A film review by Craig J. Koban December 28, 2011

Rank:  #14



2011, PG-13, 132 mins.


Ethan Hunt: Tom Cruise / Brandt: Jeremy Renner / Benji: Simon Pegg / Jane: Paula Patton / Hendricks: Michael Nyqvist

Directed by Brad Bird / Written by Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec, based on the TV series created by Bruce Geller

The job of the film critic is to report on what they've seen and how well an individual film accomplished its prescribed aims.  MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL - as far as action-thrillers go -  is a rare breed for how it genuinely astounds us as a non-stop, adrenaline-induced, and feverously gripping genre picture.  This is a large scale and lavishly produced Christmas season blockbuster/popcorn entertainment, but it’s also masterful for how it brims with stunt and action set pieces that are simultaneously exhilarating and evoke a sense of legitimate “how’d-they-do-that” awe.  

The real mission:impossible behind the film, though, may be the fact that Oscar winner Brad Bird – making his live-action directorial feature film debut after an auspicious career of making animated efforts like RATATOUILLE, THE INCREDIBLES, and THE IRON GIANT – has managed to take a franchise that, under normal circumstances, would be stale by its fourth entry and instead has injected a revitalizing sense of freshness and daring innovation into the proceedings.  The first three MISSION films were solid: I liked the Euro-aesthetic of Brain De Palma’s 1995 original, the high octane intensity of John Woo’s 2000 follow-up, and J.J. Abrams brazenly stylish, merrily improbable and engaging M:I-III from 2006.  Yet, Bird’s newest entry sets an audacious new standard for the series. 

Some action films aspire to have one or two virtuoso action sequences in them; M:I-IV has around a half a dozen.  The film begins with a spectacular and fast paced bang and goes from one stupendously improbable – but fiendishly creative and suspense-filled – sequence to the next and never looks back.  Here’s a film that begins with a daring and dangerous Moscow prison break, proceeds to a devastatingly lethal terrorist bombing of the Kremlin itself, and then careens off to Dubai where the film’s hero has to straddle the 2700 foot Burj Khalifa skyscraper – the tallest structure in the world – with special gloves that allow his hands to stick to the outer windows like Spider-man.  And if you’re not thrilled enough by that point, Bird and company then throw at us a vast foot and car chase through a city-wide sand storm, a brutal fisticuff battle between villain and hero in a modern and sleek parking garage made up of dizzying levels, and finally a last ditch attempt to ensure that the world is not ravaged by nuclear Armageddon.  I’m not sure what made me sweat with seat-squirming intensity more: all of the aforementioned action or the luminous façade of star Paula Patton in a nicely form fitting gown.  Perhaps the latter.

The story is wall-to-wall implausible silliness, but joyously so.  Veteran IMF ("impossible mission force" to the uninitiated) agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise, with a gnarly intensity and rocking a six pack and chiseled guns...at nearly 50) are desperately hunting down a Swedish international terrorist named Hendricks (the almost unrecognizable Michael Nyqvist from 2009's THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO) that is a brilliant madman that wants to start a nuclear war to profit from it later.  Hunt’s initial mission to thwart Hendricks' own mission to nab some vital nuclear missile codes from within the Kremlin is a failure, which leaves the Kremlin a crater in the ground.  Hunt and his team are blamed for the explosion and the U.S. and Russians are at their most heated state since the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Worse yet, the U.S. President has invoked “ghost protocol,” which has completely disbanded the IMF and has branded Hunt and his comrades as terrorists, making their mission to come that much more...impossib-ler. 



Hunt’s team includes Benji (the always funny Simon Pegg, playing the computer mastermind of the group); the uber sexy, but uber deadly Jane (the perpetually easy-on-the-eyes Paula Patton) who has a personal stake in the mission; and finally newcomer Brandt (Jeremy Renner, always bringing a level of caged intensity and world weariness to his roles) as an “analyst” that may or may not have had something to do with Ethan’s wife being killed years ago.  Despite being enemies of the U.S. government and having little in the way of friends or allies, Hunt and company begin their covert mission – that takes them to places as far ranging as Moscow, Dubai, and Mumbai – of trying to nab and stop Hendricks from achieving peace through nuking the planet.  

Like Christopher Nolan did with THE DARK KNIGHT, Brad Bird wisely avoids using 3D here and instead opted to film some of M:I-IVs sequences (approximately 30 minutes worth) with the large scale IMAX formatted cameras, which has allowed him and his cinematography, Robert Elswit (a shoe-in Oscar nominee here) to open up the film series as never before.  Although I didn't have the pleasure of seeing the film in IMAX, I can understand Bird’s rationale here: the negative gives viewers a brighter, crisper, and much higher image quality than any 3D presentation could offer, which gives city-wide establishing shots and action scene compositions a level of instant immersion.  

The film's action, as stated, has to be seen to be believed in the film.  I loved the early Russian prison break accompanied by the tunes (don’t ask) of Dean Martin’s “Ain’t That A Kick In The Head”, which is promptly followed by the massive explosion of the Kremlin that will leave viewers breathless.  Then there are other scenes that show an endless sense of risky imagination: One involves Hunt and Benji trying to infiltrate the vaults of the Kremlin by using a wall-to-wall screen in which a virtual reality image is meant to both hide them and make the guard think he’s just viewing a hallway.  Then there is a solo mission for Brandt that involves him – while wearing a steel mesh undersuit – jumping into a piping hot ventilation shaft and computer room while not making contact with the surroundings or floors.  Benji pilots a little remote control machine underneath him – which utilizes powerful magnets – that allows Brandt to hover in place.  

Unbelievable?  Perhaps.  Thrilling?  Absolutely. 

Then, of course, there is the film’s piece de resistance, the hair-raising and spin-tingling sequence that has Hunt hanging by high-tech suction gloves outside the 123rd floor of that Dubai skyscraper (Cruise apparently did not use a stunt double for any of the shots).  My analytical mind told me that Cruise was obviously suspended by wires that were erased by computers by Industrial Light & Magic, but…still…you gain a startlingly abrupt sense of danger by seeing an actual person dangling from an actual building and not a CGI stunt double or a performer in front of an obviously phony green screen.  There’s not much in the way of sleight of hand trickery here, just good old-fashioned stunt work, dazzling cinematography and old school editing.  It’s one of the great scenes of the movies.   

It’s easy to overlook the cast here, who are all very thanklessly dependable, especially Cruise, who despite being nearly over the hill has managed to plausibly age gracefully as the series has progressed (his willingness to place himself in danger for the sake of his craft on that Dubai skyscraper can be seen as either commendable or suicidal).   Renner compliments Cruise rather well and serves, at times, as the audience’s pragmatic portal into the sheer ludicrousness of his team’s planned missions.  Paula Patton is a feisty, sultry, and kick-ass heroine that’s still vulnerable inside.  Nyqvist fully embraces his megalomaniacal villain with a subdued relish. 

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL, not too dissimilar from great action adventure efforts like the INDIANA JONES pictures, is a supremely assured exercise in keeping viewers at the edge of their seats, enthusiastically awaiting its next astonishing sequence and hungrily demanding more afterwards.  Some may question my awarding it a four star rating, but it’s quite clear: relative to its genre, does M:I-IV succeed at its goals as an action thriller?  The answer is a reverberating “yes.”  For what it’s trying to do, the film is as near perfect as it gets.  It’s one of the finest action pictures in a long while and easily one of the best sequels in many a moon. 

  H O M E