Movie Review: Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
By Matthew Huntley
December 27, 2011

He's cultivating a Michael Jackson look.

There are some ridiculously implausible scenes in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, yet we believe they are all perfectly possible in the context of the movie. This is a common trait for most action pictures, but the refreshing thing about Ghost Protocol is the characters are more aware of the risks they’re about to take and actually question whether they should take them. They know they’re not impervious to danger (even though we know they are) and it’s this balance of the inconceivable and the pragmatic that gives the movie its magic and heart.

This is a superior action picture, seamlessly woven together and thrilling to the point where even if we wanted to criticize it for its incredulity, the movie doesn’t give us an opportunity since it’s always moving. Its energy level is relentless and we’re constantly enthralled by its audacity and inventiveness, if only on action movie terms. We’re also struck by the way it suddenly brings itself down to earth. Consider a scene where two Impossible Mission Force (IMF) agents have to scan their eyes onto the door of a moving train in order gain access to the car. It seems easy enough, especially for these highly skilled individuals, but every time they try, another stationary pole gets in the way. Or how about when the movie’s hero, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), is hanging onto the side of a high-rise building and discovers his million-dollar spy equipment just doesn’t work? Such “life” moments are not only humorous, but they dilute the movie’s preposterousness and prevent it from taking itself too seriously, making it easier for us to enjoy.

I was surprised to find the fourth installment of the “M:I” series working so well, considering how old the franchise is (the first was released in 1996). Then again, why should I be surprised when the director is Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille) and the star is Tom Cruise, who, despite his eccentric public life, still brings an overwhelming enthusiasm to the table? Cruise always said he wanted every M:I movie, which he also produced, to be different from the last and for each director to incorporate his own unique style. This approach has kept it going all these years and there’s no reason to think it has to let up now.

As with previous installments, the plot of Ghost Protocol is more complicated than it has to be, and most of the time we’re just following the “gist” of it, which is fine, because we could really care less about the plot. The reason we go to a movie like this is for the action and style, two elements that should almost always follow substance, but in this case, Cruise and Bird are attempting to push the envelope and there’s something to be said for that.

Several scenes have been shot in glorious IMAX 70mm, including the opening in Budapest, and from this moment on, we’re hooked (it is highly recommended to see the movie in IMAX vs. traditional cinemas; it is that good). In Budapest, an IMF agent (Josh Holloway) has intercepted launch codes that activate a nuclear missile in Russia. He’s quickly killed by a contract assassin (Léa Seydoux), who plans on selling the codes back to a Swedish terrorist who goes by the name of Cobalt (Michael Nyqvist). He, in turn, wants to start a nuclear war between the United States and Russia, hoping the two superpowers destroy themselves and every country in between so the world can cleanse itself and start afresh.

During the IMF’s secret investigation, a bomb goes off at the Kremlin and the U.S. is blamed for it. As a result, the president issues Ghost Protocol and disavows the IMF. Now Hunt and his team of agents must work alone to thwart a possible nuclear disaster. They include the resourceful Jane (Paula Patton); the tech geek Benji (Simon Pegg); and the suspicious analyst Brandt (Jeremy Renner). As is typical for all M:I movies, the team has to overcome a series of intricate obstacles to get exactly what they need to save the world, which usually entails tapping into security cameras, wearing disguises, jumping down shafts or out of windows, and attending lavish parties in exotic locations. The drill is familiar, but it’s still effective.

As far as plot goes, Ghost Protocol isn’t terribly original or exciting. What makes the movie stand out is its grandiose and often inspired action sequences, which, believe it or not, actually exceed our expectations, especially because they seem to have been executed mostly without the aid of CGI. I’m sure there’s an effects shot during each one of them, but they’re rendered so well that I could barely tell. This includes the movie’s best scene, which finds Ethan climbing outside of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. He really looks like he’s climbing out there and I’m convinced he was (and yes, it really is Tom Cruise performing his own stunts, which is impressive in its own right).

Because this sequence was shot in IMAX, it’s even sharper and more dazzling (I was noticing all the cars driving below and felt I was right there with Cruise, as I’m sure most people will). And while you could argue this is all just a technical exercise, the reason Ethan has to climb outside in the first place is because he has no other choice if he wants to complete the mission, so it actually matters to the plot. Sure, this is as contrived a reason as any, but we allow it since the images are so awesome. Plus, the filmmakers seem more geared toward taking our breath away than merely showing off their budget and resources.

There are other memorable moments, like an extended chase scene through a sandstorm and a fight inside a mechanized parking garage, which echoes the car factory sequence from Minority Report, in which Cruise did battle with Colin Farrell. Here, Cruise, Bird and the rest of the filmmaking team really do go above and beyond and their own mission seems to be showing us things we’ve never seen before, which is hard to do this day and age, especially in the action genre.

I’m sure if I saw Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol again, I could pick it apart more, but why would I want to do that? The entire time I was in the theater, I was thrilled and having fun. With this movie, you get your money’s worth because it refuses to settle for the same old routines. As thin as the plot and story may be, Ghost Protocol raises the bar on action and stunts and we marvel in it.