At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol

MPAA Rating: PG-13/Genre: Action-Thriller/Stars: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Paula Patton, Michael Nyqvist, Vladimir Mashkov, Léa Seydoux, Josh Holloway, Anil Kapoor, Samuli Edelmann, Ivan Shvedoff, Miraj Grbić, Ilia Volok, Andreas Wisniewski, Tom Wilkinson, Ving Rhames, Michelle Monaghan/Runtime: 133 minutes

I think it is safe to say dear reader that in the long-ago year of 2011, the state of the action-spy thriller franchise that is Mission: Impossible was in a much different place than it is today. This is because, following the third entry’s less than stellar financial performance, the series as a whole had been on cinematic ice for the past 5 years. Along with that, it should also be said that the fortunes of its leading man, one Tom Cruise, weren’t also doing much better. To be sure, he was still making movies and yes he was still doing his best to entertain the masses, but for a while it had started to seem like his personal life was managing to overshadow his work as an undeniably skilled actor completely. Imagine people’s surprise then when it was announced that not only was a new Mission: Impossible movie on the way and not only would Tom Cruise be leading the picture as Ethan Hunt once again, but that the director in charge of bringing it all together would be none other than Brad Bird. As in the same Brad Bird who was noteworthy more so for his contributions to animated cinema such as The Iron Giant and The Incredibles for example than anything in the live action realm of movie magic. Suffice it to say that the worry felt by fans of the franchise, movie goers in general, and the reviewing public was more than just a wee bit palpable as we got closer and closer to this slice of cinema’s release date that year. Upon seeing the film however, I think it can safely and thankfully be said that a lot of those worries would soon prove to be unfounded in the best way possible. This is because while it might not be a perfect slice of cinema by any stretch, there is no denying that not only is this film an outright success for the genre of action cinema, but it also proved to be one of the best films the year 2011 sought fit to give us. Suffice it to say that with the aid of truly potent work on both sides of the camera Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol not only managed to bring a franchise roaring back to life, but it even managed to serve as a wonderful cinematic jumpstart for its undeniably talented leading man that he so desperately needed and which showed people that maybe just maybe the best years of this man’s career weren’t in the rearview mirror, but rather still ahead.

The plot is as follows: Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol gets its riveting narrative underway by taking us to Budapest where we tragically witness as a member of that little ol’ agency known as the IMF named Trevor Hanaway is gunned down as he is in the middle of trying to get some intel out of there. Intel, I guess it should be mentioned here, that happens to contain the launch codes for enough nuclear weapons that in the wrong hands could tip the scale between the United States and Russia less in favor of “a fragile peace” and more so in regards to “all-out nuclear war”. As a result, we see that the rest of the late Hanway’s team including senior IMF operative Jane Carter and newly christened IMF field agent Benji Dunn are sent to Russia in order to extract from a prison (get this) the man, the myth, the legend himself Ethan Hunt and an asset of his named Bogdan for a new mission. That mission being to sneak into the Kremlin, acquire intel on the mastermind of the prior theft/ambush who goes by the name of Cobalt, find out where the launch codes are located, track them down, and stop nuclear genocide. You know: just your average day at the office. Yet even though the team is able to successfully infiltrate the Kremlin, we see that the mission goes awry when the files they are seeking cannot be found. Unfortunately for them, this only marks the beginning of their bad luck as shortly thereafter a massive explosion manages to decimate most of the Kremlin and, due to their presence on site, we see that Hunt and his team are fingered by the Russians as the culprits. As a result, not only is the fragile peace between America and Russia pushed out onto the thinnest ice possible, but the President is also forced to disavow the entire IMF to save face thus seeing Hunt and his team, with a new guy in the form of an analyst named Brandt, having to go underground in order to find this Cobalt and stop him from doing the unimaginable. Thus with time not on their side, very little resources accessible to them, and no potential assistance waiting in the wings, can the team stop this bonafide madman or is this one mission that might just be too impossible for them to handle? That I will leave for you to discover for yourself dear reader….

Now right off, it should be noted that the work done behind the camera on this particular outing is nothing short of incredible in its own right. This starts with the work done by Brad Bird at the helm and even though the director of The Incredibles might have been a rather odd selection as director, I must admit that here his conversion from animated fare like The Iron Giant to live action cinematic endeavors really does look like it was by no means a difficult journey. Not only that, but by working with animation as long as he has, we see that this has resulted in Bird gaining not only a remarkable eye for the details within a given shot, but for being able to keep a steady grip on the wheel so to speak. A grip that he manages to showcase beautifully in a collection of moments that manage to utilize silence brilliantly as a tool to increase how invested we are. In that regard, there is no better example of this than the very beginning of the film where we see Ethan locked in a prison cell in the middle of Russia and engaged in a rather clever tribute to Steve McQueen’s role in 1963’s The Great Escape only to have fellow agent Benji begin putting a remarkable escape in play through, via computer on the outside, opening every single door in the place thus causing Ethan and a Russian ally of sorts to begin trying to make their way through the organized chaos inside. At the same time though, Bird is also not above utilizing explosions should the scene call for it as can be witnessed through a thrilling and downright jaw-dropping sequence involving the Kremlin or in leaving you on the edge of your seat through such moments as a casual conversation in a car going swiftly awry, Cruise running through the deserts of Dubai in the middle of a sandstorm or even climbing the outside of the Burj Khalifa tower respectively. Suffice it to say that Bird might not be in possession of a distinct style in the same vein as DePalma, Woo, or Abrams did with the previous entries, but at the same time there is no denying the skill and talent which he brings to this movie overall. More than that though, we see that Bird is willing to give attention to developing the cast of characters in this. As a result, for the first time in the (at that time) three follow-ups to the first film from 1996, we see that the scribes on this movie are able to incorporate a degree of continuity from the last movie so it feels less episodic and more like this is the same take on Hunt we were introduced to in 2006’s Mission: Impossible 3. Thus, not only is immersing oneself into the narrative and following the characters easier to do, but this actually gives this film the vibe of being a continuation rather than “just another episode” in the finest way possible. Along with these technical achievements from Bird, we also see that this slice of cinema is blessed with another beautifully composed yet exciting musical accompaniment from the gifted Michael Giacchino. Indeed Giacchino does a great job at providing the film with a score that is not only lively when it needs to be and capable of simmering in the background during key moments such as one involving the character of Brandt that I shan’t spoil here, but which also manages to bring in the iconic theme song from the TV show this entire franchise is an adaptation of at just the right moments. Suffice it to say then that in terms of the work done behind the camera the mission to make it the best it could be was definitely accomplished.

