Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

Photo credit: Industrial Light & Magic
Tom Cruise plays Ethan Hunt in MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL, from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions.

Tom Cruise is back as Ethan Hunt to lead a new group of would-be super spies in “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol,” which should satisfy action junkies desperate for a mindless summer blockbuster-type film in December.

David James/Paramount Pictures
Jane (Paula Patton) and Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) go undercover.

Brad Bird, who directed the amazing Pixar film “The Incredibles,” returns to the big screen in his live action debut with mixed results. The actions scenes are spectacular – one of which I’ll get into more in a minute – but the rest feels too familiar and not really breaking any new ground. There’s some nice character moments, but for the most part, it lacks that comprehensive narrative to really get the audience engaged.

David James/Paramount Pictures
Jane (Paula Patton), Benji (Simon Pegg), Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and Brandt (Jeremy Renner) are on the move.

The main storyline feels very dated. Hunt and his team, Benji (Simon Pegg), Jane (Paula Patton) and Brandt (Jeremy Renner) have to retrieve stolen nuclear codes after the Kremlin is bombed and the Impossible Mission Force is blamed for it. Hunt and his team go on their own to stop the madman Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist) who would seek to start a nuclear war and clear IMF’s name.  It seems like the kind of mission Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo would go on in the middle of the Cold War. For all the elaborate scheming and double-dealing, the screenwriters don’t have a very logical endgame for Hendricks’ plan making for a disjointed plot.

Bird captures that travel the globe feel of the best espionage films as the team jets from Moscow to Dubai to Mumbai. You really get the sense of hopping the globe to track down Hendricks.

Ethan is clearly the main man in the “Mission: Impossible” universe, but one of the constant struggles for the franchise is giving the other team members something to do besides being wowed by Hunt’s crazy stunts. That’s what we’re for and if the audience gets too captivated with Hunt, it begs the question of why Hunt needs to waste his time or ours with these guys anyway. “Ghost Protocol” leans a bit heavy on Hunt, but in this case, it could be attributed to a fairly weak array of supporting team members.

David James/Paramount Pictures
Jane (Paula Patton), Benji (Simon Pegg) and Brandt (Jeremy Renner) plot strategy.

Patton is gorgeous, but she’s not convincing as a kick-butt super-spy, and Pegg is much better suited as the tech support guy than a field operative. Renner’s Brandt is rumored to become the main character whenever Cruise decides to retire Hunt and while he’s the one character that has some potential, he’s the main one stuck playing second banana to Hunt as his skill set isn’t different enough to make him stand out. This team desperately needed Ving Rhames’ Luther Stickell to have more than a brief cameo.

Photo credit: Joe Lederer
Left to right: Paula Patton plays Jane and Tom Cruise plays Ethan Hunt in MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL, from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions.

In a film packed with amazing stunts, the most breathtaking features Hunt scaling the world’s tallest skyscraper, the Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai, with only his guile, climbing skills and some fancy hi-tech gloves keeping him aloft. With a generation of moviegoers accustomed to CGI handling all the death-defying stunts these days, it’s harder to get caught in the moment of these daredevil acts anymore. Cruise must agree as he actually scales the building himself. No CGI or wide shots to hide the fact that it’s “Derek the Stuntman” who’s really performing this crazy stunt. I’m never one for breaking the fourth wall in an action movie, but this might be the one case where if a pop-up appeared on screen to say Cruise is doing this without special effects, the scene would astonish viewers even more. It’s certifiable, but man, is it a riveting scene that’s a real standout and the one everyone will remember most from the film. While Bird isn’t able to top that scene, there are some other well-executed action scenes, including a very imaginative fight through a sandstorm.

“Ghost Protocol’s” shaky plot and weaker characters prevents it from top franchise honors  – “Mission: Impossible III” remains the high point of the series for me as its well-balanced cast held its own with Cruise and the stakes were more personal and pressing – but the action scenes more than make it worth watching, preferably in IMAX to really take in that spectacular skyscraper scene in its full glory.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

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