Directed By: Brad Bird
Written By: Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec
Starring: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Paula Patton
The Mission: Impossible series has been uneven in quality since its inception . I was lukewarm to the first film in the franchise, and I was not a fan of the second at all. Then things began to look up when the third installment was a surprisingly improvement on its predecessors. It was strange that a franchise would hit its stride in the third film. Stranger still is that stride hitting an even higher degree on the fourth try out. I would have to say that Mission Impossible hit that peek with stunning success. In fact at this point Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is my pick for best action film of the year.
In this installment of the franchise we once again follow Ethan Hunt in what seems like an impossible situation. Tom Cruise returns to the franchise, and shows he is still as great of an action star as ever. Cruise has become an easy go to for jokes and ridicule, but you can’t deny his talent. Personally I am a huge fan of Cruise and don’t really understand the huge backlash. Sure he has his strange moments, but so has almost every movie star. Plus you’d be hard pressed to find another person in Hollywood that has his multitude of talent. The fact he still does the majority of his own stunts is mind boggling to me. Especially when you see what does in this film. All I can say is that man has to have no fear. In the onset of the ‘Ghost Protocol’ Hunt is imprisoned in Moscow high security jail. We are not sure why he is there, but we do know his team is attempting to break him out. This breakout is the first of many well choreographed action sequences. It is your first glimpse into how much visuals will play a role in every aspect of the story. After the breakout Hunt and the rest of his team are given a new mission to identify a person of interest named “Cobalt”. This person is said to hold the power to ignite nuclear war, and is close to getting his hands on a nuclear weapon. In order to identify this terrorist they must break into Russia’s Kremlin to locate secret government files. It was a pleasure to see Mission: Impossible get back to its routes and incorporate the team aspect once more. Not since the first installment of the franchise has the team played such a large and important role. This time around the team once again includes Simon Pegg as the tech analyst/comedy relief Benji. Being a fan of Simon Pegg I was glad he returned to the franchise. Sometimes the funny tech guy can become tiresome and too farfetched to be an on the field agent. Pegg does a splendid job at finding a balance. Sure he can make you laugh, but when the time comes he can pull off the action. New to the franchise are Paula Patton and Jeremy Renner. Paula Patton is in her biggest career role to date as IMF agent Jane. Though surrounded by veteran talent Patton is able to hold her own. This can quickly become a breakout role for her. Jeremy Renner on the other hand has a well establish career already. There was some talk he would be taking over the franchise, and after seeing him in this I can see why. (Though I still hope it stays in Cruise’s hands) Renner, who will also be playing Hawkeye in the Avengers, is a welcomed addition to team. We know with his two Oscar nominations already that he is no slouch in the acting category, and he also shows the ability to pull off demanding action here. Having this strong cast is important because we end up spending a lot of time with them. During the Kremlin mission the team hits a little snag. The Kremlin is destroyed and it gets pinned on the IMF. Hunt and his team are branded fugitives by the American government. They must now go dark to clear their name and stop Cobalt was starting a nuclear Holocaust.
‘Ghost Protocol’ was Brad Bird’s first time directing a live action feature. Previously he had directed animated films such as The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and The Iron Giant. There was no learning curve needed because he did an astonishing job with picture. It was riddled with amazing set piece after amazing set piece. The action was fluid, easy to follow, and combined both practical and special effects especially well. Perhaps the biggest and best action scene of the entire film was the Dubai skyscraper climb. At that moment I was glad I saw this in IMAX, because that crystal clear picture and large screen rationed up the tension to great effect. The stunts they pulled on the largest building in the world were simply incredible. Bird’s use of the camera in that sequence was masterful as well. There was one shot in particular that gave me a huge sense of vertigo. (You will know it when you see it) If you are not a fan of heights you will be surely holding onto your seat. Another aspect of Bird’s direction was how he played with the ‘rules’ of an action film. For example there was a chase sequence that I thought ended three or four times until it finally did. Based on what was occurring on screen my movie mind told me it was over and we were about to move onto something else. Then something would happen to continue it forward. That showed that Bird has a strong understanding of how to make action work. In order to understand action you must understand the viewer’s expectations. The best directors know how to play those expectations against ourselves. That allows for twist and turns to occur naturally and not come off as forced exaggerations. Another occasion where Bird made an interesting decision was when Jeremy Renner’s character questioned Ethan Hunt about the methods he used to get them out of a dangerous situation. He wondered why it actually worked when in reality it shouldn’t. It was a nice little wink at the audience without being overly meta. Overall almost every action moment felt new and original. It would lead you down a certain direction in what felt like familiar ground, but would then change the game to end up in completely new territory. The mood was kept light with a number of well timed jokes, that come mostly from Simon Pegg. Being fan of Simon Pegg and his humor I was all for this. The jokes both made you laugh and allowed the viewer to catch their breath. Interesting enough there were moments that felt like a Pixar film. A lot of the humor and gadgets reminded me of previous films from that studio. Perhaps that is just my mind attempting to link the two due to Bird’s directional past.
However ‘Ghost Protocol’ isn’t a perfect film. (What is really though?) The main issue is the villain, or lack thereof. It never really established why this person was truly inspired to cause this havoc that would end so many lives. In fact you find out very little about the villain characters as a whole. It didn’t detract much however, because the antagonists were only brought into the film when it made sense. It was refreshing to not have everything explained to you in a way. There was no James Bond moment were everything villain did up to that point was explained to the hero. I appreciated a director that doesn’t handle the audience with kid gloves. Another issue was the back story of Jeremy Renner’s character. The reasoning behind his current occupation felt a little too much. The emotion they were going for with him and Hunt was never realized. Their bonding moment near the end came off as manufactured more than anything. There was a similar case with Paula Patton’s Jane. While her past played a bigger role in the plot, it too was ineffective in its attempt to garner emotion. In the end though I can only find small faults with this film. Everything thing I could ask for in an action film I found here. Even if you haven’t seen previous films in the franchise you could still watch this and completely understand what is taking place. If you have see previous installments there are plenty a call backs to pick up on that you should find enjoyable. If you are looking for some movies to see this Holiday season I would advise this to be one of them.