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Non-Review Review: Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol reminds me – and, I feel the need to specify this, in a good way – of one of the Bond films from before Casino Royale made them all grittier and edgier. No disrespect to that fantastic film, but the relatively serious remodelling of Britain’s most famous secret agent left a bit of a gap in the market for an espionage thriller that doesn’t take itself too seriously. And while Ghost Protocol takes a great deal of pride in doing what it sets out to do with a great deal of skill, it certainly never takes itself too seriously. And that proves to be a very good thing, indeed.

Keeping me on edge...

Whenever I’m reviewing a relatively young franchise, I feel the need to casually rank or compare the entries. After all, the films classify themselves, so it only feels appropriate to compare and contrast based upon that classification. I think I’m one of the very few people on the planet who actively loved Mission: Impossible III, just thinking it was a solidly-constructed and unpretentious little thriller with more than enough style to execute a conventional plot. I think that it remains my favourite in the series, even if competition is considerably tighter than it was before.

I can say, without a hint of reservation, that Ghost Protocol does feature the most impressive action sequences of the series. Brad Bird is a director already well-loved by film fans, for his contributions to any number of respected and esteemed animated films. I think that The Incrediblesdeserves to be discussed as one of the better action movies of the past decade – so he definitely has the skill. Still, there’s reason to be skeptical, watching a director transition between computer animation and live action. However, Bird does it almost seamlessly.

Just when i thought I had this franchise Pegged...

The centrepiece of the film is a sequence that has been discussed and promoted to an almost ridiculous degree. It’s hard not to worry that the hype might have been a bit much, as yet another news report or website informs you that yes, that is Tom Cruise doing his own stunts on the side of the world’s tallest free-standing structure. However, it was genuinely amazing. Unfortunately, Ireland doesn’t actually have an Imax screen, so I didn’t see it as Bird intended, but it’s a thing of beauty even on a regular cinema screen. I see a lot of movies, and I think I’ve picked up quite a bit on how certain stunts and sequences are staged, so it’s rare that I wonder how certain shots are accomplished – and there are any number of brilliant choice made during that climb, ones that actually made me ponder, “how do they do that?” I think that sort of curiosity is a sign of a magical film experience.

More than that, though, I was actually worried. I mean, I know that he’s the protagonist, so I’m aware that it’s highly unlikely he’ll fall in a major motion picture. I don’t think I actually contemplated that sequence ending toohorribly, but I did gasp. And I did jump. And my fists did clench. It was a visceral experience, and one that got my adrenaline pumping. It was just a stunningly executed little set piece, and one that deserves all the attention it gets.

On the Hunt again...

And there are any number of smaller sequences that work on that sort of basic level, that are fun and exciting, and handled with such deft skill that you aren’t thinking too much about where the cast are running to or from. There are crazy gadgets, dramatic pauses, great stunts, massive set-pieces. It really does feel like a Bond film, back when the series was more focused around crazy escapism than more serious concerns. You could almost imagine Pierce Brosnan in the lead role, and there’s even a nice little sequence where Ethan wears a tuxedo, as if to acknowledge the affection Bird seems to have for the British thrillers.

Of course, it’s all smoke and mirrors, but in a good way. The plot is ridiculously thin, even by the standards of these sorts of films. The bad guy is so generic that even Michael Nyqvist can’t breathe life into him. The film is a collection of action and adventure sequences loosely tied together with a variety of old spy film clichés. There are nuclear weapons. There are Russians. The good guys have gone rogue. Hell, the movie even puts its own twist on that iconic sequence from the first film, but using the science of magnets.

Her weapon will server well...

While part of me wishes that there was more to ground the film, to help me invest in it, part of me admires the efficiency of it all. The entire plot is based around the theory that “things get worse.” If it’s ever a bad time for a piece of equipment to malfunction, it will malfunction. Even if it makes no sense in context, the hero will have an encounter with the main villain in the middle of the film. If you need angst, let’s just insert a bit of back story to add it. If the film’s over and you need to send the audience home happy, let’s just brush aside that nasty bit of back story with a convenient twist. It doesn’t make for organic storytelling (indeed, it can be quite frustrating), but it’s a solid basis for an action movie.

The cast are grand, but they mostly feel like chess pieces in a series of connected action scenes. They all do very good work, and they add as much as they can to a paper-thin script, but there’s very little meat here. Still, I think Cruise is a reliable leading man, and while he’s hardly showing off here, he’s not bad. Simon Pegg does a decent job of wrangling the humour out of some terrible one-liners, and I think he helps foster an atmosphere that makes it easier to overlook the film’s fairly serious flaws. He helps make the movie fun, and I’m glad he was kept on.

Take a bow (tie) Mister Cruise...

