Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)
The Mission: Impossible movie franchise always seems to find a way to outdo itself. Generally, I believe they’ve become progressively better films with each sequel, which is not the norm. In the least, they always happen to trump the big action sequences of the previous film. I absolutely LOVED the third film through and through. I felt it was great! Still, now that we’re at a fourth movie, have the filmmakers been able to keep up this strenuous challenge and succeed? Well, I surely couldn’t make a full judgment until the very end of the film as there are a few reassuring tags there. I do have some reservations about this film, but that’s not to say it wasn’t entirely enjoyable and entertaining.
A nuclear extremist known as Cobalt (Michael Nyqvist) seeks to obtain launch codes for Russian nuclear missiles. He intends to ignite a nuclear war to eliminate the weak from humanity to force the next stage of human evolution. An IMF operation, ran by Agent Jane Carter (Paula Patton), to intercept those codes goes awry when assassin Sabine Moreau (Léa Seydoux) promptly kills an IMF Agent and steals them for Cobalt. In response to this, the IMF sends Agent Carter and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) to extract Agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) out of a Russian prison so that he can head up the mission to infiltrate the Moscow Kremlin, and locate files which identify Cobalt. However, everything goes wrong when someone hijacks the team’s communications signal to alert security to their presence, and then, detonates a bomb destroying the Kremlin. The IMF team is blamed for the bombing as an act of terrorism. The U.S. President initiates “Ghost Protocol” which disavows the entire IMF, but the IMF Secretary (Tom Wilkinson) gives Hunt an unsanctioned mission to bring down Cobalt along with his team without the aid of back-up. Incidentally added to Ethan’s team is William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), Mr. Secretary’s Chief Analyst who has some personal secrets he must struggle with, and exceptional skills which attract Ethan to question just who Brandt really is. Ethan Hunt’s team must learn to work together beyond their personal vendettas and internal conflicts to avert nuclear disaster.
Really, my only major scrutiny with this movie is the untapped potential of Jeremy Renner and his character of Brandt. Renner plays his role exceptionally well hitting all the beats, both obvious and subtle, and he definitely is leading role material. He surely handles the action requirements with amazing precision and physical sharpness. My problem is that Brandt seems like a very interesting character to explore that could’ve been used as a more critical element in the story. More of the plot could have been hung on him in either an internal or external fashion. I believe a lot of talk leading up to this film was that Renner would be put into a position where he could possibly take over as the lead if Tom Cruise chose to step down from the franchise. While that was in the back of my mind, it was Renner and the character or Brandt himself that drive this feeling in me. There appears to be so much more to develop out of Brandt, and make him a more prominent player in the story. However, that’s not the agenda here. We get some general mystery about him, and a few moments for Renner to shine. Still, at the end of the movie, despite obtaining some absolution, he’s still just another member of the team. It’s not a situation of the filmmakers leaving you wanting more because they don’t give you enough of him in the forefront to whet your appetite. It’s unutilized potential of the right actor in the right role. Renner is very capable and quite impressive with everything he presents in this film. I just wish he was given a chance to standout more instead of exclusively being part of the supporting cast. Maybe there’s a chance he’ll reappear in a future sequel, but the IMF team mostly changes with every movie. Still, I have to hope for a better expectation.
That leads me to a small issue. Ving Rhames’ Luther Stickell is not part of this team. However, he does have a brief appearance in the film’s final scene which is a nice coda to the adventure, but his rapport with Cruise is rather missed. It’s always been a highlight of franchise, but in a way, I understand why he was not part of the team. Part of the story is about a team that’s untested with one another having to find cohesion when they have no back-up and no resources to smooth out their mission. Putting Ethan and Luther back together would work against that idea and dynamic. So, I am glad there’s a story driven purpose to his general absence. Thankfully, Rhames’ single scene is quite funny, and it’s nice that they threw us that bone.
Beyond all that is pristine cinematic action gold. Like I said, each film finds a way to outdo the action set pieces of the last one. It’s not just the size of the building they break into, but the tension and various story elements that surround those sequences which enhance them further. Early in the film, Ethan has to scale the world’s tallest building in Dubai to break into a computer server room, and the electronic suction gloves start malfunctioning, forcing Ethan to slowly abandon the tech for human ability. It doesn’t even end there as nothing goes along perfectly, and he has to keep improvising when the time comes for an escape. Ghost Protocol piles on more and more elements to make the peril higher and the tension tighter. Plus, what I like about this franchise is that action sequences don’t end where they would in other films. Here, Ethan Hunt finds a way to keep it going. An on foot chase sequence gets a sandstorm thrown into the mix, and then, it turns into a car chase in a sandstorm. Mission: Impossible really lives up to its name by pushing the limits of what is possible by forcing its characters to do the extraordinary.
How the team works these operations is also very inventive. The team has to do what I call a “double fake-out” when trying to intercept the nuclear launch codes between the assassin and the buyer. They have to divide and conquer by impersonating both sides. I won’t spoil anything, but I found it to be a very original idea that further re-enforces that this has never been a lazy franchise. They don’t go the route of any other action film. They get smart, and work out far more satisfying scenarios which increase the entertainment value and story quality. There’s plenty of time for the action pay-off later as a cleverly woven plot is something I will always give great credit for. The plot is well crafted and nicely paced making the action scenes work for the story twists, and allowing the characters’ personalities to drive the action.