Of course, the other big component that helps to make this cinematic mission the rousing success that it is would undoubtedly have to come from the work done by the immensely talented cast of players in front of the camera. This starts (to no surprise) with the work done by Tom Cruise in the lead role of Ethan Hunt and he is phenomenal. Not just in the moments where he is engaged in whatever stunt that he makes look easy yet would otherwise see a mere mortal like myself get killed for even thinking about attempting, but also in terms of how well he manages to flex his acting muscles here as well. Indeed the one thing that has always been intriguing about the character of Ethan Hunt to me is not the fact that he manages to survive the incredibly dangerous things that he does. Rather, it’s how this is a guy who seems to be possessed by a dogged determination to do the right thing no matter who or what gets in his way of doing so and that is something Cruise manages to showcase brilliantly through a mixture of smoldering intensity, a hint of a wry sense of humor, and of course that trademark megawatt charisma of his. Suffice it to say that, unlike the character of James Bond, Tom Cruise IS Ethan Hunt and to see anyone else try to play the part at this point would be downright idiotic. We also see that Cruise is backed up quite well here by a fairly strong support cast who all manage to hold their own quite admirably. This starts with Paula Patton who, as Jane, brings a wonderful ferocity to her role of this agent who yes is taking part in the same mission as everyone else on Hunt’s team, but who also has a quest for vengeance she is embarking on at the same time that could prove to make things quite complicated. We also get a fantastic support turn here from Simon Pegg as the returning Benji Dunn. Indeed Pegg does a great job at giving us a character who is not only genuinely funny thus giving the audience some much needed humor throughout this film, but also proves to be wonderfully relatable in how yes he is very much astonished by what he witnesses throughout this yet he also is able to bring his own small yet absolutely vital contributions into the mix as well. Finally, I also think praise should be given to Jeremy Renner who is fantastic as William Brandt. Yes this is a turn that requires Renner to be a bit more on the restrained side as opposed to his phenomenal efforts in such films as The Hurt Locker or The Town, but Renner manages to pull off the nuances of this character beautifully. Indeed if there is any aspect in which the work done by the cast in front of the camera could arguably be lacking, it would have to be in regards to the work done in the antagonist category. To be sure, Michael Nyqvist does do a good job here, but the film not only doesn’t really give him the chance to make much of an impact. As a result, what could have been a fantastic turn here is one that tragically is delegated to the category of “good yet a missed opportunity all the same”. Suffice it to say that when you also factor into the mix good work here from such talents as Josh Holloway, Lea Seydoux (who would later do just as great as Madeline Swann in Daniel Craig’s final 2 outings as another famous super spy), and the always engaging Tom Wilkinson who proves to be brilliant casting as the Secretary of the IMF among others it’s clear that there may be a hiccup or two to this mission, but the work done by the cast in front of the camera is certainly not one of them.

All in all is Mission: Impossible-Ghost Protocol a perfect slice of action-thriller cinema? Sadly no. At the same time though, does that mean this slice of cinema is also an outright failure in every sense of the word? Truthfully I wouldn’t say that either dear reader. Rather, I would say that this slice of cinema is not only a genuinely great film, but also an absolute blast from start to finish. Yes the characterization of this film’s chief antagonist definitely needed more work despite a truly game performance from the late yet great Michael Nyqvist in the part. With that in mind though, the work done behind the camera especially from helmer Brad Bird is nothing short of mind-blowing in how it immerses you in the world of the film whilst also providing the majority of the characters with a wonderfully welcome degree of characterization and the work done in front of the camera, especially by series lead Tom Cruise who be it through his acting muscles or his muscle muscles particularly in such as jaw-dropping worthy moments as climbing the tallest tower in the world manages to remind us here why he may very well be the last genuine movie star in all of the land of movie magic, manages to be just as riveting and successful in its own right. Suffice it to say then that Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol not only is a wonderful entry in the franchise nor is it just a genuinely great example of action-thriller cinema. Rather, this is also one cinematic mission that, if given the opportunity to do so, you should definitely look into accepting time and time again. Make of that dear reader what thou will. On a scale of 1-5 I give Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol a solid 4 out of 5.