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is a solid action film for those wanting a bit of escape. You’ll be hard-pressed to find better action set pieces this winter, and I think it provides the type of escapist fare that should work well as counter-programming to some of the heavier-minded stuff. It’s not perfect, and it doesn’t redesign the wheel – it just drives it really fast.

8 Responses

  1. You’re not alone in loving “Mission:Impossible III.” I too feel that it’s the best entry (at least so far) and it’s highly underrated. I’m glad that J.J. Abrams is back, even if as a producer (bringing with him some of his “Alias” writers as well as his collaborating composer). I am anxious to see what Brad Bird can do with live action, as he’s one of my favorite filmmakers.

    • Glad to hear I’m not entirely alone, Jamie. And Bird does a great job with action, though I might have spent a bit more time on the script.

  2. I’m actually in the minority on this, but I think Mission Impossible 3 is fairly terrible. The whole movie was lots of running, explosions and unmemorable stunts that amounted to a whole lot of nothing. The fact that they never revealed what the MacGuffin was was a little too cute. If there was a stronger plot that tested the characters’ relationships and their ability to work together to beat Hoffman’s character, I wouldn’t have minded the lack of reveal. But it’s like if a cheesy Bond movie featured a lot of crazy stunts, action and one-liners without actually revealing the villains scheme. It’s all foreplay and no pay off.

    Brian De Palma’s Mission Impossible will always be the best one. There’s a reason why Toy Story 3 parodied the scene where Ethan Hunt is suspended on a cable only an inch above the ground. It’s because the action in that movie was very creative and memorable, 15 years later. The first movie had an interesting, complicated (if a bit convoluted) plot that was far more intelligent than most “blockbusters”. In the first movie, the IMF team acted like spies, not action heroes and made the final helicopter set piece that more thrilling because it felt suitable climactic for an otherwise subdued movie. I can enjoy a dumb action movie, but it can’t rely solely on the adrenaline of its set pieces, IMO.

    • I don’t know. I liked that the movie was candid about how we didn’t know the scheme beyond the MacGuffin. I thought it was an interesting and honest concession – “Look, this is an action espionage film, it doesn’t matter what the good and bad guys are fighting over, what matters is the action and drama that results from the conflict.” I’d certainly, to be honest, rather have that than “Generic Nuclear Madman #267” like we did here. But you’re correct, the first one is more tightly plotted, and it is in a very distinct genre as compared to the other three.

      And I agree with you on the wire scene. It is, as you note, iconic. Nothing else in the series comes close, it’s just instantly recognisable. And I like the bit in the tunnel too. I like the first film, I just prefer the third. But there was just something surreal about the way that De Palma’s film was so serious and stoic while featuring impossible rubber masks. But at least we can agree that Mission: Impossible 2 was terrible! 🙂

      With regards to the third film, it’s funny but that bit where Cruise is running and blown sideways is actually the clip that plays in my head when I think “generic explosion.” I can’t explain it, but I just like the way that Abrams shot the film, even things that should have been as silly as the wind farm bit.

      • I get what you’re saying, but for me it just seems clever without being good.

        Maybe it’s just because I watched Mission Impossible growing up as a kid, but for some reason I never questioned the implausibility of the rubber masks. I guess I just assumed that technology existed. 🙂

        And MI:2 is all kinds of terrible.

  3. Although on IMDB Mission Impossible is a 6.9, and Mission Impossible III is at 6.8, so maybe I’m not too crazy. :p

  4. I’ve liked all of these titles with Woo’s “M:I-2″ being a bit of an exception. Some of the action was good but, as stated above in Darren’s review, it’s harder for a film to impress when it takes itself too seriously. As ridiculous as the action taking place on screen was, Woo almost never eased his poker face.

    De Palma could get away with being stone cold because the action in his film was the icing rather than the substance.”M:i-2” had no substance. It’s not alone, either.

    Beyond the first entry there is little plot at all to be found in the series. That’s not necessarily damning, but it means that rounded satisfaction must be created by other means.

    Comedy is clearly that avenue for “Ghost Protocol.” Benji comes into his own and Bird brings a lighthearted touch along with him. “III” was good – I might have to argue that “GP” is better.

    It can’t go without saying, however, that Abrams never replaced that which Woo disgaruded.

    As much as I’ve enjoyed the Bad Robot “Impossibles,” I feel that any amount of mystery would add considerably to the espionage/action and help to engage those of us who simply start to shut off after so much CG-enhanced action.

    I like a good action vehicle, and “Ghost Protocol” was that while also funny. I think most of us can admit that a somewhat cryptic storyline and more interesting motives add a lot to a spy picture.

    • I would not object to a bit of mystery either, to be frank. But I am content enough with what we got. I wouldn’t consider any entry to be essential or fantastic, but – as you note – all but the second have their charms.

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