Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is a film with major thrills, a lackluster villain and a far greater attempt at laughs than any of its three predecessors. Director Brad Bird (The Incredibles), making his live-action directorial debut, has charged himself with a serious task as he pushes aside his animation chops, picks up large-format, 70mm IMAX cameras and tackles a globe-trotting plot that wows with spectacle but slightly underachieves on intrigue.
Without initial explanation as to what has occurred since Mission: Impossible III came to a close, Ghost Protocol opens with Impossible Mission Force (IMF) Agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise) holed up in a Moscow prison, but he won’t be there long. Sloshing through the sewers below is Agent Jane Carter (Paula Patton) and above ground is Mission: Impossible III tech guru Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), no longer strapped to a desk at headquarters, but now a field agent.
Once free, Ethan, Jane and Benji are soon involved in the first of many “impossible” missions, beginning at the Kremlin where a bomb eventually goes off and the Americans are implicated. The fiasco results in the shuttering of the IMF, Ethan and his entire team are disavowed and an eventual meeting with the US Secretary of Defense (Tom Wilkinson) ends with a surprise as well as the introduction of Ethan’s newest team member, intelligence analyst William Brandt (Renner).
All of this leads to the threat of world war. Russian nuclear launch codes have been stolen, and without a country backing them up or an agency giving support, Ethan and his ragtag crew are on their own as one misstep after another keeps the plot moving forward until the action-packed finale.
Ghost Protocol isn’t light on thrills, outdoing its predecessors when it comes to the number of unbelievable action sequences and, thanks to Paul Hirsch’s editing (returning to the Mission franchise for the first time since editing Brian De Palma’s introductory feature back in 1996), you’ll find yourself on edge more than once as the stunts seen here reach an absurd, though exciting level of impossibility. There’s also a small bit of old school flavor to the gadgetry as the disavowed team must rely on what’s on hand and Cruise never once dons a full-on, rubber mask, a first for this franchise and a welcome avoidance of continued redundancy.
For most of the action sequences Ethan is put through the ringer as he falls from great heights, has his legs mangled, runs a marathon through a massive sand storm and has his face smashed against hard metal on more than one occasion with a thud that makes your teeth hurt. It’s no wonder Cruise looks so weathered and beaten down this time around, playing Hunt with a certain level of frustration I couldn’t help but notice as he’s teamed with a crew that seems less than up to the task. It’s a frustration I felt as well.
Agent Carter’s emotions are running wild as events in her recent past are affecting her ability to carry out her job. Pegg becomes the comic relief to the point it’s almost impossible to take his character seriously. Then there’s Renner, whose character has a back-story that is slow to be revealed, though once it is the screenplay doesn’t ever give him a chance to breathe. The previous Mission films featured characters that exhibited a certain level of competence, which I appreciated. Not so here.
This is the first feature film for screenwriters Josh Appelbaum and Andre Namec who are primarily known for their collaborative work on “Alias”, which makes sense considering the character development is either paper thin or just deep enough to sustain a 45-minute episode. Worst of the lot is the film’s villain played by Michael Nyqvist in his first major Hollywood role following his work in the Swedish adaptations of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy.
Nyqvist has virtually nothing to work with, or even enough screen time to actually work for that matter. His primary talent would appear to be carrying a silver briefcase as whatever else we learn about him comes from Ethan’s briefings rather than anything we glean from the actual character.
Overall, there are two takeaways from Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, the first being the action scenes as I’m sure anyone will tell you and I’m sure those that see it in 70mm IMAX (as I did) will be even more adamant in their love for what are some truly impressive spectacles.
After that, the effort put in by Cruise is workmanlike. Just shy of 50-years-old, Cruise appears to have put in effort you rarely see in action films these days. Ethan is pummeled nonstop throughout this film and Brad Bird makes sure each blow he suffers is felt, from the scaling of the 2,717-feet high Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai to the mechanized parking garage finale.
However, for as much as I enjoyed the spectacle and feel confident in recommending you see this film (especially in full 70mm IMAX), I have to say the lack of a villain and the nonstop comic relief from Pegg wore on me a bit. I expect the next time I watch this film I’ll be more prepared for those two aspects, but the first time around it took a little of the enjoyment out of it for me.