Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011) / Action-Thriller

MPAA rated PG-13 for strong violence and some language
Running time: 133 min.

Cast: Tom Cruise, Paula Patton, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, Michael Nyqvist, Vladimir Mashkov, Samuli Edelman, Lea Seydoux, Anil Kapoor
Cameo: Josh Holloway, Tom Wilkinson, Ving Rhames, Michelle Monaghan

Director: Brad Bird
Screenplay: Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec
Review published December 28, 2011

mission impossible ghost protocolAnimated feature film director Brad Bird (Ratatouille, The Incredibles) takes the helm, his first as a live-action film director, for the fourth outing in the Mission: Impossible franchise. It's a success, given the difficulty of many of the film's most memorable set pieces to pull off from a directorial standpoint.

Someone has bombed the Kremlin, and the culprits, who are trying to escalate the world powers into a global thermonuclear war, have managed to find a way to shift the blame for the incident to the Ethan Hunt's (Cruise, Knight and Day) unit in the IMF. The President of the United States publicly disbands the IMF (International Missions Force), but covertly initiates 'Ghost Protocol', whereby Hunt, freshly hatched from a Russian prison for exacting deadly revenge on men responsible for his wife's demise, and his tight-knit unit, consisting primarily of tech expert Benji Dunn (Pegg, Voyage of the Dawn Treader) and fellow agent Jane Carter (Patton, Deja Vu), must undertake a rogue operation to get to the bottom of things before worldwide cataclysm takes place. Joining forces with them is an enigmatic IMF analyst named William Brandt (Renner, Thor) , with signs pointing towards a terrorist/war profiteer named Hendricks (Nyqvist, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo).

Not the gripping, character-driven entertainment that marked J.J. Abrams superior third installment, Bird's take (also produced by Abrams) does maintain the high-tech gadgetry and death-defying stunts and CGI-infused set pieces the series has become known for on the grandest of scales. If Brian De Palma's first entry had already become too far removed from the television show for fans to recognize, this fourth installment will be only a few token plot points from being unrecognizable. The reuse of the infamous Lalo Shifrin theme song, nifty disguises and self-destructing audio recordings are possibly the only staples remnant. Think of the series now as an a team-based alternate universe to James Bond, with grand-scale action pieces, dastardly villains, and the global security hanging in the balance at all times, with only a spy organization standing in the way of nightmarish chaos.

Approaching 50 years old, Cruise still gives being the action hero his all, still believable in kicking the butts of evildoers half his age, or scaling the world's tallest building, in a acrophobia-inducing, show-stopping set piece up the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, with only his arms and some rather faulty gadgetry to assist him. He also gives off that intensity of intelligent focus that helps when he's using pulling off highly technical maneuvers using impossibly designed doohickeys, such as an illusionary moving projection screen that gives follows the viewer's eyes to adjust the phony empty-corridor display to conceal the reality behind it, in one of the more ingenious takes on the Trojan Horse play.

As with the other films in the series, and most espionage actioners in general, the storyline takes a back seat to the action bits. Certainly, few in the audience will leave the theaters wishing there could have been more focus on the relatively uninteresting plot involving launch codes and missile tech. Abrams' former cronies from his TV series "Alias", Appelbaum and Nemec, provide the screenplay that eschews the character touches of M:I3 and concentrates on barebones, skull-crunching action montages. Unlike Bond, who always seems to land feet first from any leap, Hunt manages to do such amazing things like an impromptu zip-line to the top of a moving truck, except he'll miss the mark. He's nearly indestructible, but he's not invincible. The villain here isn't memorable, merely serviceable for plot purposes, and is mostly absent from the screen until the climax.

The action pieces are the selling point, so fans of the pyrotechnics and CGI will find loads to love. Those like me hoping to see a continuation of the heart-and-soul look at the character at the center of the franchise will likely be disappointed that the film itself feels like empty calories much of the time, only stopping for a poignant breather near the end of the film when Hunt ties up a loose end from the highly ambitious previous film that is only briefly alluded to in this entry. It's a nice touch, but does serve as a reminder that this wannabe successor to the James Bond throne could use more scenes like this to distinguish itself, rather than the game of one-upmanship that producers of blockbusters frequently engage in. Dazzling for an action film but still more than a touch too bland to get overly thrilled about, Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol delivers the impossible goods one could ask for, though very few new surprises worth raving over.

-- Follows Mission: Impossible, Mission: Impossible II, and Mission Impossible III.

 Qwipster's rating:

©2011 Vince Leo