Sunday, February 19, 2012

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (a far better title than M:I-4 would have been) is a terrific action flick. Four movies in, around the time most franchises are exhausted (here’s looking at you, Pirates), the 15-year-old Mission: Impossible series delivers what may be its strongest installment. The action sequences have never been bigger, the stunts have never been more exciting, and the gadgets have never been cooler (I almost said that the plot has never been more convoluted, but the first film retains that dubious honor).

Tom Cruise reprises his role as Ethan Hunt, IMF agent (Impossible Mission Force) extraordinaire. After a mission at the Kremlin goes horribly wrong, the President disavows the entire IMF by initiating “Ghost Protocol.” Now Hunt and his teammates are on the run from authorities while hunting the terrorist who slipped past them at the Kremlin. The team includes Jane (Paula Patton), new field agent Benji (Simon Pegg), and Brandt (Jeremy Renner), IMF’s Chief Analyst with a mysterious past.

I’ve been a huge Mission: Impossible fan ever since I first saw the television show in syndication years ago. A special blend of elements separates Mission: Impossible from other secret agent fare: plots are complex, requiring attentive viewing (with some impossibly good disguises thrown in), heavy emphasis is placed on team collaboration, thrills derive more from suspense than action, and the gadgets - oh man, the gadgets. Of the four M:I movies, the only one to really get it wrong was M:I-2, as director John Woo tried way too hard to sex things up James Bond style. Ghost Protocol nails all the series’ staples, and even though action outweighs suspense this time around, the action sequences are so fantastic that it hardly matters.

Take the scene where Hunt uses suction gloves to climb up the exterior of the world’s tallest building in Dubai; Tom Cruise used neither a stunt double nor a green screen. Yes, Cruise was secured via multiple cables (which were digitally removed in post-production), but that’s really him climbing around out there 130 floors up, and you can tell. Nearly every sequence delivers that thrill of knowing that the actors trained hard and put themselves on the line. Mission: Impossible isn’t the place for stylized, cartoonish action, and the sequences in Ghost Protocol push the bounds of what’s possible without turning silly. The gadgets follow the same rule as the action: fantastic but not altogether unbelievable.

15 years after first playing Ethan Hunt, Tom Cruise proves that he’s still got it. Say what you will about his personal life (though I think it’s all been said at this point), but Tom Cruise continually pushes himself as an entertainer. Ghost Protocol features some incredible stunts, and I admire the physicality Cruise brings to this picture. However, from the first episode of the TV series on, Mission: Impossible has been about the team, and the cast members play off of each other very well. This IMF team has strong charisma, perhaps the best of any since the team that got killed off in the first half hour of the original M:I film. I especially appreciate Simon Pegg’s comedy; his expert delivery adds comic relief at just the right times.

Pixar veteran Brad Bird has directed a great action film once before with The Incredibles. Ghost Protocol marks his live-action directorial debut, though I’m guessing it won’t be his last venture with flesh-and-blood actors. Bird has a great eye for action and suspense, and I’d love to see more from him. Thanks largely to his direction, this movie had me sweaty-palmed, holding my breath, and opening my mouth in delighted surprise. I would have traded a few of the action-based thrills for a little more suspense (the vault scene in the original M:I comes to mind), but that’s more my preference than a flaw. Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol is the best old-fashioned action movie I’ve seen in a while.

For the Parents:

MPAA: Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action and violence.

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol is typical PG-13 action fare, meaning there’s plenty of action and violence but nothing too graphic. The action scenes are loud and intense, but you won’t find any gore. I don’t recall much language, and true to Mission: Impossible tradition, there’s little-to-no sexuality.

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