Director: Brad Bird
Cast: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Paula Patton, Michael Nyqvist, Vladimir Mashkov, Samuli Edelmann, Anil Kapoor, Josh Holloway, Léa Seydoux, Tom Wilkinson, Ving Rhames, Ivan Shvedoff, Pavel Kríz, Miraj Grbic
Running Time: 132 min.
Defying age and box office results, Tom Cruise is back with another entry in his venerable “Mission: Impossible” series. Although the second installment threatened to turn the franchise into a Cruise vanity project, “M:I” has been able to differentiate itself from both James Bond and Jason Bourne during its last two films: these movies may feature a globe-trotting adventure right out of any 007 film but the emphasis here is on teamwork. Oh, and Tom Cruise doing crazy things from incredibly tall heights.
This time around, animation director Brad Bird (“Iron Giant,” “The Incredibles”) is at the helm and he makes a seamless transition to live action. Bird puts other so-called big time directors like Michael Bay to shame with his kinetic action photography: everything is expert staged and filmed with an eye for clarity. We feel every punch and witness every stunt as it happens. Bird displays a keen understanding of the IMAX format as well. If he decides to stay the course in this genre, I can easily see him rubbing shoulders with the likes of James Cameron and Christopher Nolan in the future. His instinct for action is just that good.
After John Woo’s sequel turned Tom Cruise into an invincible superman, J.J. Abrams went to great lengths to make Ethan Hunt human and relatable in Part 3. Hunt was aged into a retired field agent who was ready to tie the knot and settle down in an attempt to add some much-needed heart to the series. For better or worse, most of these elements are jettisoned in “Ghost Protocol.” The focus here is on the mission. What does that mean? Action, action, action.
And when the movie isn’t hurtling some over-the-top stunt or chase sequence at us, it grinds to a halt. The script reveals itself as a flimsy excuse to string set-pieces together. Before the film’s release, the media speculated that Paramount was grooming Jeremy Renner to take Tom Cruise’s place at the head of the series. Watch “Ghost Protocol” and you’ll wonder how such an idea was even suggested: Renner’s character just doesn’t make enough of an impression to carry a movie, let alone a franchise. It’s nothing against Renner, who remains one of the best actors of his generation (see: “The Hurt Locker” or “The Town”). He’s just saddled with poor dialogue and a character who lacks confidence.
The rest of the IMF team is ably filled out by Paula Patton as the resident girl who can give just as good as the men and Simon Pegg as the token comic relief. I love “Shaun of the Dead” as much as anyone but I’m growing a bit weary of Pegg’s shtick. Whether he’s in “Mission: Impossible” or “Star Trek,” he’s always playing the same chirpy character who defuses each tense situation with a quip or understated reaction. Frankly, “Ghost Protocol” lets him go a bit overboard. I would have rather have seen Josh Holloway (TV’s “Lost”) given an expanded role, as he truly impresses what what little screentime he’s allotted. Léa Seydoux makes a similarly strong impression in her brief role as a female assassin.
Fortunately, Abrams (who remains onboard as producer) was able to retain the services of composer Michael Giacchino (“The Incredibles,” “Super 8”) who delivers an exciting up-tempo score that incorporates the classic “Mission: Impossible” theme at just the right moments. Once again, Giacchino has knocked it out of the park. From the opening zoom in to a rooftop in Budapest set to Giacchino’s fast moving strings, the music accentuates every setpiece and action-packed moment.
Besides an emotional pulse, Abrams also gave the series its first truly great villain with Phillip Seymour Hoffman in the third installment. Unfortunately, that’s another area where this film falters. Michael Nyqvist (the Swedish “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”) just doesn’t have the athleticism required for this film. The scenes in which he out-runs or physically dominates Tom Cruise defy belief. The script really calls for a more able-bodied actor in the role, someone like Clive Owen who could match Cruise on a hand-to-hand level. Nyqvist doesn’t have that kind of action prowess and the screenwriters don’t allow him to be truly evil or diabolical to make up for it. He’s merely tight-lipped and insane.
Granted, most movie-goers who put down the money for a ticket to see “Mission: Impossible” probably aren’t too worried about script issues. Based solely on spectacle, “Ghost Protocol” more than delivers an entertaining night out at the movies. Over the course of its two hour runtime, we’re treated to more fight scenes than some martial arts movies manage to deliver – though the fights may be brief, they’re very brutal and well choreographed – and countless death-defying stunts.
The sequences shot in IMAX truly pop with an extra layer of crisp detail and a breath-taking sense of scope, particularly when Tom Cruise is climbing the world’s tallest building in Dubai or out-running a sandstorm. Someday some director is going to shoot an entire movie in IMAX, despite the unwieldy and noisy cameras, and it will be glorious. I can’t wait to see where Brad Bird goes next with his career but I’m personally hoping he stays within the action genre. He’s just too good at playing in this sandbox.
Although the script fails to deliver any kind of personal attachment to the characters or a credible villain, “Ghost Protocol” is about on par with previous installments in the “Mission: Impossible” series thanks to Brad Bird’s fantastic action photography and some brilliantly thought-out stunts. Let’s face it, this fall and winter season has been rather barren when it comes to blockbuster-sized spectacle. If you’re craving a summer movie in the dead of winter, “Ghost Protocol” fits the bill. It’s also definitely worth seeing in IMAX if you have the opportunity. I have to admit, as I walked out of the theater I was eager to see Tom Cruise continue to slow down his aging process via sheer willpower and deliver another spy thriller somewhere down the road.
HKFanatic’s Rating: 7/10