Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol (Review)

Energetic direction, dry humor, and terrific action make the fourth Mission: Impossible movie not only the best film in the series, but also the coolest and most relentlessly exciting action flick of the entire year. 

Score: * * * * * (out of 5)

Rated: PG-13 for sequences of intense action and violence

2011 has sadly been mostly devoid of truly great, solid action flicks. There have been a number of cool comic book adaptations, but apart from Fast Five and Hanna, there have been hardly any truly decent pure action movies all year. There has, however, been the promise of a good one, what with the very promising early trailers for the latest adventure in the Mission: Impossible series, which has been rocky at best. Four films have seen a new director each time, and after a decent first, dreadful second, and thrilling third, the fourth film truly delivers on its promise with the absolute best action picture of the year.

At the beginning of Ghost Protocol, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is in a Russian prison for crimes that are not immediately specified. Luckily, his techie buddy Benji (Simon Pegg) is working hard with series newcomer Jane (Paula Patton) to break him out. After causing an almost illogical amount of mayhem, Ethan escapes from the prison, and receives his IMF mission: he is to infiltrate the Kremlin and recover files identifying a dangerous potential terrorist known only as Cobalt. However, the mission goes horribly awry when Ethan finds that the files, and nuclear launch codes, have already been taken by Cobalt–a physicist named Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist from the Swedish Dragon Tattoo movies), and the Kremlin is rigged to be bombed. Barely escaping the bombing, Ethan, Benji, and Jane are told by their superior, the IMF Secretary (Tom Wilkinson) that the IMF has been blamed for the bombing and disavowed. Moments later, they are attacked and the Secretary is killed. The trio, now joined by an analyst named Brandt (Jeremy Renner), realize that they are alone. The IMF literally no longer exists and the four of them have the gear in their immediate possession to stop Hendricks from initiating nuclear war on what he sees as an impure world that is falling apart.

Once the movie gets going, starting with the infiltration of the Kremlin, it grabs on and never lets go. It’s the movie’s main strength, and its crowning achievement: it is blisteringly exciting and undeniably awesome from start to finish. The centerpiece is an extended sequence in which Ethan must use adhesive gloves to scale the glass Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. The action and tension that occurs both inside and outside the building during this sequence is literally breathtaking and is the single most exciting sequence of anything else I’ve seen this year. It starts with Ethan scaling the side of the building, moves to a tense exchange between imposters, and  culminates in a magnificent breathless chase through a sandstorm. The positive buzz about the movie’s climax was not unfounded: the final battle inside an automated multilevel garage is excellently filmed and extremely pulse-pounding.

The movie’s tension and sense of danger is maximized by the fact that Ethan and his crew are completely alone. There are no safehouses, no airlifted gadgets, and no one to help them. They are faced with countless snags, malfunctioning equipment, and a couple of villains who are cunning enough to know exactly who Ethan Hunt is and how to combat him. It’s somehow significantly more exciting to know that when something  breaks, they’re not going to be able to call for help from IMF: they’ll just have to figure out a different avenue toward completing this leg of the mission.

That’s not to say that the movie doesn’t know how to have fun (what do you expect from a movie called Mission: Impossible?). The script ingeniously keeps things from getting too dark, surgically inserting liberal bits of bone-dry humor into the script whenever it needs it. It’s never corny, but it does have a sharp wit and a nice cynical edge. Many one-liners elicited loud chuckles from my moderately populated auditorium.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this whole project is that this is director Brad Bird’s (The Incredibles and The Iron Giant)  first live action film. He handles it better than many directors do after tons of practice. His direction here is so effortlessly creative and fun, it’s astonishing.  He’s got a style that is difficult to articulate in words, but is unmistakably crisp visually exciting onscreen.  Even better, he directs his action sequences with a refreshing coherence, pulling the camera back to show some truly painful-looking hits and avoiding the poisonous “shaky-cam” technique that countless other action films employ nowadays. Such a wonderful debut is hopefully only an indicator of Bird’s future as an action movie director.

Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol is more than just an action film; it is a spectacle. It’s a busy, muscular adventure that rarely fails to hit its mark and entertain. Tom Cruise has more charisma than he’s had in a film in years, and he plays Ethan Hunt with a great intensity that gels well with the rest of the crew. It’s all held together by the creative and confident direction of Brad Bird, who juggles all of the pieces of the film like a seasoned pro. A total blast from start to finish, this newest Mission cannot be missed.

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Posted on December 29, 2011, in Reviews. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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