Prepare for massive title abbreviations! When last we saw Ethan Hunt and his Impossible Mission Force (IMF) it was widely hailed as the beginning of the end of Tom Cruise’s box office clout. M:I3 was a largely over-budget and costly film that did not have the typical huge opening weekend Cruise films had enjoyed for over a decade. On top of that it also fell $10 million short of M:I2, shelving any short-term plans for sequels. Now five years later Cruise is coming back to the M:I franchise in hopes the name recognition can jolt his career after numerous disappointing tent-pole extravaganza films. It’s up to moviegoers to decide if it was the right move but Cruise certainly fulfilled his end of the bargain. MI:4 Ghost Protocol is a flawed but slick adrenaline-filled spectacle that makes the difference of seeing a movie on the big screen actually worthwhile.
M:I4 revolves around a doomsday-obsessed nuclear terrorist that orchestrates a disastrous attack on the Kremlin to frame the IMF, resulting in Ethan and his team being disavowed (again) and forced to work off-the-grid to clear their names (again). But nobody cares about the whos or whys of these movies that send the team on their missions, right? We just want some flashy characters performing practical stunts in innovative action sequences with minimal CG – all while things in the background get all ‘splodey. As a matter of fact that should just be the film’s synopsis. And there are indeed some eye-popping stunt sequences in this film that will make you sweat in your seats, especially if you see it in IMAX. The key scene in the trailers where Cruise scales Dubai’s Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest building) is breathtaking, and squirm-inducing for anyone that has issues with extreme heights.
Cruise has a track record of picking some of the best emerging directors to helm his M:I adventures. John Woo handled MI:2 and J.J. Abrams (Star Trek, LOST) got his first big screen directing job doing MI:3. Taking that cue but adding a slight twist, Cruise handed this film’s reigns to animated film genius Brad Bird (Iron Giant, The Incredibles) giving him his live-action directorial debut with Ghost Protocol, and Bird proves he can handle the action just as well as Hollywood’s more established names. From the scene mentioned above, to an urban car (and foot) chase during a massive dust storm (us Arizonans can relate), and finally a really cool and innovative fight in a self re-arranging parking garage, there’s a lot here that you haven’t seen done before.
Bird also does a good job introducing the new cast, most notably Jeremy Renner as the IMF Secretary’s chief analyst with ties to Ethan Hunt’s past. Renner brings some light humor with a touch of badass in a nice performance as an affable man haunted by his mistakes. Bird and his crew also wisely beef up Simon Pegg’s returning role as IMF’s tech guy Benji, whom now has field agent status! He has some really funny scenes early in the film that mix cool tech with laughs, and rely on chemistry with Cruise playing the straight man (hee!) in their comedy duo. Also, J.J. Abrams co-produced the movie, so LOST fans should keep their eyes peeled for a cameo early in the film by a fanboy favorite. Oh, and the new girls in this installment get in a big knock-down drag-out cat fight. So there’s that.
The biggest disappointment of this installment was that MI:4 lacks the huge heart/emotion that have become a trademark of Bird’s films. I have made no secret among my nerd peers that I am extremely fond of J.J. Abrams’ MI:3. I think it’s one of the most underrated action films of the last decade. The film had a much more emotional and personal storyline than this one, while not skimping on the spectacle. Ghost Protocol certainly has that spectacle part down, but surprisingly for a Brad Bird film you never really get attached to any of the characters. And on the opposite end Michael Nyqvist, playing the baddie Kurt Hendricks, is completely cardboard and boring. He’s so uninteresting you really don’t care if he lives or dies, you just want him off-screen. The writing of the character basically makes him a one-dimensional cartoon villain better suited for G.I. Joe than Mission: Impossible, and even with that element the character of Kendricks comes across bland.
Is Mission: Impossible the most worthy franchise and premise to continue to revisit? No, but with the right talent involved, this film shows that you can still make something worthwhile from a beloved property even if it has gone a bit stagnant . Brad Bird was an inspired choice for director and does a fairly impressive job making his live action debut. While not the best of the series, Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol is a strong addition anchored by the ageless Tom Cruise showing he’s still able to exude the proper charisma as an action hero. If you are looking for a turn-your-brain off good time, you can’t go wrong here.
FINAL SCORE: 8/10