the green analyst and then he breaks out the “there’s more to me than meets the eye” act and from there he’s extremely hot or cold. Sometimes he’s mopey and then he’s cracking jokes most of which feel out of place for both the character and the situation. Based on what I’ve seen here I don’t know if Renner could carry the franchise once Cruise decides to move on. Last and possibly least is Michael Nyqvist as Kurt Hendricks the film’s primary villain. Nyqvist is best known around the world for his role in the original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo films. Sadly, he comes off as a weak villain in Ghost Protocol especially after the masterful turn of Philip Seymour Hoffman in the previous film. He simply plays a one-dimensional madman which with the right script can be effective but Nyqvist isn’t given much to work with. He’s not physically intimidating, he doesn’t have some grand scheme with a great speech, there’s no secret emotional connection between him and any member of the IMF Team… he’s just a boring guy with a crazy dream of killing a lot people that the IMF Team has to stop. There’s no doubt in my mind that Nygvist is a great actor but this isn’t the film to showcase his talents. Oh yeah, I almost forgot Anil Kapoor makes a convenient appearance as some sort of Slumdog Millionaire… yeah, I went there.
Every Mission: Impossible film has featured a different director, each of which has his own look and feel. Some have been successful while other have not but they’ve all left their mark on the franchise both good and bad. Ghost Protocol brings Brad Bird into the fold; Bird has directed some the highest grossing films of the last decade but none of them have been live action. He comes from the world of animation and was the man behind The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille. While Ghost Protocol is far from a perfect film it does showcase that he is not a one trick pony and that he might be on his way to becoming one of the most sought after live action directors before too long. He handles the action set pieces with skill and for a “first time” director to helm a film as complicated as this in addition to the fact that it’s partially filmed in IMAX is truly impressive. Most of M:I-4’s faults lie with writers André Nemec and Josh Applebaum who combined have absolutely nothing to their credit that I would consider Mission: Impossible worthy. I’d love to know who at Paramount said the guys behind She Spies, Fastlane, and the American remake of Life on Mars are who we’re relying on to turn in an amazing script for the newest film in one of our biggest franchises.
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is a decent film with a lot going for it that is let down in a few key areas. The IMAX scenes are incredible, the film’s locations are fantastic, and most of the action is some of the best you’ll see all year. Unfortunately, Ghost Protocol’s worst enemy is its own script; lack of a strong villain, problematic pacing, and a less than stellar final act keep the film from achieving the level of success it could have reached. I really wanted to rave about how much I loved Ghost Protocol but there are too many issues for me to overlook. There’s still a lot to enjoy about the film and I definitely recommend seeing it especially in IMAX just make sure to keep your expectations in check.