Review: ‘Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol’


Having a different director for each Mission: Impossible movie has meant that some are really bad (2) and some are really good (3) but none have been really memorable films. With Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, director Brad Bird has made not only the best Mission: Impossible (yes, even better than episode 39 of the original series!), but also the first genuinely thrilling live-action movie in years.

Ghost Protocol gets it right from the pre-title sequence. The opening action beats are exciting and relevant to the rest of the story. Not that the teaser can’t be a standalone, but this works way better than the cold open trick of MI:III or the glamour shot mountain climbing of M:I2. The opening titles actually preview the events to come in a clever way. And the title sequence is in full Imax.

They really got the “Mission” part of Mission: Impossible right this time. There’s not just one major hustle in this movie. Pretty much every turn of the plot requires a complicated scheme, and Bird and the screenwriters expertly balance all the operations in play. You’ve got to play with the waiting, coordinating every objective each team member is accomplishing. A lot of scenes use silent reactions to communicate between the characters and with the audience, making the stakes implicit.

The gadgets are awesome. A lot of them are practical so they actually interact with the scene. The fictional technology is so creative; what it does is amazing but what it’s for is brilliant. It’s really like Hitchcock with tech. You can imagine the most unreal gadget, but you still use it to leave the characters and audience hanging in suspense.

The script very smartly plays with the clichés of the genre, both the specific Mission franchise and the action hero genre in general. I won’t name the red herrings but even a twist on the “this message will self destruct” lets you know the filmmakers love this world, but they also know you’ve seen everything before so they’ve got to bring it. And it they certainly bring. I particularly love a discussion about clichés of enemy gunmen.

The action really harkens back to when a set piece really was about something outrageous happening. We’re so used to a series of destructions or shaky fights. No, you can still set up an environment where the hero has to navigate dangerous pitfalls. You can set a fight within conditions that make just kicking and punching difficult (but it’s not Mission Difficult, it’s Mission Impossible).

Everyone knows about scaling the Burj Khalifa now so with that as an example, it’s not just a high jump. It’s how he has to use the sticky gloves, how they work or fail, the time limit, how he can get back down. Every action set piece builds elements like that, and the climax even tops the Burj scene. Then using the full Imax frame to stage these sequences add more elements like vertical space and even tighter close-ups.

They maintain the energy even through expository scenes, so there’s no stop/start problem some previous entries have had. Bird directs our eyes on the screen, introducing elements in the corner and spinning characters around. He makes sure we’re looking exactly where he wants us to.

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) seems to have a more playful spirit this time. Even though he’s dealing with just as serious stakes, he’s able to mess with people, friend or foe. A major difference between Ethan Hunt and James Bond has been that Hunt always acts like he’s really about to die. His survival really is impossible. Bond is a troublemaker whether he’s Sean Connery or Daniel Craig.

Paula Patton may give her best performance yet as a new agent we’re introduced to, Jane Carter. She’s playing it like an action hero, not the usual doe-eyed innocent we’ve seen. Simon Pegg is really funny without overplaying it. Jeremy Renner is good at playing the newbie and revealing his true skills.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol delivers the awesome for the holidays. This is also the first film to display Paramount’s new centennial anniversary logo and it is gorgeous. It opens early in Imax theaters on December 16th, and everywhere else on the 21st.