Friday, December 16, 2011

"Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" (2011)

Starring Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner and Simon Pegg
Written by Andre Nemec and Josh Applebaum
Directed by Brad Bird
Rated PG-13 - Violence, language
Running Time: 132 Minutes

The "Mission: Impossible" franchise is a slightly weird one.  Each movie is pretty self contained save for star Tom Cruise as super-spy Ethan Hunt and Ving Rhames as his sidekick, Luther.  Each film has a different director and generally even a different filming style.  Oh, and they alternate between short-haired Tom Cruise and long-haired Tom Cruise.  Don't ask me why that is.

The fourth entry in the series, "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" is directed by acclaimed, fan-favorite animation director Brad Bird, who previously directed films like "The Iron Giant" and the Pixar hit, "The Incredibles."  "Ghost Protocol" is Bird's live-action direction debut, and he knocks it out of the park.

The film opens with IMF Agent Hanaway (Josh Holloway) being gunned down after stealing important documents from a courier.  Not long after, two IMF agents, Jane Carter (Paula Patton), Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), break Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) out of a Russian prison in Moscow.  Hunt and his team are tasked with breaking into the Kremlin to retrieve documents that may lead them to a mad terrorist named Cobalt (Michael Nyqvist).  But Cobalt is one step ahead of them, setting off a bomb that decimates the Kremlin, and places the blame squarely on Hunt and his team.

The IMF is disavowed by the President, and tensions between Russia and the United States escalate.  Now on the run from both the United States and Russian authorities, Hunt and his team, including a mysterious analyst named Brandt (Jeremy Renner) must work alone and off the grid to find Cobalt and stop him from starting a nuclear war that would destroy the entire world.

"Ghost Protocol" is a fast-paced thrill ride of a movie, to borrow a cliche.  Brad Bird has constructed an action film that moves at a blistering pace, full of clever, highly entertaining action sequences.  The premise is relatively simple, but each step of the plot is rife with complications for Hunt and his team.  Their equipment fails, their timing is off, the weather is awful and they have no backup.

Things start off right from the quick opening chase, then going pretty immediately into Hunt's breakout, and so on.  The movie is almost perfectly paced, alternating between setup and payoff.  And boy, does it pay off.  Sure, the action is ridiculous, but this is not a series built on realism.  The gadgets and technology that Hunt and his team use are pretty well science fiction, but who cares?  They're fun.

There are a number of great action sequences sprinkled throughout the film, but the highlights have to be Hunt scaling the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, in Dubai.  Hunt must climb up the outside of the building to break into a server room on the 130th floor, but his grip-gloves are malfunctioning, making the climb even more dangerous.  This sequence was shot with IMAX cameras, and god does it look spectacular.  The sense of depth and detail to the image is fantastic, and Bird doesn't hold back on showing us just how freaking tall this building is, with great shots looking way, way down at the distant ground.  It's almost vertigo-inducing, and each time Hunt nearly loses his grip, the audience gasps.

Soon after, Hunt and his team must pull a double-switcharoo to fool a pair of assassins and get a bead on Cobalt, which leads to a thrilling chase through a sandstorm that has swallowed the city.  This sequence could easily be get lost in confusing camera shots and edits, but the genius of it is that it doesn't.  You can always tell what's going on, even when the screen is awash in blowing sand and visibility is down to nil.  And it ends with Hunt's clever use of a car as a guided missile.

"Ghost Protocol" is thrilling entertainment through and through, but it's not especially deep.  The characters get just enough emotional motivation to make them seem like people instead of constructs, but that's only for the good guys.  The bad guys are one-dimensional.  Cobalt only has a couple of lines in the entire film, so he's really not developed as a villain.  Philip Seymour Hoffman's Owen Davian from the third film was fun because we got a sense of him as a character, as a man who was supremely confident in who he is and what he does.  Nyqvist, on the other hand, only shows up a couple of times and even then barely speaks other than to deliver some technical dialogue about overriding server controls and yada yada yada.

So as a character, the villain fails.  But the situations are so dire and the ticking click so prescient, that the villain of the piece almost seems to be the deadline rather than the man.  Hunt and his team have to move fast, with no backup and malfunctioning equipment and even a growing mistrust of each other.  The breathless pace of the film, even at over two hours in length, makes up for this, if you ask me.

"Ghost Protocol" is great action entertainment.  Of the four films, it easily has the most action in it.  it's also the slickest production, and the most fun.  There's plenty of great, cool "Mission: Impossible" moments, and genuinely funny comic relief sprinkled throughout.  And be sure to check out the film in IMAX to get the best experience, and to check out the prologue for next summer's highly-anticipated "The Dark Knight Rises."  Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to have some fun at the theater with Ethan Hunt and his team.