Mission:Impossible – Ghost Protocol

The latest installment of the Mission Impossible franchise began with action, and seemingly didn’t stop for the first two-thirds of the film. Helmed by first time live action director, Brad BirdTom Cruise and company barely stop to catch their collective breaths before one action sequence ends and the next set piece begins. It’s almost as if the unstated formula for M:I – Ghost Protocol was to swap out the famous Cruise charisma which in the previous films, seemed almost as important as what he was doing , and replacing it mainly with pursuits in cars, chases on foot, fights, explosions, guns, computer magic, and other assorted action with far less emphasis on the star himself.

This is an older and more mature Cruise as Ethan Hunt. He’ll still flash that familiar high wattage smile – except this time around, it’s infrequently displayed and with decidedly less impact. Other members of this IMF include Paula Patton who is on board as the potent and sexy sidekick Jane. Simon Pegg is Benji Dunn, the technical wizard who mans the computer and also dispenses wise cracks in what seems like clockwork work fashion – one smart ass remark every fifteen minutes.

The new boy in town is Jeremy Renner who joins the team about a quarter of the way in. He’s introduced as Brandt, an analyst on the MI payroll. Introducing him is Tom Wilkinson in an un-credited role as the erstwhile unseen Secretary who as we all know, will offer Cruise and Co a mission with the provision that if it goes bad – all together now – the secretary will disavow any knowledge of the IM force.

Sadly, Wilkinson must have had the proverbial 15 minutes of available time between other movie gigs, so he signed on for what might be called – an extended cameo. As such, we see him in just the one scene.

Another important character who received less time on-screen than you might have guessed going in, is Michael Nyqvist who is best known and remembered as Mikael Blomqvist from the Millenium Trilogy. Here he is asked to play the bad-guy. Most of his onscreen time is of the action variety as well. He is called Hendricks in the film and his goal is the mass-annihilation of most of us folks. Making a fresh start across the globe is preferable than staying with the status quo. In fact, in his mind, doing away with the status quo and most of the world’s population can be most easily started and accomplished with a pre-emptive nuclear strike that he would control and launch. Adios San Francisco.

As the film begins, we watch a breathless pre-credits hook. There’s no sign of Cruise/Hunt here. Agent Hanaway (Josh Hollaway) has been tasked with executing a snatch and grab of a briefcase or messenger bag filled with Russian Missile Launch codes. He takes a fall-away off a building with both of his guns blazing (I think we saw this done in exactly the same way by Carrie-Ann Moss as Trinity in The Matrix. As an escape it was quite thrilling. Lea Seydoux (seen last summer as Gabrielle in Midnight in Paris) then saunters into the alley where Hanaway safely landed, and in a blink of an eye – the successful mission ends badly.

Meanwhile Cruise as Hunt had been doing time in a Russian prison where everyone sleeps with their shoes on because you never know, but at any moment, you could be sprung out of prison without even enough time to don fresh underwear, which is exactly what happens here. Jane and Benji were working outside of the prison to aid and abet. Once Hunt is out of prison, he and the team’s new assignment will have them break back into the Kremlin and steal some info from the archives. It’s going along nicely via excellent makeup, deception in the form of a virtual hallway projection to deceive the guards. But, not unexpectedly, Hendricks is lurking about.

A bomb is set off, and while Cruise and Pegg escape – sorry Pegg escapes and Cruise ends up in hospital leading to another escape, the Kremlin fares less well as it is turned into a pile of rubble. Russia considers this an act of war, with the IMF team blamed; and soon Wilkinson is telling Cruise that he’s been disavowed big time, and he can expect nothing in the way of technical or logistical support, aid, comfort, or even lunch money.

Enter Renner as Brandt, and before you can even say United Arab Emirates, Wilkinson has taken one between the eyes, and the team promptly arrives just outside of Dubai, and are heading into town in a jeep.

This setting is where we get the world’s tallest building sequence which requires no description because we’ve seen it on the posters and in the trailers. There are more killings, chases, deceptions – the usual tactics for the franchise, and even a monstrous sandstorm. A lot of this was extremely well done – the deception for one and the high wire act on the building for another,

but the sandstorm arrived in Dubai with high winds that could kill. Most of us would not have been able to even stand upright in such a wind,

but this storm could not deter Cruise either while he was running on foot or driving a car.

From there we head off to Mumbai. There Patton as Jane is set in play to seduce Anil Kapoor’s Brij Nath, a necessary diversion as Benji and Brandt do another version of breaking into a computer array.

This computer is what Kendrick is using to launch the missile.

Well, that’s more than I usually describe, and is certainly more than you need to know going in. Suffice to say that Bird’s background in animated features for Pixar means he knows his way around action movies, and because he does, we get our payoff via the dynamic and ample visual rewards. The action is nearly continuous but quite possibly, it has been overdone, meaning you might begin to get bored with it. You need some breaks or pauses in the action to make less action seem greater in importance or impact.

Renner’s Brandt brings us the first major halt in the action when he clues us in as to who and what he really is at the 2/3 ‘s mark. It seems obvious that he is more, much more, than an analyst. It defintely is a slow down – maybe we needed the break and maybe we needed the ghosts in the screenplay to be brought into clearer focus. These ghosts are the back stories that we heard about early on but without definitive explanations or depth at the time.

Paula Patton is deadly as Hunt’s femme-fatale partner. Pegg is likeable, bringing a lot more levity to the role than did Gregg Morris as Barney Collier so many years ago in the original TV series. Nyqvist as Kendrick doesn’t say much, but when he does he speak, it is scary. He also fights Cruise in a death match in a high-tech Mumbai parking garage near the end of the film.

Which brings us back to Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt. He’s tougher in action, as well as rougher and tougher around the edges as both a man and an actor. Believe it or not – the first Mission Impossible film was made 15 years ago in 1996. I didn’t recall it being that far back when I heard it, but it is true. You could look it up.

Which leads us to the next question – is Jeremy Renner going to take over the franchise? It doesn’t seem that far of a stretch to see Cruise as the future or next Secretary and Renner as the new Hunt or should I say Brandt as the lead man in he field in the next installment, say around 2015. We’ll see.

This was an exciting and excellent thriller. It was far from perfect as I found myself disbelieving much of what I saw and I’m not referencing the physical side of the action – I’m talking logic and plot points. But that’s just me, and it doesn’t mean that I, or you, can’t think it is a fine film to watch and a splendid way to pass the time with a huge bucket of popcorn. It is just that questions can and will come to mind. Finally it isn’t easy to peg this film – while it is great, it’s not quite the greatest adventure yarn I’ve ever seen, and neither is it disappointing in the overall sense, yet I can’t really define this film without using both of those extremes.

You may read all of my posts at my own website called The Arts.

Happy New Year everyone.

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