Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

Posted by Eddie Pasa on December 30, 2011 in / No Comments


(Originally published at Reel Film News on December 30, 2011.)

The Mission: Impossible film series has been a curiously odd set of films.  The first, directed by Brian DePalma, focused more on intrigue and the various, oft-confusing collection of double-crosses within the Impossible Missions Force.  The second, directed by famed Hong Kong director John Woo, focused more on the action; definitely the easiest story of the series to follow, Mission: Impossible II also received low marks for its lack of complexity and its sole focus on Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt, rather than making it about the team as well.  This was instantly remedied by J.J. Abrams’ Mission: Impossible III, which was a terrific balance between the intrigue of the first film and the action of the second.  And with Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, director Brad Bird takes Hunt and his team to colorful locales and vertigo-filled heights, backed by a fairly compelling story and blow-you-out-of-your-seat action.

Ethan Hunt first popped onto our theater and video screens in 1996, avoiding his superiors and trying to clear his name after being accused of the heinous crime of murdering his own IMF team.  In Ghost Protocol, the circumstances are fairly similar – he’s been accused of detonating a bomb inside the Kremlin, and he’s only got a short time to catch the real culprit responsible for it, before nuclear Armageddon is unleashed upon the world.  Disavowed by the government, he is teamed with similarly-disavowed agents Jane Carter (Paula Patton) and former IMF computer division expert Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), having recently been promoted to fieldwork.  Joining them is the Secretary’s chief analyst, William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), a seemingly meek underling with a few surprises up his sleeve.  The villain this time out is Kurt Hendricks, a former Russian nuclear strategist gone rogue; it is his devout belief that humankind has stalled in its growth, necessitating a disastrous change to bring us to the next level.  That change, of course, starts with him stealing nuclear launch codes…

The race to thwart Hendricks takes us all over the world, from Moscow to Dubai to Mumbai, and excitement brims and overflows in all locations.  For his first live-action outing, director Brad Bird (most known for his work with Pixar) handles everything assuredly and with the touch of an old pro.  He pairs Cruise and Pegg as a yin/yang, with the former providing the seriousness and the latter providing a welcome dose of humor.  Thankfully, all the action sequences are shot from distant, wide angles, making sure to capture every motion and making each action scene that much more jaw-dropping.  There’s none of that ridiculous, nauseating, you-are-there shaky-cam; Bird’s decision not to use this tired technique does not go unappreciated.  When you’re able to see more of the sequences, there’s a certain element of showmanship that must be achieved in order to pull the scene off well, whether it be through the stuntwork or an establishing shot, and Bird’s got more than enough here for at least two movies.  Not hindering in the least is the amazing stunt work pulled off personally by Tom Cruise.  At 49 years old, he still has the energy of a 16-year-old parkour enthusiast, the grace of a fine dancer, and one hell of a physique to help him carry out the things he does that will make your eyes pop.  True, the Burj Khalifa sequence was done with wires, but it’s still just him out there doing those stunts, not some random stunt guy who doesn’t look a thing like him.  The realness of his stunt work adds great excitement to the film, especially as captured in full IMAX.

As a film purist, I find it of paramount importance that a film be seen the way it was shot and intended by the director to be seen.  For Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, that means going out of your way a little bit to find out where the true IMAX showcases are in your area.  For those of you in the Washington, DC area, that means any of the three Smithsonian IMAX theaters – the Natural History Museum and both Air and Space Museums.  However, the only one showing Ghost Protocol in true IMAX is the Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly.  Make every effort to see this film there, as the screen is at least six stories high, and Brad Bird makes use of every inch of it in the IMAX scenes he shot for this movie.  Beginning with 2008’s The Dark Knight by Christopher Nolan, mainstream movie directors have started to make more use of these gargantuan screens, providing a much more immersive and delightful experience by filling the audience’s entire viewing range with an inescapable, highly-detailed picture and furious sound to match.  Bird has wisely followed Nolan’s example and filmed all large action sequences in 70mm IMAX, and each scene is a wonder to behold.  From the free climb on the Burj Khalifa in Dubai (the transition from the 2.35:1 frame to the expanded IMAX frame is quite awesome here, for lack of a better term) to the final battle between Hunt and Hendricks, Bird lets us see everything, raising the bar and the ante for future films in the Mission: Impossible franchise.

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Eddie Pasa

Eddie is a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS). Since starting in 2010 at The Rogers Revue, Eddie has written for Reel Film News (now defunct), co-founded DC Filmdom, and writes occasionally for Gunaxin. When not reviewing movies, he's spending time with his wife and children, repeat-viewing favorites on 4k or Blu-Ray, working for rebranding agency Mekanic, or playing acoustic shows and DJing across the DC/MD/VA area. Special thanks go to Jenn Carlson, Moira and Ari Pasa, Viki Nova at City Dock Digital in Annapolis, Mike Parsons, Philip Van Der Vossen, and Dean Rogers.

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