Film Review // Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

Directed by Brad Bird / Release (Wide): Dec 21, 2011 / R, 2 hr. 13 min.

Ratatouille and The Incredibles may not be my favorite Pixar films, but they are great nonetheless. I thought Warner Bros. Animation’s Iron Giant (released 1999) to be on par with these, if not better. These films are each tender in their presentation, but exciting to watch. The characters are full of whimsical personality, and still manage to carry dramatic weight under difficult circumstances. Those films have heart.

Why am I talking about those films? Because they are the three films that director Brad Bird took on prior to helming current blockbuster Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.

Say what?

Yes, it’s true. And what seems like a crazy decision from the top happens to be one of the best for this series.

While Brian DePalma (Scarface, The Untouchables) set up a decent entry to the series back in 1996, it seemed a bit botched when John Woo (The Killer, Face/Off, Red Cliff) took over for the second entry–his eccentric action sequences seemed to suck the life out of any plot. J.J. Abrams (Star Trek, Super 8 ) did try to revitalize the series by the time the third one came around, but that entry still felt like it was missing something, but maybe that’s because I didn’t think the plot was very good.

So what does Brad Bird do for Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and company (Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton) that others couldn’t?

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol cast

Well, on the story front, there’s not much in the way of creativity. There’s a bad guy (Michael Nyqvist) who wants to blow up the world, and IMF has to stop him. Mind you, the bad guy is played very well by Nyqvist (probably best known for his part in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo–the Swedish version), but he’s not really fleshed out.

There’s no time for it.

That’s because most of the 130-plus minutes are spent in some exquisite action sequence that can become dizzying at times, but not in the negative sense. Instead, each part of the mission plays out with such urgency and panache that it is hard not to get excited.

Luckily, Bird’s ability to move the story along while the action sequences are in motion is quite commendable. One barely has a chance to breathe before the next sequence is introduced. There are rarely times when the audience is fed a roundtable discussion about how the next mission is going to play out. If anything, those parts of the movie move along at such a quick pace that it seems like maybe something is being overlooked.

And, because the missions just wouldn’t be impossible enough, something always seems to go wrong, or rather, many things seem to go wrong.  So what would be the point in tarrying with the details?

I have to once again give merit to the IMAX experience. And not the fake IMAX I keep alluding to (please people, stop paying extra for these fake IMAX screens). There are over 30 minutes of the movie that were filmed in IMAX, and those scenes are breathtaking. It would be a shame to see those same scenes letterboxed.

If you can help it, find a true IMAX screen if only for the sequence on the Burj Khalifa. The stunt work is spectacular, but seeing it on full screen is a treat, even if you are a little (or a lot) fearful of heights, as I am.

I spoke earlier about the film’s main villain, and do have to give the writers credit for injecting at least a little bit of a twist to the man with the intent to blow up the earth. It seems his motivation is a little less about being power/money hungry, and a little bit more ideological (obviously in a twisted sense). In another film, or perhaps in a well-presented philosophical essay, it might have made sense to expound on his idea a little more. But hey, we don’t need empathy for him in this film, so I suppose it’s best to say as little as possible.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol villain

Action films are not my favorite cup of tea, in general. They are usually devoid of character depth, and plot points are far too straightforward, without the nuances of irony or the catharsis found in a good tragedy or drama.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol doesn’t do things differently enough for me to feel completely invested in it. But under Bird’s gentle directing, I must say that the characters are more fleshed out than in any of the previous iterations, and certain comedic moments (thanks Simon Pegg) are executed well and with good pace. The action sequences are fun to watch, sometimes even exhilarating. I opine that this is the best film in the series. Dare I say it. It has heart (and it beats fast and hard).

The film opened on Friday in select IMAX theaters and has a wide US release tomorrow, Dec 21. Check it out if you’re a fan of action. And if not, here’s another treat. For those who happen to watch the film on the large screen IMAX format, you will be treated to the 6 minute The Dark Knight Rises prologue that I wrote about last week.

Did I mention that I like IMAX? Because, yes… yes, I do.

3.5

 

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