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Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol Rocks So Very Hard

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
Directed by Brad Bird
Written by Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec from the TV series created by Bruce Geller
Paramount, 2011

There’s really a ton to preface here before getting into what you already know is going to be a rave review of the latest Mission: Impossible.  First off, check out that director.  Legendary animation director Brad Bird takes on his first live-action film.  Bird was a part of the glory days of The Simpsons and since leaving that show has made three perfect animated movies- The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille.  Despite its derivation from comics, and the fact that it’s animated, The Incredibles is one of the best action films not based on a comic book you’ll ever see, and it’s not a movie you’ll see lined up with all the Jason Statham pictures of the past decade.  That movie is ingenious, and Bird definitely takes that sensibility to Mission Impossible 4.

Yes, it’s the fourth entry of the series, which launched in 1996 under Brian De Palma and is one of my favorite films of the nineties.  Based on the 1960’s TV show starring Peter Graves, De Palma mixed intelligent thought and great action with an artistic flair behind the camera that we just don’t see in mainstream action films.  When Hong Kong action god John Woo did the sequel in 2000, we saw more of Woo’s rather suspect work here in the United States (it also cemented my belief that U.S. studios have way more power than nearly all the directors).  We got the third entry in 2006 from JJ Abrams, and the movie was solid as he brought his Alias sensibilities to the franchise.  Abrams returns as producer here.  The first one was pretty much still far and away the best one, but now it has competition.  Ghost Protocol is amazing.

It’s particularly amazing in IMAX, a format that it arrives to five days before its wide release.  There are action scenes here that make full use of the IMAX format and be prepared to fear for your life or at least Tom Cruise’s.

In the latest Mission: Impossible, we see an IMF agent Hanaway (Lost’s Josh Holloway) get murdered by an international assassin named Sabine Moreau (Midnight in Paris‘ Lea Seydoux) for a flash drive with Russian nuclear launch codes.  Hanaway’s team includes Jane (the ridiculously sexy Paula Patton) and Benji (the always funny Simon Pegg).

IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is in a Russian prison, but this new IMF team is ready to extract him.  Hunt adds more risk to this prison break by including a prisoner on the inside that gave him key information, and thus the scene is a mixture of brain and brawn, which is what you’ll be seeing a lot of in the next two hours.  The next mission is for Hunt and his new team to infiltrate the Kremlin.  “It sounded like you said, ‘Kremlin,’” Benji says.  Yes indeed, the Kremlin.  Their mission is to find information on a man going by the name of Cobalt, a super-intelligent terrorist (played by the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’s Michael Nyqvist).  Cobalt wants to launch nukes, but needs to know for sure the codes are authentic, so his mission is to break into the Kremlin and get the info he needs while blaming the IMF team (and the United States) on what happens at the Kremlin later.

I must pause and say that one of the gadgets used in the Kremlin is one of the most awesome things I’ve ever seen in any movie.  A great mix of modern/futuristic technology and old spy tricks.

Briefing Hunt on the fallout from the Kremlin incident is the IMF Secretary (Tom Wilkinson) and an adviser named Brandt (Jeremy Renner).  But true to this movie’s form it’s not long before all of them are under attack, this time from the Russians and Russian intelligence, personified by Sidirov (Vladimir Mashkov).  Hunt ends up taking Brandt into the IMF team, because next is Dubai and to the Burj Khalifa (you know, world’s tallest freestanding structure) and intercepting a meet between the assassin Sabine Moreau and the Cobalt pocket man Wistrom (Samuli Edelmann).

This scene is ridiculous.  In a good way.

Not only is it an amazing, intelligent, intriguing plan that they cook up, filled with dangling plot complications that rely on timing, but the action that takes place here is breathtaking, beginning with Hunt’s scaling of the Burj Khalifa using malfunctioning sensor gloves, on to the meet itself, and then, in a masterful bit of suspense, an oncoming sandstorm into the city that changes the parameters of the action in an incredibly satisfying way.  You could say that the sandstorm scene in Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol hearkens back to the days of Aliens where soldiers have to rely on 2D equipment to get around and avoid danger.  The unique limitations of the technology lead to some interesting results.

As we know from the trailer, Brandt has a secret that he isn’t willing to relinquish easily, they have to stop Cobalt before he launches the nuclear weapons (and we have a nice set piece in a state-of-the-art parking garage as our finale).

This is one of the very best movies of the year, and there’s no doubt Brad Bird is a huge reason for it.  I can’t imagine all the balls in the air being juggled so well by anyone this side of Christopher Nolan, but it’s impressive considering this is his first live-action movie.  While many of the action scenes can be labeled ridiculous, they have a logic to them that makes them believable for the most part.  Cruise is going on 50 but this is one of his very best action performances.  He might officially be “back” here in the US after this movie.

And while IMAX returns and poor product earned this movie a 3rd place finish over the weekend (it opens wide on Wednesday), this chapter might be a little bit slow out of the gate due to some souring on the franchise and the ever-lingering effects of Cruise’s 2006 crazy-time with Scientology and couch-jumping that has resonated seemingly forever.  But once people start watching this, word-of-mouth is going to go through the roof.  An absolute recommend, a movie that actually demands to be watched in theatres.


Comment from Jonathan
Time: December 24, 2011, 9:16 am

This movie was flat out awesome! I remember you made a comment not that long ago about the past decade being Christopher Nolan’s, which I agree with, but I think he would probably have to followed pretty closely by Brad Bird. I hope Bird has some more live action in him in the future because I would love to see where he takes genre movies from here. I would love to see a Brad Bird horror movie or even sci-fi.

And the Burj Khalifa scene just about killed me. While watching in IMAX would have been cool, with my issue with heights I think that scene might have given me a heart attack in that format.

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