This review, should you choose to read it, contains some spoilers.
Man, this is the most disappointing movie I’ve seen in a long time, because of the misleading title. Before you waste your money, please know that there are no ghosts in this movie at all. I hope that lady that tried to sue DRIVE for not being THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS will consider throwing some of her legal fund at this one too. It’s just shitty to take advantage of worldwide ghostamania like that. In all other aspects though I really enjoyed it.
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL (subtitle said in Shaggy voice) is animation directionist Brad Bird’s first live action movie. I think he got pissed about George Miller, Zack Snyder and Wes Anderson directing cartoons so he was like “fuck you guys” and took one of their jobs. Or maybe it’s just that most directors of this genre these days are so lacking in the basic skills of filmatism that he was called in to tutor them. Whatever the motivation, I think his talents probly serve the world more uniquely doing cartoons, but luckily they also translate well to live action so his time away from his true calling isn’t a total waste.
I really dig that this series of movies has a new director for each installment, doing their own version of it. The directors so far always have a good pedigree, although of course John Woo blew it. But still. The idea of a big Hollywood based-on-a-TV-show franchise where DePalma set the template and other talented directors come in one time and then hit the road is a good one. It’s the ALIEN model, I guess. (DePalma directed prequel coming up?)
So this one can completely stand on its own, but for those keeping track it has more connection to the rest of the series than the others do. Part 3 director J.J. Abrams (don’t even fuckin think about it, AsimovLives) stayed on as producer for this one. It connects to what was going on with that one, using Ethan Hunt’s wife as a plot point, promoting Simon Pegg’s character Benji from cameo computer expert to co-starring field agent, and it doesn’t really try to reinvent the wheel. It’s only a somewhat tweaked wheel with more and clearer action and even more of an emphasis on the team. You got Cruise, Pegg, Paula The Super-hot Teacher Lady From PRECIOUS BASED ON THE NOVEL PUSH BY SAPPHIRE PUBLISHED BY KNOPF 1996 Patton, and THE HURT LOCKER’s Jeremy Renner as the secretary’s analyst that ends up on the run with the team and having some skills to earn his keep.
The teamwork is welcome because a big part of the old TV show was how cool it was to watch a team of experts work together to basically pull off a big prank in the name of national security or whatever. (they should add Steve-O to the team in the next one. I was gonna say Ashton Kutcher because he’s more of a pranker, but Steve-O would do his own stunts.) DePalma cleverly blew up the team in the first one, but that unfortunately set it up as The Tom Cruise Show, and this is the first time he keeps one team for the whole movie. Instead of the familiar plot of Cruise getting framed and disavowed it’s the whole IMF organization. Some asshole (Michael Nyqvist, male lead of the Swedish GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO trilogy) blew up the Kremlin and stole a nuclear warhead while our IMF friends were sneaking around in there too. Not cool. He’s gotta understand that when he does something like that he makes all Kremlin-infiltrators look bad, they all get lumped in together.
One thing you learn in this movie is that if you happen to be there when somebody is blowing up the Kremlin it would be best not to be found unconscious wearing a reversible Russian army jacket. Good travel tip there.
Then the secretary of defense or whatever (Tom Wilkinson) has to give them their mission and pretend to break ties with them, that is what Spooooky Protocol means. You’ve been decommissioned, I’m hear to take you into custody, while I am briefly distracted please take this train car full of crazy high tech shit and get the fuck out of here.
Before that, when Hunt gets his first mission that he can choose to accept, the message fails to self destruct as promised. He walks away, then looks back at it, has to go give it a whack like we used to do with TVs when they lost reception. Only then does it blow up. It’s a good joke and a bad omen about their missions in this movie: everything is always gonna go wrong. They can’t break into the computers the way they wanted to, the machines that make those cool masks get stuck, they accidentally kill somebody they need alive, they get hit by a sandstorm, the retinal scanner on the side of his secret train car requires him to hop up and down because he’s too short for it, the list goes on.
The rest of the team are so used to Hunt’s awesomeness that they think nothing of asking him to climb up the side of the world’s tallest building to break into a server just so they can slow down some elevators. His high tech spiderman type suction gloves stop working, so all he has is those rock climbing skills he showed in the opening of part 2. You know it’s a Brad Bird movie when the glove he tosses blows back to the building and has its own little character moment.
Just like the climbing gloves, all of the technology they use is incredible but fallible. One of the best scenes involves an elaborate illusion used to sneak past a security guard, but it can only look right from one angle. In the opening a network of micro-cameras, databases and facial recognition software identifies and warns an agent about an assassin, but the notification distracts him just as she pulls her gun out. So maybe he would’ve had a better chance without it.
