- Rated PG-13
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All photos © Paramount Pictures
Reviewed by David Medsker
om Cruise is nothing if not shrewd. He has always tried to keep the “Mission: Impossible” series on the cutting edge of the action movie genre, even when it meant hiring John Woo and his slo-mo doves. Cruise tapped J.J. Abrams, a TV guy who had just launched a little old show called “Lost,” to make his big screen directorial debut with “Mission: Impossible III,” and with “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” Cruise and Abrams recruited Brad Bird, who had never directed a live action film in his life. Bird did, however, direct “The Incredibles,” one of the best action movies of all time, so he’s not as out of his element here as one might think.
One difference between “Ghost Protocol” and Bird’s other work, though, is that this is the first script that Bird directed but did not write, and sadly, it shows. “Ghost” is good, and occasionally brilliant, but the plot is threadbare, lacking the layered story lines and emotional core that Bird’s big three animated films (“The Incredibles,” “Ratatouille,” “The Iron Giant”) have in spades. Granted, the lack of emotional core makes sense – they’re spies, after all, and the script does explore how emotional ties lead to death – but “The Incredibles” has three times as much story as “Ghost Protocol” does, and needed 20 fewer minutes to tell it.
Agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise) begins the movie in a Russian prison, but is soon sprung by fellow IMF agents Benji (Simon Pegg) and Jane (Paula Patton). Ethan is immediately sent on a mission to infiltrate the Kremlin in order to uncover the identity of a person of interest by the code name Cobalt who wishes to obtain nuclear capabilities, but Cobalt sabotages their mission by stealing a remote detonator, and framing IMF for the subsequent bomb explosion he planted. Ethan and his group are disavowed by the U.S. Government, but with the help of the IMF Secretary (Tom Wilkinson) and his analyst assistant Brandt (Jeremy Renner), they get a lead and some resources to track Cobalt to a rendezvous point where he intends to trade cash for codes, and launch Russian nukes with the remote detonator.
Yep, this 2011 spy movie is about the Russians and nuclear launch codes. For anyone who came of age during the period where the Doomsday clock spent nearly a decade sitting on two minutes to midnight, this will seem antiquated. No matter your opinion on the timeliness of the plot, there really isn’t much of a plot here of any kind. Get a lead, go undercover to stop the mark, tap black market contacts for help, chase mark to another exotic locale. There are no double-crosses, no twists and no hidden agendas. Ethan Hunt is a Terminator, and he absolutely will not stop until that remote detonator is secured.
What this means is that the beauty of “Ghost Protocol” is in the moment, and there are several thrilling, chuckle-inducing moments scattered throughout. The entire Dubai sequence is stunning, with a vertigo-inducing flyover shot of the Burj Khalifa setting the stage. The exterior shots of Cruise climbing up and running down the outside of the tower are remarkable (though his re-entry to the hotel is admittedly dubious), and there is one more big moment that we will not reveal here. The Mumbai sequence (which, of course, features Anil Kapoor) contains a great callback to the first “M:I,” but the best gadget sequence by far is the device Ethan and Benji use to sneak down a Kremlin hallway with a guard sitting at a desk directly in front of them.
Cruise has taken a beating in the press for nearly a decade now, but there is a reason he is a superstar – he has tremendous presence. And really, it’s nice to see him embrace his status as a pop culture icon by doing movies like this, and “Tropic Thunder,” and even the upcoming “Rock of Ages” (though that last one looks like it’s going to be awful). Relative newcomer Paula Patton is rock-solid as the tough-as-nails Jane, and Renner is a nice addition, but they did not need a name actor for his role. Michael Nyquist, who played Daniel Craig’s role in the original “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” series, is wasted here as Cobalt. It’s a nice stage to introduce him to American audiences, but he doesn’t get anything to work with. Pegg is, well, Pegg, and Abrams fans will get a kick out of the actor who plays an IMF agent in the opening scene.
“Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” is well acted, directed, edited and scored – the sound work during the fight scenes, though, was ridiculously over the top – but the slightness of the story, not to mention the familiarity of it, is a tough pill to swallow. There is certainly the potential to make another excellent “Mission: Impossible” movie; next time around, we would suggest keeping Bird, and letting him write his own script.
Two-Disc Blu-ray Review:
There are only a couple different kinds of bonus features on the Blu-ray/DVD pack for "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" – featurettes and deleted scenes – but there is an exhaustive amount of each here, particularly the former. Director Brad Bird was busy with his iPhone camera, and the producers grabbed tons of interview material to dress up the behind-the-scenes footage, even going so far as to get some shots of executive producer J.J. Abrams while he was halfway around the world shooting "Super 8" while "M:I" was being filmed. The deleted scenes are nice but nonessential, with the exception of a great scene between Tom Cruise and Paula Patton as they're flying to India. Fans of the Dubai sequence will find much to love here, as they spend a significant amount of time covering the movie's big climbing scene.