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Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol

Theatrical Review

Paramount Pictures; 133 minutes

Director: Brad Bird

Written by on December 16, 2011 

There’s very little reason to come out of Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol doubting Brad Bird‘s skill as a live-action filmmaker. To date, of course, he’s known best for his Pixar contributions, which include the directorial oversight of The Incredibles and Ratatouille, but with the fourth installment of this Tom Cruise-headlined franchise, Bird proves just as adept at staging large-scale set pieces in physical locations. The difference, though, is that his two previous films both had the foundation of intelligent screenplays, while the written material for Ghost Protocol, co-penned by Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec, is just plain dumb.

“Hang on a second there,” you might say, “this movie isn’t supposed to be a smart actioner.” And I would agree with you (for the most part, because, at 133 minutes, the film outstays its welcome by at least 20, and there are one-too-many let’s-take-an-action-break-and-get-emotional monologues). But what’s the point of taking it easy on a film simply because it is evidently lazy? That logic doesn’t compute for me.

The film is saved by a few things, the first of which is Cruise‘s intense physical performance as Ethan Hunt, who’s just escaped from a Russian prison with the help of Jane (Paula Patton) and Benji (Simon Pegg, doing his best with pathetic comic-levity lines). Cruise, more so than his counterparts, appears to be just slightly more aware of the nutty nature of this material, and it shines through nicely. It’s cool to see the guy from Magnolia and Minority Report having a good time.

Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker, The Town), though unlikely to extend his Oscar-nomination streak to three years, is nevertheless fantastic here, too. He plays William Brandt, an analyst who’s been working alongside the IMF Secretary (Tom Wilkinson), and who eventually becomes a part of the Hunt-heated team assigned to take down Kurt Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist, playing the only Russian nuclear strategist I’ve ever heard of with a name like that). Hendricks is responsible for initiating a bombing at the Kremlin complex in Moscow.

Classified bomb codes, secret hidden files, etc, etc. I sort of gave up hope on the plot when Tom Wilkinson started spitballing information about “launch codes” with that grave demeanor that’s come to be a signature of his more dramatic projects. Surely he must’ve even been laughing on the inside while shooting that scene. And what’s with the casting of Nyqvist, that lovely presence from the Swedish Dragon Tattoo films, as the cerebral terrorist? I get the whole climactic formula thing, but I couldn’t get past the fact that Cruise, who spends two hours beating people to an effortless pulp, is somehow supposed to have trouble physically taking down this high-minded bad man.

But I digress. There’s about 30 minutes of IMAX footage in the film, and every one is pure exhilaration. The best sequence in the film has Cruise playing hopscotch on the windows of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa Tower, the tallest building in the world. And I thought Christian Bale was crazy. How Cruise agreed to this stunt is beyond me, but that his commitment is in service of one of the most heart-stomping action segments in recent years is undeniable.

Another highlight comes during the aforementioned Kremlin sequence, when Hunt and Benji attempt to break into the records room with the aid of some pesky technology. Much of the scene’s appeal stems from its auditory calm. Michael Giacchino is a gifted composer, and his score here is impressively bombastic. It’s just really loud, and the step back that this scene takes, in that sense, is a good change of pace.

I’d be more enthusiastic about Ghost Protocol if it were shorter and if the screenplay showed at least one thread of relative creativity. But, alas, this is mainly a sensory pleasure, and an above-average one at that. Please see it in IMAX. I can’t stress that enough. If you decide to trek into an average-sized theater, the ball’s in your court. But I guarantee you that you’ll think your money was well spent when you see Cruise sprinting across that 160-plus-story tower. My dime says it’s more immersive than anything 3-D can offer at the moment.

Ghotocol is now playing in IMAX theaters and will open wide on December 21st, 2011.


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