I am indeed a Tom Cruise fan. Risky Business, Top Gun, The Color of Money, Interview With The Vampire, & Collateral are all highlights that I thoroughly enjoy. Why people are surprised when a Tom Cruise movie is actually good is beyond me. He has gotten a lot flack for his personal life craziness, but as a professional, he brings it every time. He is absolutely one of the best actors of his generation, and he has a very solid professional business sense. He makes great films year after year, decade after decade. They are blockbuster hits, and modern cinematic gems. Plus, you can see he pushes himself to the max with these action scenes by performing many of his own stunts. He indeed did the scaling of the Burj Khalifa Tower himself entirely. With that precarious height, I thought it would’ve been a green screen effect like when Batman jumped off that Hong Kong skyscraper in The Dark Knight. Not at all. Plus, the man can RUN like I’ve never seen anyone do. When he is running on screen, you believe he is running for dear life with unwavering determination. Cruise is clearly in incredible shape, and he doesn’t allow himself to slack off in any aspect. As Ethan Hunt, he keeps bringing more layers to the character, and maintains an emotional continuity that creates a linking thread between every film. The screenwriters never forgot to touch upon what Ethan has been through and resolve that for Cruise and the fans. While this entry doesn’t have the deep personal and emotional motivations for Ethan as the previous sequel, Cruise still leads the film with his usual diverse qualities handling all the dramatic, charming, physically intense, and humorous moments with perfect balance.
Now, I surely want to spotlight Josh Holloway’s amazing sequence at the film’s start. I would definitely love to see a whole film with that amazing, action capable character. That’s no knock on Ethan Hunt, but seeing what Josh Holloway he does as Agent Hanaway in such a brief appearance really set an amazing tone for the rest of the film. It was a very exciting and dynamic way to introduce the character.
In comparison with M:I-3, I can only say that this film lacks a strong antagonist. Philip Seymour Hoffman was such a blockbuster villain as Owen Davian in the previous installment, and would be a hard act to follow. This time through, the villain of Hendricks is not given much presence in the story. It’s more focused on the nuclear threat, and the IMF team trying to absolve themselves of their alleged crimes. That’s not a bad thing at all, and maybe it’s better to change up that dynamic on occasion. Still, on the villainous front, Léa Seydoux is quite exceptional as the assassin Sabine Moreau. She has a dangerous presence, and backs that up well in her fight scenes. Plus, she has a very cool sexiness to her. Clearly, she’s physically attractive, but as Moreau, she creates en engaging quality with her coldly confident attitude. She is a top level professional, and has many subtle things going on that create a fully dimensional character with a definite personality and skill set.
And speaking of good women of action, Paula Patton eventually proves to be very solid. Her character of Jane Carter starts off as a slightly shaky agent due to the awry events at the film’s start. However, as the film progresses, she comes more into her own, and reasserts control of her wits and confidence. First, she shows how action capable she is, but later, is able to mix that field savvy with a very strong sexiness. I’m not saying that such a character requires a sexy edge, but as a man, I happen to notice these things quite prominently. Simply put, it is a compliment for Ms. Patton and the character she portrays here.
I also want to give very pleasing praise to Anil Kapoor in his suave and charismatic, yet playfully entertaining role as Indian multimedia mogul Brij Nath. He works opposite Paula in the scene where her assertive sexiness takes form, and the two play off one another so well. As Nath, Kapoor really takes a relatively minor character, and makes him really standout. Such an actor was necessary to keep the audience hooked into this part of the story, and it was done with exceptional success. Nath was a highly enjoyable character that added some extra flavor of fun late in the film.
Of course, speaking of fun performances, right from start, Simon Pegg brings his rich comedic ability to the movie reprising his role of Benjamin Dunn. At one point, I was afraid they would exploit it too much, but it eventually settles down into a situation-relevant personality trait which never hijacks the film’s tone.
Generally, I have nothing bad to say about the cinematography, but I also don’t have anything exceptional to say about it. I always remember some shots from the previous films of large dramatic scope. Something that allows you to take in the magnitude of a location or beat before a dramatic action sequence. The locations are very well represented from Moscow to Mumbai with some very nice aerial shots. Everything is well shot, and the action sequences are very competently staged, shot, and edited together. There’s just nothing that sticks out with the visuals this time out, but that’s merely a point made in context with the franchise as a whole. In and of itself, there is nothing at all to criticize about the work of Director of Photography Robert Elswit. I’ve seen many action movies shot without any artistic integrity or visual competence to say that Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is surely one of the far better shot films of the genre.
The visual effects are excellent. I was never once taken out of the film. Every last effect is seamless and realistic with its surroundings. They entirely serve the story by reflecting the tone and intensity of the moment. The music does the same. The classic Mission: Impossible theme is punched in every so often at the right moment, but overall, it services the moment by enhancing it but not overwhelming it.
Frankly, I believe Brad Bird should be highly commended on his live action directorial debut. I’m sure he had very supportive assistance from Tom Cruise and J.J. Abrams, but at the end of it all, Bird is the one responsible for the final product that we see before us. Everything he was given was executed greatly, and I don’t feel there’s any fat in this motion picture. It’s very lean and well paced with smartly conceived and shot action sequences. This surely doesn’t disappoint as it delivers on the promise and expectations of the franchise. However, if their intention was to position Jeremy Renner to potentially take the reins of the franchise, I don’t think they succeeded. The screenplay simply doesn’t give him the opening to rise to an equal level as Cruise’s Ethan Hunt. Again, absolutely none of this is a failing of Renner himself. He has every quality needed to take on that role as franchise lead, but the story treated him as too much of a supporting character than one to step forward into the forefront. Regardless, I do highly recommend Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. The franchise continues to please by improving upon itself and setting higher standards for each new outing.