Mark Reviews Movies

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Brad Bird

Cast: Tom Cruise, Paul Patton, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Michael Nyqvist

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of intense action and violence)

Running Time: 2:13

Release Date: 12/16/11 (IMAX); 12/21/11 (wide)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | December 15, 2011

We must again rely on the old adage from Howard Hawks that defined a good movie as, "three great scenes and no bad ones." Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol has at least three great scenes—action and espionage setpieces that are alternately astonishing and humorous yet always inventive—and if the scenes in between are only present to get the characters from thrill ride A to thrill ride B, they are never "bad." In fact, most of them incorporate a knowing, winking sense of humor about the absurdity of what has preceded or what will proceed, or, barring that, they treat the characters as more than bodies that will eventually be put into preposterous motion.

And those motions are sometimes astounding. Director Brad Bird (making his live-action debut after a productive career in animation) keeps the execution simple—clean framing and camera movements that serve only to capture the action as it happens or punctuate the stakes—allowing us to appreciate the multilevel choreography and the practical implementation of the film's most impressive sequences. Here, when we witness our hero running down the side of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, Bird wisely sees the act itself as the spectacle.

Some time after the events of the last film, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), for all intents and purposes formerly of the Impossible Missions Force (IMF), is locked away in a Budapest jail (doing what any movie star worth his salt does in such a situation: bouncing something off the wall and catching it). Two IMF agents Jane Carter (Paula Patton) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), who has recently earned his stripes as a field agent after spending the previous film offering advice and comic relief as a technician, aid Ethan in escaping by progressively opening the doors to the prison's cells, slowly allowing the inmates to riot against their captors.

The sequence plays with minimal dialogue (Most of it the subtitled alarm of panicked guards), as the aural chaos of yells and physical pummeling barely audible under a Dean Martin tune (Surely "Ain't That a Kick in the Head?" is a musical pun on the fate of one unfortunate guard) blasting through the speakers. Words are pretty much unnecessary in the situations that screenwriters Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec dream up for Ethan and his teammates, and perhaps—after observing how concisely Bird conveys the details of this and the team's next mission as they occur—that's why the film's breaks for routine expositional dialogue are so jarring to the overall pacing. A single, Dutch-angled tracking shot, which follows Ethan down a row of violent prisoners out for anyone's blood, is the only exposition we really need—immediate and kinetic.

The plot centers on an insane man named Kurt Hendricks' (Michael Nyqvist) attempt to cause a global nuclear holocaust, which he is convinced is the only next logical step in evolution and necessary so that peace can rise from the ashes. There's a mission in the Kremlin, which uses an ingenious camouflage screen (The area behind the screen is projected upon it, and the image adjusts according to the location of the observer's eyes) for a comic bit, and at the end, the Kremlin is no more—demolished in a massive explosion. Ethan and his team are blamed for the act and IMF is dissolved, leaving only Ethan, Carter, Benji, and an analyst named William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) to stop Hendricks' mad plan.

The inclusion of the overly analytical Brandt is mildly inspired. After escaping an ambush, which leads to Ethan and Brandt taking cover behind a car submerged under water, Brandt wonders how Ethan knew the men shooting at them would take the bait of a corpse with a flare in its pocket; "These guys aren't Rhodes Scholars," Ethan replies. Brandt is even more suspicious of Ethan's next plan to infiltrate a meeting between Hendricks and an assassin (Léa Seydoux), who kills Carter's love interest in the film's prologue, in the Burj Khalifa, which, at 2,723 feet, is the tallest skyscraper in the world.

The particulars of how the bait-and-switch occurs are secondary to what Ethan must do to prepare it. To break into the building's server room, he must scale the side of the structure using gloves that adhere to the windows. Bird sets the scene with a graceful overhead dolly shot as Ethan carefully steps out the window, revealing the long, long drop to the ground below (On an IMAX screen, with the format's taller aspect ratio, the sight is dizzying). Complications arise, as they must in such a situation, leaving Ethan hanging by one hand, cradled in the building's architecture, rappelling and then running down the building, and, at the climax of the sequence, swinging toward an open window and hoping the laws of physics will do the rest.

The film's centerpiece complete, Brid, Appelbaum, and Nemec still have a few unique sequences in store, including a chase through a sandstorm and a fistfight inside an automated parking garage in which platforms rise and fall as the combatants tumble to and fro. The interaction of the team is more than serviceable, even if we're left wanting in their individual development (Carter's desire for revenge is resolved with an anticlimax, Brandt's secret past ties in directly to Ethan's, and Benji is just comic relief). Again, though, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is nothing more than an excuse to show us the most precarious situations imaginable, and that it does in spades. Did I mention it features a man running down the side of the tallest building in the world?

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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