MOVIE REVIEW: Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol


Over a year ago, when I reviewed Tom Cruise in Knight and Day (full review), I worried that people couldn't separate "Tom Cruise the actor" from "Tom Cruise the man."  The fear was that the outspoken public persona has turned off his former fans and casual moviegoers.  While the controversies have certainly quieted down, in some ways though, his celebrity quirks have scared fans away.

However, there are some things Tom Cruise does absolutely right.  Playing Mission: Impossible's Ethan Hunt is one of them.  Early on, when the rumors began to swirl the notion that Tom's Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol co-star Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker) was being groomed to take over the series, I, for one, was chiming "say it ain't so."  Renner is a fine actor, but no one belongs dangling above his potential death better than Cruise.  In this latest entry in the series, Cruise, a year short of his 50th birthday, asserts himself mightily and shows that this series will always be his, no matter how old he gets.

Springboarding from the spirited 2006 third movie from J.J. Abrams (who's still a producer on this one), Oscar-winning animation director Brad Bird (The Incredibles, The Iron Giant, and Ratatouille), in his live-action debut, brings our story a little further down the road from when we last saw Ethan marrying Dr. Julia Mead (Michelle Monaghan) and thinking about retirement.  These days, Ethan Hunt's been disavowed in a Moscow prison.  Something has happened to his wife Julia, and no one around him dare speaks of it and it has erased the usual charm from Ethan.

When he's broken out by a team led by Jane Carter (Paula Patton) and Benji Dunn (the returning Simon Pegg), his mission is to help them thwart the theft of nuclear codes and satellite control by a former Russian nuclear strategist Hendricks, (Michael Nyqvist, the original Mikael Blomkvist from The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) who has the means to start a global nuclear war between Russia and the U.S.  The trouble is Hendricks managed to bomb the Kremlin and get the blame put on IMF.  With the two countries on the brink of war, the entire IMF has been disavowed and "ghost protocol" has been issued, branding any agent as a possible insurgent, but releasing them on their own to clear their name.  Scattered to the wind, this brings IMF analyst William Brandt (Renner) to Ethan's team, though an incident from his past took him out of the field.

That spurs the globe-hopping chases we expect from a good Mission: Impossible film and it doesn't disappoint.  As many of you have seen in the trailers, the centerpiece sequence at the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the world's tallest building (nearly twice the size of the Willis Tower), is nothing short of spectacular.  Shot in IMAX, the vertigo it creates will hit you like a ton of bricks.  Pay the extra two bucks to see it on that big IMAX screen.  Plenty of other great scenes populate the movie too, but, like any spy movie, check your plausibility card at the door. Michael Nyqvist's villain can't come close to Philip Seymour Hoffman's heavy in M:I-III and Paula Patton can't compete with Thandie Newton from M:I-2, but there's enough here to love.  It's nice to see Simon Pegg back in a bigger role and Abrams's Lost fans will appreciate Josh "Sawyer" Holloway's small part and Michael Giacchino's spot-on music.  The wasted role was the one hyped to be the key one, and that's Jeremy Renner.  He's better than what he's given to do as Robin to Cruise's Batman.

In the 15 years (yes, 1996 was that long ago) since the first Mission: Impossible, the spy movie landscape has changed quite a bit, thanks to the immense success of Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, a modernized James Bond series with Daniel Craig, and the increasingly intrusive, yet necessary use of CGI.  Through all of that, no one puts himself out there more than Tom Cruise.  That's really him hanging 130 stories up in Dubai.  You won't see Damon or Craig doing that, and Tom deserves more than just style points.  For as much as Bond can shoot the pants off a secretary and Bourne can beat the snot out of someone with a rolled-up magazine, Ethan Hunt takes it all to a far bigger level.

What helps the series achieve that level the most has been bringing in uniquely different directors with each installment.  Brad Bird brings his animator's eye for visual detail and depth.  That style fits in just fine as a progression from Brian DePalma's changing points-of-view, John Woo's slo-mo, and the aforementioned Abrams's twists.  Each movie feels fresh and new.  It's a great formula that Cruise himself, as the bankrolling producer now, has been the steward for.  Even though he's really starting to show his age, he's got my permission to be Robert Redford and age gracefully and keep this franchise going.

LESSON #1: A GOOD DISGUISE WORKS EVERY TIME-- The Mission: Impossible series, both past and present, has always had a penchant for great uses of masks and disguises.  You can't beat the classic mask-tear-off reveal.  Scooby Doo should be writing TV series creator Bruce Geller checks for stealing the move.

LESSON #2: A GOOD DIVERSION WORKS EVERY TIME TOO-- If looks don't do the job, catch their attention with something else.  Maybe a prison break and a Dean Martin song?  Maybe blowing up the Kremlin?  Misdirection is key and it keeps spies like these guys always ahead of everyone else.

LESSON #3: ALWAYS HAVE COOL GADGETS-- As always, Mission: Impossible is an implausible spy movie, making many of the lessons implausible too.  Like James Bond, the gadgets take certain stage and create many cool moments.  If your jaw doesn't drop in Dubai, it will when the concept electric BMW i8 shows up in Mumbai.  Whoa!

LESSON #4: NUCLEAR CODES + NUCLEAR BRIEFCASE + SATELLITE CONTROL = T.R.O.U.B.L.E.-- Do the math.  Multiply that by a crazy Russian.

LESSON #5: HAVE SECURE EQUIPMENT WHEN CLIMBING TALL BUILDINGS-- If not, maybe Home Depot has a 130-story folding ladder.  That ought to do the trick...

LESSON #6: DON'T CHASE PEOPLE IN SANDSTORMS-- Visibility sucks and it mess up your clothes.

LESSON #7: DON'T JUST THINK, REACT-- Ethan Hunt, like other great movie spies, has ace decision-making speed.  He is quick on his feet, always has an out, a counter, or offense to spare.  You couldn't hold him down if you epoxied him to an elephant's keister.

LESSON #8: ASSEMBLE A GREAT TEAM AROUND YOU-- In another classic Mission: Impossible cue, do your homework, scan through the necessary dossiers, and make it a point to work with the best.  Only through teamwork can you pull off what needs to be done, especially when you have to present global nuclear war.