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Review: Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol

Rating

Director
Brad Bird
Screenplay
Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec
Length
133 min.
Starring
Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Paula Patton, Michael Nyqvist, Vladimir Mashkov, Samuli Edelmann, Ivan Shvedoff, Anil Kapoor, Léa Seydoux, Josh Holloway
MPAA Rating
PG-13 for sequences of intense action and violence

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Review
Most franchises fade with successive productions. Attempting to invigorate a flagging fanbase often leads to bloat, excess and familiarity breeding contempt. The Mission: Impossible film franchise had suffered similar troubles with the third film in the franchise disappointing most fans. So what you might have expected from this fourth film, Ghost Protocol is more of the same, yet director Brad Bird has managed to reinvigorate the spy franchise giving it a new lease on continued success.

The story finds our superspy hero Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) attempting to uncover the rogue agents that have targeted him and his team for elimination by planting evidence linking them to a high profile attack on the Kremlin. Paul Patton takes on the role of Jane Carter, a trusted associate and femme fatale; Simon Pegg plays Benji Dunn, our haphazard electronics wizard who's never seen combat action before; and Jeremy Renner steps in as William Brandt, a pencil pusher caught in the crossfire who has secrets of his own.

Cruise plays Hunt like we've always seen him, a capable actor who isn't stretching his acting muscles but delivering a competent performance. Patton and Pegg play to type well, but Renner does something rather spectacular. He creates a multi-layered character whose motives and capabilities are carefully hidden and slowly unveiled to the audience and his associates. Renner is no stranger to unique, daring performances having taken on the part of Dahmer in one of his earliest screen successes. He's been popping up so frequently, it might be easy to categories him as a one-note performer and there is plenty of evidence to suggest this, but even when he's playing to type, he's an affable and friendly presence that the audience implicitly trusts even if we're not supposed to.

Bird's prior forays into filmmaking were as the talented virtuoso behind the celebrated animated works The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and Ratatouille, the latter two for animation powerhouse Pixar. His strengths lie in the ability to deliver stories that are complex and thought-provoking while drawing out human emotion where it might seem ill-fitting. With Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, Bird makes his live action film debut with a style and control. Although he doesn't have as much emotional weight to handle, the few moments that carry any impact are handled well. His strength in this film is more in his ability to stage exciting action set pieces and events while never pandering to the audience.

In the best example the film has of such artistry, Hunt and company must arrange a delivery of fake nuclear launch codes to an interested third party. To get all of the access he needs, Ethan must scale the outside of the Burj Dubai, the grandiose office building located in the heart of Dubai, a luxury city in the haert of the Middle East. As he's climbing the edifice with experimental suction gloves, a raging dust story slowly bears down on the tower. Will he make it inside before being whipped by the gritty wall of sand and dirt? This entire scene plays out masterfully, hooking the audience quickly and not letting go for longer than many such action pieces can without seeming tedious. This is entirely due to Bird's seemingly effortless control of framing, pace and tone.

The film itself is a departure from the prior entry in the series, which really tried to be more than it could possibly be: a hulking mess of a film that felt clunky from open to close. Ghost Protocol tightens everything back up and manages to surpass John Woo's Mission: Impossible 2 as my favorite in the franchise. The Mission: Impossible franchise now sits comfortably between the glossy James Bond franchise and the gritty Jason Bourne series. Although Bond has been forging ahead with its tilt towards realism, the Cruise franchise remains an ideal placement between the 1980's bastion and the new modern era of the Bourne series.

There are many spy thrillers these days and many are trying to redefine the genre for a new generation of moviegoers who expect unrelenting action features in lieu of garish spectacles. Mission: Impossible sticks close to its tradition without pandering to the new audience, giving them plenty of action and excitement. This is a series that isn't quite lifeless yet and if they can pull Bird back in for the inevitable sequel, we might just be looking a continued level of quality that this franchise needs in order to stay relevant.
Review Written
August 27, 2012

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