#2: Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)

Director: Brad Bird
Action
2h13min; PG-13

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

It’s saying something that the Mission Impossible film franchise didn’t feel small before Ghost Protocol, and yet afterward it occurred to me how tiny the other films were in comparison. Perhaps it was the budget or the limited scope of the films’ directors, but Ghost Protocol is where I felt the series hit its stride. With the follow-up, Rogue Nation, the series pushed even further forward into a world without the IMF, of a more outgunned and outmatched Ethan Hunt. And don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed all three films before Ghost Protocol but I have not enjoyed any of them as much as Ghost Protocol.

I remember when the film’s trailer was released, and how my brain was melted by the action on display. This is one of the few films that I feel more than lived up to its trailer. Fun fact: the trailer also got me back in to Eminem, because I had checked out at Relapse and after hearing the P!nk-featuring “Won’t Back Down” in the trailer I went looking for Recovery. I caught the film in the spring of 2012, and I was shocked by how more fully-formed the movie felt. There is a greater sense of peril in Ghost Protocol than in any of the other films, and the possibility that Hunt and his team might actually fail their mission feels real. Today I found a cheap Blu-Ray copy of the film at the movie shop around the corner and fell in love with it again.

Ghost Protocol warrants multiple viewings. I’ve seen the film between five and ten times now and today I saw something I hadn’t before. I never noticed that when Hunt and Benji (Simon Pegg) are infiltrating the Kremlin that the villain, Cobalt, is walking right next to them into the building. The Blu-Ray picture looked pretty good, nothing absolutely mind-blowing, but the sound was a bit bothersome in that with pretty much everything my sound-bar sounds amazing but playing surround on this film led me to have a hard time hearing what people said in the middle of the action. But this is a minor issue.

Leaning out of the open window with Ethan, 130 stories up above Dubai, still makes my stomach turn.

If you haven’t seen it, the film opens with Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) being broken out of a Russian prison by the IMF (Impossible Mission Force) and undertaking an intelligence mission to infiltrate the Kremlin that goes horribly wrong. In the aftermath the entire IMF is disavowed by the U.S. government and now Hunt and his team- Benji, Agent Carter (Paula Patton) and Brandt (Jeremy Renner)- must clear their names and save the world in the process. That the film picks up a few years after J.J. Abrams’ Mission Impossible III was a big deal for me. My problem with the series was that nothing in the series carried over between installments, like the James Bond franchise, other than Cruise and the ever-deadpan Ving Rhames. This is the first in the franchise to show a sense of continuity, making you genuinely give a shit about the characters. The reason why Ethan was in the Russian in the first place is one of the big mysteries of the film and the payoff was very satisfying, leaving you wondering whether or not he will ever find peace or happiness.

As Ethan Hunt in this film, Tom Cruise proves once again that he is one of the greatest actors of all time. The Ethan Hunt in Ghost Protocol is more world-weary than in previous installments, getting tired. Watching him in the first scenes with his team, it comes across that he has been doing this for a very long time and that they are all rookies compared to him. What’s so cool is that they look up to him as an IMF legend. The film is more about them all rising to his level as well as teaching him the importance of teamwork, something he seemed to have forgotten in recent years. That one moment when Benji discusses Ethan’s wife Julia while they are infiltrating the Kremlin is gut-wrenching. Cruise does so much with his eyes in that scene alone, it’s unreal.

Simon Pegg has more to do in this film than Mission Impossible III, finally passing his field exam and becoming a full-fledged agent. Getting to see Benji fire a gun instead of simply providing comic relief is satisfying. The lead female role in this particular installment goes to Paula Patton as Agent Carter, a bit of a rookie team leader looking for revenge for the earlier death of a member of her team, Agent Hanaway (Josh Holloway). Patton is fine in the role, serving as eye candy later on when she didn’t exactly need to. At the time of this film’s release there had not been an engaging female character in the series.

The most high-profile newcomer to the series is Jeremy Renner’s William Brandt. The trailer made his background a bit of a mystery, and while his personal history is linked to Ethan the revelation isn’t particularly amazing. What bothers me more is that Renner has more to do to in this film than he does in every Marvel film he has acted in combined. Watching him play a bumbling secretary’s assistant is fun for a bit, but I want The Hurt Locker Renner. Remember when he came out of nowhere? Also, remember him as a sniper badass in 28 Weeks Later? Renner deserves, and can do, better.

This is the first in the franchise to show a sense of continuity, making you genuinely give a shit about the characters.

In terms of villains this series has never had any classics. As Kurt Hendricks a.k.a. Cobalt, Michael Nyqvist is the best villain in the series thus far by a landslide, and that’s not saying much. What I do like about Hendricks is how he always barely escapes Ethan’s clutches throughout the film, and while he doesn’t seem to have a personal agenda he is more interesting than the villains in the first two films. In Mission Impossible III, what Philip Seymour Hoffman lacked in personality he made up for in just being genuinely scary. What I also like about Hendricks is how he seems to be making things up as he goes, just as Ethan and his team are. Both of their plans come together almost on pure luck.

Only in the film for a few moments, Lea Seydoux is underutilized as the assassin Sabine Moreau. In her two or three scenes, she is alluring but just a simple femme fatale. There’s not much to her besides the fact that she likes diamonds. However, how Moreau gets her comeuppance in the film was the only time in any Mission Impossible film where I busted out laughing. With the blonde wig you wouldn’t notice it was her, assuming you knew already knew who she was when the film was released, and while she played tiny parts in Inglourious Basterds and The Grand Budapest Hotel I don’t think general American audiences learned about her until 2015’s Spectre. Also, if you haven’t watched Blue Is the Warmest Colour, stop reading this, clear three hours from your special and go watch it. It’s one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking love stories you will ever see.

The film feels larger because director Brad Bird (The Incredibles, The Iron Giant) made it so. Shooting certain sequences in IMAX, making the film more crystal-clear as well as employing cinematographer Robert Elswit (responsible for shooting all of Paul Thomas Anderson’s films + Ben Affleck’s The Town), who knows how to make action look coherent and beautiful. This is Bird’s first live-action film and from the opening scene you know this is a different Mission Impossible. Gone are the dark hallucinogenic visuals of Brian De Palma, or John Woo’s slow motion doves (Still a good movie.) or the claustrophobic feel of J.J. Abrams. This film is pretty, and the entire Burj Khalifa sequence is still nail-bitingly beautiful. Leaning out of the open window with Ethan, 130 stories up above Dubai, still makes my stomach turn.

Ghost Protocol is a grand saga of revenge and learning to let go. It is a leap forward for the franchise and a film that I will come back to for years to come. I can’t say the same for the rest of the series, maybe Mission Impossible III. I will still watch Tom Cruise in anything. This is one of the better action films in recent years. And here is that awesome trailer for your viewing pleasure.

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