Despite the unwieldy title, Mission: Impossible"Ghost Protocol, the fourth entry in the long-running Tom Cruise-anchored franchise based on the cult 1960s television series, is an effectively enthralling back-to-basics action thriller. Moving away from J.J. Abrams's Alias-inspired experimentation in mixing international espionage and familial tensions in Mission: Impossible III (2006), Ghost Protocol is a more straightforward slice of meat-and-potatoes spectacle with just enough emotional subplotting to give the action extravaganza a hint of depth.
Seeking to reclaim the mega-watt action movie star persona that was tarnished by the ho-hum response to his tentpole action-comedy Knight and Day (2010), Tom Cruise returned as Ethan Hunt, the intense, clenched-jaw point man for the secretive IMF (Impossible Mission Force). Interestingly, though, the films opens not with him saving someone, but rather with him being saved from the dank bowels of a Russian prison where he has been held for an undetermined length of time and for reasons that are not made clear until deep into the story. The team extracting him includes Benji (Simon Pegg), the comic-relief computer expert introduced in M:i:III, and Jane (Paula Patton), an IMF agent who is both angry and guilt-ridden about the recent killing of another agent (Josh Holloway) with whom she was romantically involved.
As soon as Ethan has broken out of prison, the group is sent on a mission to infiltrate the Kremlin to steal nuclear launch codes. The mission goes south when the codes are stolen out from underneath them and then the team is framed for bombing the Kremlin. They are quickly disavowed by the government (although they gain an additional member in Jeremy Renner's Brandt, an IMF analyst with his own big secret), which means they must clear their names and stop the nuclear ambitions of Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist), an international nuclear scholar-turned-psychotic with delusional plans of attaining world peace by annihilating most of it. This gives Ghost Protocol an old-school Cold War feel more in line with the original TV series, but updated for the post-9/11 era of rogue parties and constantly shifting allegiances among nations. Unfortunately, the film loses out on having a truly notable villain, especially following Philip Seymour Hoffman's nasty turn in the third film; Nyqvist simply doesn't have the menace to leave much of an impression.
The team's first stop is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, which at 2,716 feet, is the world's tallest building. There the team must pull off the seemingly impossible feat of intercepting the exchange of the launch codes between Hendricks and Sabine Moreau (La Seydoux), the assassin who took out Jane's boyfriend. That would be difficult enough, but the mission is infinitely complicated when they realize that, in order for Benji to hack into the building's computer system, Ethan must get into the mainframe room from outside the building-130 stories up. This provides the film with its signature sequence, which finds Ethan clinging to the outside of the mostly glass building like Spider-Man courtesy of a pair of electronic glue gloves that work only intermittently, while the clock ticks away and a massive sandstorm emerges on the horizon (kudos to Cruise for actually doing the stunt-work himself, which gives the entire sequence the kind of dazzling, stomach-churning suspense and you-are-there-ness that even the best CGI work can't quite replicate).
Although it is the standout, the Burj Khalifa sequence is only one of numerous "impossible" missions, and as the film moves forward with an increasing sense of drive and intensity, so does the action spectacle. As I have mentioned in previous reviews, no mainstream star mines the intersections of anger and determination like Cruise, and he pulls out all the stops here (no one runs on screen with such single-minded intensity, as if life itself rests on each high-knee stride). The screenplay by television veterans Josh Appelbaum and Andr Nemec (Alias, Life on Mars) provides a wide variety of situations for Cruise to flex his physical and emotional muscles, although there is some democracy in allowing Renner, Pegg, and Patton to each have their "moments," as well.
The laws of physics, however, are not paid their due respect, and at times you might think that the movie is actually an extended promotional piece for the amazing ability of air bags to leave people unscathed even after high-speed head-on collisions and 100-foot drops. Director Brad Bird, who until then had worked exclusively in the realm of animation (including Pixar's The Incredibles), gives even the most ridiculous feats of crazed derring-do an edge of believability, which helps smooth our much-needed immersion into the world of impossible missions. Bird brings a sense of elegance to the action genre, foregoing Michael Bay-like spatial incoherence and rapid-fire editing with longer takes and inspired framing that allows us to lose ourselves in the mayhem, rather than being simply throttled by it (Bird's action style is reminiscent of John McTiernan's best work in the late 1980s). The result is a highly enjoyable throwback-a reminder that all the aesthetic misdirection in the world can't compete with real action done well.
Copyright 2018 James Kendrick
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All images copyright Paramount Home Entertainment
Overall Rating: (3.5)
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