in Review

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

After four films and four directors, I’m getting pretty optimistic about the Mission: Impossible franchise, although still not enough to go back to the original show. But, if you were to compare Ghost Protocol to other film fourths this year, like X-Men: First Class and Pirates of the Caribbean: on Stranger Tides, I think you’d agree with me that it’s pretty amazing this movie came out as fresh and fun as it did.

For the record, here’s how I stand on the preceding three films: The first Mission: Impossible is good, a more classical gadget-based spy movie with some pacing problems. The second one is a mess, but kind of fun in a pretty trainwreck sort of way. J.J. Abrams made the first really great entry in the series, which was a real surprise at the time. Perhaps even more surprising is that they turned the fourth entry over to Pixar-vet Brad Bird. But, proving that a good director is a good director, regardless if he’s directing people or cartoons, Bird does an amazing job with Ghost Protocol.

Series hero Ethan Hunt (the apparently ageless Tom Cruise) begins the movie imprisoned in Russia. He’s broken out by Simon Pegg, the only other returning cast member, and newcomer Paula Patton because, well, things are real bad on the outside. Before he even has a chance to take a shower without worrying about rape, Ethan and the rest of the IMF have been framed for some real bad shit and are on the run from just about everybody. The seeming everyman Jeremy Renner joins the team and together they four go off to save the world and clear their names.

Ghost Protocol has some truly jaw-dropping sequences. The lengthy section of the movie set in the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, is absolutely riveting, in part because the stakes always seem so high. Everything goes wrong for these guys, whether its sabotage or just plain bad luck. The rope’s too short, the machine broke, a sandstorm’s coming, the message wouldn’t even self-destruct. The odds are stacked against them, and more often then not, they fail. It makes this movie stand out amongst all the CG perfection we’re used to seeing in modern action films.

But the movie’s not just action. A lot of time is spent on good old-fashioned M:I espionage. For every great fight and chase, there’s a bit of cloak and dagger fun leading up to it, or parallel to it. A scene where Cruise and Pegg try to sneak down a hallway will have all but the most morbidly obese audience members on the edge of their seats. Renner breaking into a computer in one scene is an exciting and fun homage to the most infamous scene from the first movie. Ghost Protocol is 133 minutes long, but it doesn’t feel like it.

However, this movie doesn’t live up to M:I:III in one aspect: it’s characters. That film did a great job fleshing out the returning cast as well as introducing some fun new characters and a terrific villain. Here, the character moments are a lot more flat, and our villain, while given one great scene to show how crazy he is, is otherwise left devoid of personality and charisma. Plus, him being a physical match for Tom Cruise is a little hard to buy.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is the best action movie to come out in 2011. I say that aware that most of my favorite movies from last year were action movies. It’s just a lot of fun, especially on a massive IMAX screen with a super hot teaser of The Dark Knight Rises in front of it. Who would have guessed it took an animation guy to bring the reality back to crazy action movies?