CAPSULE: MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL still does not have the hang of what made the TV show so good. Instead of an intelligent puzzle for the viewer, it offers mindless excitement in one action stunt from Tom Cruise after another. But given that it is a Tom Cruise vanity piece and a mindless action film, it is one of the best mindless action films of 2011. Considerably better than the previous entries of the "Mission Impossible" series formerly animation director Brad Bird gives us quite a ride in his first live-action film. The film is a mixed bag of elements, but some are very good. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
To start off I object to the "Mission Impossible" films on general principle. There once was an intelligent television program called "Mission Impossible" that told what I call "Mission Impossible" sorts of stories. That is one in which a team of experts are called in to solve a problem. Every one of the team brings a recognizable talent that he or she is expert in. Then each member of the team starts doing his part and so far none of they are doing makes sense. Each team member is doing something mysterious but that probably few other people could do. The game is to figure out how these pieces all fit together. Then the plan is executed and the viewer has one "ah-ha!" experience after another seeing how the pieces fit together. In other words, to fully enjoy one of these stories the viewer has to think. And strangely enough, I am convinced that people like stories that make them think. So the series had a recognizable name and something of a following.
When the Tom Cruise film series started it was "Mission Impossible" in name only. It wanted to exploit the popularity of the TV show without telling its sort of stories. They abandoned doing this kind of think-story and just had a lot of action sequences that the viewer could sit and vacuously watch. The film series was built around Tom Cruise's stunts. The films were designed to show off Tom Cruise doing many of his own stunts and create a series to beat the James Bond films at their own game. What Cruise does is impressive but rarely mysterious. The filmmakers were just not into doing puzzle stories. (Incidentally, one film series that does show that what I call "Mission Impossible" stories are alive and well is the OCEANS 11, 12, and 13 series.)
Instead of challenging the viewer, the "Mission Impossible" films challenge (and show off) Tom Cruise. Cruise is a real-life daredevil doing his own stunts for the camera. As producer of these films, Tom Cruise the actor has little fear that Tom Cruise the producer will tell him some stunt is too dangerous and hence would endanger the production. So the series is not presenting puzzles but high-tone framing for Tom Cruise doing physical stunts for the camera--some admittedly very impressive. And the scripts call for him to be the kind of genius who thinks of a hundred and twenty ways out of every tight spot and immediately knows the best. But one gets tired of seeing Ethan Hunt be the hero of every scene he is in, which is almost all of the film. In this film he does have a team of three other people, and they give him nominal support but nothing impressive. Benji Dunn, played by Simon Pegg, does serve as comic sidekick. But Cruise and his stunts almost always are the main attention. It is impressive what he can do, especially because July 3 of this year will be his 50th birthday. He is starting to look a little old to have his supernatural recuperative powers. I mean, in one scene he can be fed through a meat grinder and formed into patties. But you know he will be recovered and ready for action in the next scene.
The plot of this chapter is complex and pits Cruise's character Ethan Hunt against Kurt "Cobalt" Hendricks (played by Michael Nyqvist, star of the Swedish versions of the "THE GIRL ..." trilogy). Cobalt manages to completely destroy the Impossible Mission Force except for four agents. Those last remnants, led of course by Ethan Hunt, battle Cobalt who it turns out is a very James-Bond-film sort of super-villain. He wants to trigger a nuclear war in some logic-free plot to destroy the world in order to save it.
The screenplay by Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec has one advantage over Bond films. Hunt gets out of problems with physical strength and thinking while most of his films Bond depends much too much on luck and coincidence. Also Bond makes his victories seem almost effortless. I will credit this film for having a lot of Hunt's plans just failing leaving him to quickly improvise.
More on the comparison of this film with the Bond films: Both use gadgets a lot, but in the "Mission Impossible" films we do not have something like the Q scene with the expository lump explaining all the gadgets. Instead Cruise just pulls out a gadget and uses it. Also the IMF gadgets are given to failing at the most inopportune moments. But you can always count on Hunt to have another plan that does work. Actually, there is a nice scene where Hunt is asked how he knew one of his quickly hatched plans would work. He responds that he did not know. He just tries something. That is a rare piece of vulnerability from Hunt.
And many of the set piece sequences in MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL are more imaginative than one usually finds in Bond films. That said, they are not always realistically executed. In the centerpiece sequence of the film, Ethan Hunt is hanging onto a structure a long, long way above the ground. There should be huge winds, but they are somehow absent. There is a chase in a haboob or sandstorm. Clever idea, but there is no sand in this haboob. The storm is portrayed as a sort of yellow fog. There should be sand and dust everywhere including places it will be very hard to remove it from. There is nothing.
Director Brad Bird had not directed a live-action film before, but he directed the animated THE INCREDIBLES, which worked fine as an animated action adventure. He knows what he is doing. And perhaps the virtues of MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL are those that come directly from animated film where characters can easily defy gravity and other laws of physics. In any case, this is actually a fairly good action film if one does not think too much about it. I rate it a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0638824/
What others are saying: http://tinyurl.com/void-mi3
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2012 Mark R. Leeper