Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

Cast:
Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt
Paula Patton as Jane Carter
Simon Pegg as Benji Dunn
Jeremy Renner as Agent William Brandt
Michael Nyqvist as Kurt Hendricks
Josh Holloway as Trevor Hanaway
Vladimir Mashkov as Sidorov
Samuli Edelmann as Wistrom
Ivan Shvedoff as Leonid Lisenker
Anil Kapoor as Brij Nath
Léa Seydoux as Sabine Moreau
Miraj Grbic as Bogdan

Directed by Brad Bird

Story:
IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) has been sent to jail in Russia, but he’s broken out by fellow agents Carter (Paula Patton) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) to get his help in retrieving codes that will arm and launch nuclear warheads, which have been stolen by ersatz terrorist Kurt Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist), known as “Cobalt,” who hopes to start another World War. Joining them is Agent William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), a man with a dark secret that connects him to Hunt’s past.

Analysis:
Over five years since the previous installment directed by J.J. Abrams, Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is back with a new team and a new mission. Not quite Bond and not quite Bourne, the “Mission: Impossible” franchise is one that often had trouble finding its identity, but popular Pixar Animation director Brad Bird doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel while making his live action debut.

After a quick prologue in Budapest, the first matter of business is getting Ethan out of the Russian prison in which he’s been lounging after being arrested for murder. This mission is just a tease for what’s to come and things gradually get more impossible as his new team are assigned to break into the Kremlin, a mission that quickly goes South causing a rift between the US and Russian governments and turns Hunt into a fugitive as he’s disavowed by his government.

Those codes have been stolen by former IMF agent Kurt Hendricks, played by Michael Nyqvist, who plans on using them to start a third World War, but to be honest, a story like this feels somewhat dated and particularly ironic following so closely on the heels of the “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.” (That movie also opens in Budapest, oddly enough.) In this case, there’s quite a bit more energy and it’s more about the missions the team undertake to try to solve the earlier disaster they’re accused of causing, something that takes them to Dubai to stop Hendricks from getting his hands on the codes, then to India to try to stop him from using them. In all the main locations, Bird and his DP Robert Elswit use the IMAX cameras to capture every aspect of these massive cities, using the IMAX format to create establishing shots unlike anything we’ve seen since “The Dark Knight.” It adds so much to the scale of the movie, especially when it has Cruise climbing up the side of the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai or trying to outrun a sandstorm.

What the fourth movie has going for it is a great cast of characters, a fairly small group mostly introduced in the first few minutes. They all have so much potential, one might wish the dialogue were a bit snappier or that the cast would do more with it. The only one who really makes the most of his character is Simon Pegg, and honestly, giving Benji Dunn more to do this time around is one of the smartest moves the filmmakers made, because he keeps things light and fun and he’s much better at delivering a line meant to get laughs than Cruise or anyone else.

Jeremy Renner seems to be using the movie as a test run for his starring role in the next Bourne, though his character is so dry and wooden at first, it’s cause for concern. You definitely need a bit of time to warm up to his character and that eventually happens as he gets more involved in the action. Paula Patton also brings her dramatic A-game to the table as Hunt’s other teammate, and she proves to be quite the badass, particularly when taking on an assassin played by gorgeous French actress Léa Seydoux (“Midnight in Paris”) in hand-to-hand combat. The different locales allows Bird to bring in a couple great international actors, and it’s especially fun watching Patton flirt with Anil Kapoor, best known as the game show host from “Slumdog Millionaire.”

For the most part, the action is top notch, especially the large-scale set pieces, which again take advantage of the IMAX cameras. At its best, the action’s on par with what John Woo and J.J. Abrams established in the previous two movies, though most of it involves Cruise running after or away from things and doing things at great heights.

The very nature of the franchise makes the film feel rather episodic, which means the missions themselves keep you entertained, but in between, there’s a lot of exposition as Bird tries to bring the level of characterization we’ve seen from him with “The Incredibles,” “Ratatouille” and “The Iron Giant.” In most cases, one would appreciate a desire to bring that attention to creating real characters in an action movie–it’s certainly rare–but it really slows things down, and again, the writing, done by a couple of Abrams’ “Alias” writers, isn’t strong enough to make it a worthwhile use of time, especially in such a long movie.

On the other hand, the clever use of cutting edge technology continues to be one place where the “M:I” movies set itself apart from other spy and action movies with the team using tech that doesn’t seem too unfathomable. Even so, there’s always a certain amount of suspension of disbelief involved with these movies, especially in the last act, because at a certain point, they do something to foil the bad guy, but something happens later that seems to negate that.

We won’t say much more about the ending or the terrific epilogue, which was done as much for the fans as it was to resolve a few outstanding story threads. Like with “Fast Five,” it’s one of those endings that automatically makes you want to see more of Cruise as this character with this particular group, something that allows you to leave the movie on a high, for sure.

The Bottom Line:
Brad Bird’s live action debut may not be reinventing the wheel when it comes to the “Misson: Impossible” franchise, but with a fun group of characters and cool set pieces that take advantage of the IMAX format, it always manages to entertain despite the rather lazy central plot that may have been more effective say 25 years ago.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol will open in IMAX theaters on Friday, December 16 and then everywhere else on Wednesday, December 21.

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