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December 24, 2011


Movie Review – Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)


Globetrotting IMF (Impossible Mission Force) super agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is on the job again; this time to find a man named Hendricks and to stop him from buying nuclear launch codes from other bad guys. Sounds simple, right?

When the film opens, Ethan Hunt escapes from a Russian prison (I won’t say why he’s there) while somewhere else in Europe, another IMF agent is killed by an assassin and papers with nuclear launch codes are stolen. Ethan is recruited, along with a small team to find the codes before they’re sold to Hendricks. But along the way, just after Ethan breaks into the Kremlin, the structure is detonated and Ethan and his team are blamed for it. The IMF disavows the agents but leaves them with just enough gadgets to complete their task, if at all possible.

This is director Brad Bird’s (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille) directorial live-action debut and it’s nothing short of awe-inspiring.

What’s neat about this fourth, and easily the best installment in the series are two aspects. First, Ethan puts together a team consisting of the tech expert Benji (Simon Pegg); the smart, beautiful and deadly bombshell Jane (Paula Patton); and the analyst Brandt (Jeremy Renner). He needs to rely heavily on his team at all times. Ethan’s not just the leader, he also works with them and their working together in perfect harmony makes the job easier, even though it’s a ridiculously tough mission. It’s a departure for Ethan Hunt as he usually trots the globe on his own.

The second aspect that makes this film different is Hendricks, played by Michael Nyqvist (the journalist protagonist in the original Swedish versions of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy). Here, Nyqvist plays Hendricks as insane. From the get-go we are told that he’s gone entirely bonkers and he’s not looking to make money or counterfeit money, nor is he looking to take over the world. He wants to destroy the world and he has an interesting reason for wanting to do so. So in order to make a character like that interesting, he’s not shown much throughout the film and isn’t developed at all.

It’s not possible to develop a man who’s clinically insane and I salute the scrip for recognizing that fact. I don’t see that as a plot hole or a weak screenplay element, rather it’s just right. In proper screenwriting, characters create actions and here Hendricks is trying to create a nuclear holocaust. It’s not Hendricks’ motivation that the recently disavowed IMF agents need to worry about, it’s finding out what he plans to do and then to stop him from doing it. The filmmakers’ approach is rather smart and it allows one brilliant action set piece to follow another without letting the audience have any down time. It’s called “professionally skilled filmmaking.”

Now, we can’t have a “Mission: Impossible” film without an abundance of terrific, sometimes exotic locales. Aside from the film’s opening in France and Russia, we also travel to Dubai, where Ethan Hunt must climb the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa without safety gear (again, I won’t say why), and then participate in a foot and then car chase in a colossal sand storm. Then it’s on to Mumbai.

In a skillfully made film like this the action cannot stop for long and any character development occurs only during the short breathing periods. Character development is rare, but it does happen because Bird recognizes that there are people leading the story and not robots or cars; or robot cars (yeah, I’m looking at you, Michael Bay!).

Now for the moment you’ve all been waiting for: I’m certain that Tom Cruise had a hand in producing the film and that’s why when he suggested that he perform all of his own stunts he was allowed to do so. The sequence where he climbs the Burj Khalifa is done entirely with a few cables and a safety net. That’s it. No CGI. This film should be seen in IMAX and that sequence alone is worth the admission price. It is breathtaking to behold as the camera operator shows us what Cruise is looking at when he hangs outside the windows of the 130th floor of that building. Tom Cruise must have brass balls to want to pull that off and the sequence- and again, it supports the story, it’s not just for show- is literally breathtaking.

This is an excellent entry into the live-action category for Brad Bird and with his excellent filmmaking skills he’s helped put the other three M:I films to shame. The third film, J.J. Abrams’ first entry, was also the first good one in the series, but it’s now been eclipsed with this masterful action-thriller.

See this in IMAX, or at least in the theaters and keep an open mind. It may be the best action film of the year but it’s still a “Mission: Impossible” film.

3 1/2 stars

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Miriam
    Dec 24 2011

    You are right about the thrills in this and it looks fabulous too. I saw it on a good big screen, but I wish I’d seen it at the IMAX – possibly the first time I’ve said that. I just might have to go again and supersize the thrills!

  2. Dec 24 2011

    The only problem with IMAX is that the ticket cost me $19 dollars (CAN) so it’s even more in US funds. But it was worth it.

  3. Dec 26 2011

    The summer action movie we’ve been waiting for!

    But seriously, this is THE action movie of the year- and would be even if the competition was stronger. It’s terrifically entertaining in all respects, a perfect blend of “Mission Impossible”-style stealth infiltrations and jaw-dropping action set-pieces. The central segment in Dubai is of course, absolutely amazing, but the big sequences in Moscow and Mumbai are fantastic as well, and the spaces in between are filled in with great action (and character and comedy) moments. I think I may have to go and see it again- this time in IMAX!

    The high-tech superspy aspects of MI, TV series and movie series, have always at least flirted with becoming ridiculous, and this entry acknowledges that fact with disarming humor without going over the line. See, the scene where Hunt and Brandt are running for the train.

    And to finish up an already long comment, I’m liking Jeremy Renner more and more.

  4. Dec 26 2011

    Oh, and I forgot to add: I agree with you about Hendricks’ characterization. The MI movies need villains with grandiose plans for world domination to keep the heroics in proportion with the threat. Crazy works as a motivation but as you say, you can’t develop crazy, and, in this context anyway, why would you want to? The villain’s role is to set the plot in motion and keep it moving.

  5. Dec 27 2011

    I like Hendrick’s expression at the end, as he looks over at Ethan and then looks away. That tells you his state of mind.