Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

24 Dec

Title: Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
Year: 2011
Director: Brad Bird
Writers: André Nemec and Josh Appelbaum, based on the television series by Bruce Geller
Starring: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Paula Patton, Michael Nyqvist, Vladimir Mashkov, Samuli Edelmann, Anil Kapoor, Josh Holloway, Léa Seydoux, Tom Wilkinson
MPAA Rating: PG-13, sequences of intense action and violence
Runtime: 133 min
IMDb Rating: 7.9
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Metacritic: 74

 

The first two Mission: Impossible films, released in 1996 and 2001, helped solidify Tom Cruise as a true movie star more than capable of carrying an action franchise full of really awesome effects-driven setpieces. Another five years passed and in 2006 J.J. Abrams stepped up to direct a third installment, which up until now had actually been my favorite of the entire series, with an awesome pacing and spectacular stunts that proved that Tom Cruise still very much had it. Now, another five years have gone by, and we get Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, the fourth installment in the franchise; but in this interim between films Mr. Cruise’s stock in Hollywood had decreased quite a bit, with only his cameo in the hilarious Tropic Thunder salvaging something from the disappointments that were Lions for Lambs, Valkyrie and last year’s Knight & Day (which I gave a B- to), the latter of which was considered by many a commercial disappointment and put doubts as to whether Mr. Cruise could still carry an action film by himself.

Which is maybe why it seemed to make some sense when word was heard that the new Mission: Impossible film was courting actors like Tom Hardy, Chris Pine and Anthony Mackie for the role of a new spy that would act alongside Mr. Cruise’s Ethan Hunt in this one, to then maybe transition into a starring role and take over if the franchise moved forward. Jeremy Renner eventually landed that role (getting himself his first of three franchises, what with the upcoming Avengers movie and his leading role in the Bourne reboot), and he’s incredibly good in this film. But, what I’m getting at is that having someone take over from Tom Cruise won’t be necessary, this film has the man back in top form, delivering one of my twenty favorite films of the entire year, and certainly the best one yet in the whole franchise.

Seriously, this is the definition of what a good action blockbuster should be; really fast-paced, full of huge setpieces that are stunning to behold and really grab you by the throat, and an impeccable overall style courtesy of director Brad Bird, who with this film made a seriously incredible foray into live-action features, having previously dabbled only in animation, winning two Oscar’s in the process for Pixar’s The Incredibles and Ratatouille. And Tom Cruise is just awesome in this one, making us forget about any recent missteps and just remember him as the pure action star he was, his added years actually add something to him, making Ethan Hunt feel like a more weathered and experienced guy, and the fact that Mr. Cruise himself performed the stunt in which he scales the outside of the Burj Khalifa Tower without any help from a stuntman is really mind-boggling. He’s just the real deal, a true movie star of which we don’t have many left, with the looks, charm and actual chops it takes to carry a huge film like this.

As much as this is Mr. Cruise’s show, however, kudos have to be given to whoever made the decision of making this new Mission: Impossible transition from its tried-and-true method of just making it about Ethan Hunt saving the day, into more of a team adventure, with Mr. Renner’s Brandt, as well as Simon Pegg’s Benji and Paula Patton’s Jane, taking off some of the weight from him and adding quite a bit of their own charisma and talents to make the film really stand out. This is a classic action film, we’re whirled around the world to exotic locales, we have really gorgeous women (Léa Seydoux is stunning), nifty gadgets that you want to exist really badly, and a movie star doing some seriously jaw-dropping stunts for over two hours which go by like a breeze.

The fact that this comes from a man who usually works at Pixar is only further proof that that’s the best company to work at in the world. Not to mention that it was only a matter of time before animation directors made a jump to live-action films (Wall-E‘s Andrew Stanton is spearheading John Carter for Disney which is due in March), after all, special-effects are mostly done on computers now, and animation is looking incredibly real and is known for a lot of action, not to mention that Mr. Bird’s animated films have a lot of character development and The Incredibles was the first Pixar film about humans. So Brad Bird was actually a genius choice to take the reigns of this film, and how masterfully this whole endeavor is constructed: shot really gracefully, impeccably choreographed and with a great sense of humor, only validates that decision like crazy, and Paramount would have to be dumb not to beg him to return for another go-round in the already-announced fifth film in the franchise.

This is a pure action film, that’s done in the best way possible; that shot I mentioned atop of the Burj Khalifa Tower in Dubai is one of the best minutes of film I’ve seen all year, the way it’s choreographed and shot and edited taking your breath away. And even though that’s certainly the scene everyone will be talking about, and with good reason, that assessment applies to every other set piece we see in this film, the bit inside the Kremlin with the super high-tech screen, the opening prison break that’s really well done, and of course that climatic battle in a super modern car park in which metal platforms go up and down to retrieve cars; every last minute of this damn film is supremely cool.

The plot involves a villain, that’s played by Michael Nyqvist (the guy who played Mikael Blomkvist in the Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its two sequels), an evil genius who has Russian launch codes and plans to use them in order to start a nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia, working under the theory that he believes such a chaos would bring forward natural selection and more highly evolved humankind. Ethan Hunt and his team, of course, are the ones that are to prevent such a war from taking place. The catch, however, and where the film’s subtitle comes from, is that the government has initiated ghost protocol after his team was involved in a really messy international incident, which means that now their government won’t acknowledge their existence, hanging them out to dry without any sort of assistance and with many people under the impression that they’re potential terrorists when in reality they’re the ones chasing the terrorists.

The fact that the team has to fend for itself without being able to call for assistance and relying just on each other and their own wits is damn awesome, Mr. Cruise being the team leader, the guy who calls the shots and takes the risks; Mr. Renner playing an “analyst” with more than a few surprises up his sleeve, a great counterpart to Ethan Hunt and a worthy successor if Mr. Cruise should ever decide his team as the guy dangling from the world’s tallest building is up; Mr. Pegg’s minor role from the last movie as a comic relief is upgraded to a fully-fleshed character now, and he’s awesome as always, providing some of the aforementioned humor that Mr. Bird relies on to keep this film from taking itself too seriously; and Ms. Patton is good as Jane, combining a sexyness with the ability to really kick some ass.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is by far the best of the franchise, and it’s one of the year’s best films, one that manages to make 133 minutes seem like a really short time, expertly knowing how to blow your mind and keep you at the edge of your seat. Front and center is Tom Cruise, showing that he still has the goods, being a true movie star, carrying a film with a little help from some truly talented friends. And chief amongst those friends is the man behind the camera, Brad Bird, a guy who deserves a lot of credit for this film being as amazing as it is, making a jump from animation to live-action that Andrew Stanton can only hope he can come close to emulating and, strangely enough considering his background, showing that live-action stunts done with wires and actual guys that do their physics-defyings jobs, Mr. Cruise included, can be just as exhilarating as the best CGI out there.

Grade: A

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