I like the new team members. Patton has a great moment where shit is about to go down and she kicks off her pumps – it’s like a secretary coming home from a long day of work crossed with Billy Jack taking off his boots. Renner impressed me because he’s so good at playing ugly weirdos (DAHMER, THE TOWN) and here he’s transformed into a suave action hero. He wears nice suits and gets in fights, but does a little more self-deprecating humor than James Bond would. I love when Hunt pulls a gun on him just to prove he’ll know what to do about it. He does.
I don’t know what to say about Tom Cruise. He’s good in the way he’s usually good. I know you’re supposed to hate him now, ’cause he’s a weirdo, but I like him as this intensely focused superman. This time they let him look slightly ragged under the eyes and a little skinny when he’s shirtless. In his climbing gear he looks like a dorky bicyclist. But I don’t think you can say he’s a more relatable character. I don’t want him to be.
Wouldn’t it be funny if he bought the rights to do a sequel to V FOR VENDETTA, just to see if they’d stop wearing those masks to protest his church?
About a half hour of the movie was shot in Imax, so when you see it in real Imax (film projector, not digital) it pops out from letterboxed to full Imax screen for these gigantic establishing shots and incredible stunts on that building in Dubai. It reminded me of seeing LAWRENCE OF ARABIA in 70mm (and there’s even a musical homage to that movie during a desert shot).
It goes without saying that it’s refreshing to see a movie in this day and age that’s packed with action and never had me frustrated by disorienting closeups, shakiness or poor staging and editing (delete previous sentence, goes without saying). There’s alot going on but it flows. Even a deliberately confusing chase in a sandstorm comes off at least as coherent as the current Hollywood standard for non-sandstorm action in movies like SALT or WARRIOR. This is crucial because it’s not much of an exaggeration to call it non-stop action. They’re always hurtling ahead – even the handful of debriefing or pre-planning discussions tend to take place in moving vehicles on the way to some place they gotta sneak into. Without involving action and a good storytelling rhythm this could easily be one of those torturous movies of endless banging and yelling like THE MUMMY or the TRANSFORMERSes. But for me it was constantly entertaining and breezed by like a much shorter movie.
Bird is able to work the little character subplots in without slowing that constant forward movement. At the end there’s a “phew, let’s all take a few minutes to unwind and enjoy not being shot at” type of scene and I thought it was a nice way of doing it. Okay, we’ve blown the roof off, let’s use like 2 or 3 minutes to tie together some emotions and stuff.
My only real complaint is that after packing the movie with so many clever gimmicks and suspenseful sequences some of the stuff at the end seems a little weaker than what came before. Renner hovering through a fan via magnet power, for example, is played as a goofy sideplot. So it doesn’t have half the tension of Hunt trying not to fall off the building earlier or of course his cable work in the silent vault in part 1. And the showdown with Nyqvist in a revolving car garage seemed like it could’ve been the climax of a Pierce Brosnan Bond movie. It’s a small complaint though. That stuff is fine, but it’s the earlier stuff I keep thinking about.
I love the opening of the movie, where Hunt is being broken out of a Russian prison. To the horror of his team he decides to go off plan to sneak back through and rescue his informant (who has no idea he’s a secret agent, or that he’s not Russian). It’s a fun scene where he uses hand signals to Pegg to open specific security doors, carefully orchestrating the releasing of prisoners in order to create the right amount of rioting to facilitate his escape. It’s a great setpiece but after the movie was over I realized how significant it was to the character. If he’d stuck with the original plan and left that guy behind he wouldn’t have had access to crucial resources that ended up saving the day.
So is it karma, or is it brilliant strategy? He tells his team he couldn’t leave an informant behind to be killed, and tells the guy “I look after my friends.” But he might be just saying that to sound nice, it might really be that he’s always thinking 72 steps ahead. I’d like to say that it’s the first one and his selfless act ended up saving his ass later. But I’m not really sure.
Either way, they stopped a nuclear war. I’m for it. Keep doing that, guys.
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BONUS SPOILER: In the opening there’s an IMF agent we haven’t seen before that gets Estevezed. It turns out you’re supposed to know he’s an actor from the TV program Lost. You may remember that TV’s Felicity played that same role in part 3. As long as J.J. Abrams is producing these things I think we know what’s gonna happen. Jennifer Garner will be an agent that dies in part 5 and the Cloverfield monster in part 6.
DOUBLE BONUS SPOILER: I kept waiting for the Lost guy to come back as a ghost, as part of the protocol, but it never happened. RIP OFF.
TRIPLE BONUS SPOILER QUESTION: Do you think it’s a reference to GOODFELLAS that she ended up in Seattle (well, Vancouver I think) at the end? That’s where witness protection put him in GOODFELLAS. I wonder if they know each other? Man, IMF could’ve taken out the mafia so much faster than the cops could’ve. That would be unconstitutional though I think.
VERN has a new action-horror novel out called WORM ON A HOOK! He has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the film criticism books Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal and Yippee Ki-Yay Moviegoer!: Writings on Bruce Willis, Badass Cinema and Other Important Topics as well as the crime novel Niketown.