Reviewed by: Scott Brennan
|Featuring:|| Tom Cruise … Ethan Hunt
Jeremy Renner … Brandt
Paula Patton … Jane Carter
Simon Pegg … Benji Dunn
Ving Rhames … Luther Stickell
Josh Holloway … Trevor Hanaway
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|Distributor:||Paramount Pictures Corporation|
“No plan, No backup. No choice.”
There are only two words to describe Paramount’s 4th installment in this series, Mission: Accomplished. The success of the franchise was called into question after the lackluster box office results of Mission: Impossible 3, which had an even bigger budget than the current film—exceeding 150 million. But the convergence of several “firsts” may have something to do with what appears to be a smash hit for this 140 million dollar spy- thriller-extravaganza: 1) A first time directorial debut for a live-action film by Brad Bird, 2) first of the four films not produced by Paula Wagner (not a statement of inference, just an observation), and 3) the first time the series was filmed in IMAX (at least 30 full minutes of it)—to name just a few.
Brad’s Birds-Eye view (pun intended) for seeing this script from all new vistas is probably the greatest impetus for what will be declared the best in the Mission Impossible series so far. Hailed by some in Hollywood as the new Walt Disney, Brad, with only 4 or 5 major films under his belt (all animated films), has two of them ranked in the Top 100 Grossing Movies of all Time: The Incredibles (#40) and Ratatouille (#82) each earning well over 200 million dollars. With Ghost Protocol, he’s sure to get a third film on that list.
Three key players in telling a story on a big screen are 1) the script, 2) the cast, and 3) the director, with the latter often being the most important. Brad Bird was up to the task, and he delivered. This was Bourne Identity on steroids! Not since Taken with Liam Neeson, has this reviewer been so riveted to a screen. That may have had a lot to do with seeing it in IMAX, especially during the shots of the Burj Khahlifa in Dubai (the world’s tallest building as of December 16, 2011), where Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is seen scaling the half mile high edifice with only some trick gloves provided by the IMF (Impossible Missions Force). Which leads to a second point: definitely see this in IMAX if possible. It is well worth the $18 dollar ticket price. After seeing hundreds of films in my lifetime, and with CGI creating almost anything that the mind can imagine these days, I really didn’t expect to see something that would be a “first” again in terms of images, until MI 4’s U. S. Opening on Friday. Warning: if you are afraid of heights or get vertigo easily, you may want to keep your eyes closed during a chunk of this movie. On a serious note, Brad’s keen eye and direction during these scenes and others throughout the film created shots that even Alfred Hitchcock could give a nod of approval for—if he were alive today—in terms of maximizing suspense.
Don’t even think about leaving the theater once the first frame begins. There are not enough superlatives to emphasize how entertaining this film is. This is nail-biting, popcorn chewing, hold-on-to-your-seat-espionage-spy-thriller-entertainment at full intensity, but without the baggage of overcomplicated plots, bad editing or photography, or excess for its own sake. It’s why people go to the movies, and it’s why people like me, who aren’t necessarily fans of action movies, will see this one more than once. If you want an escape, and are willing to suspend disbelief at extreme lengths for scenes that you know are impossible, and aren’t bothered by a fair amount of violent action, then this is your film. If you’re looking for “The Remains of the Day,” or “Pride and Prejudice,” then this film will not fit the bill.
Deliciously, the film takes place across several continents in major cities including—Dubai, Prague, Moscow, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Vancouver—which adds so much color and texture to the spy thriller which, otherwise, might be plagued with excessive action and without an interesting backdrop. This probably isn’t surprising since the writers of Ghost Protocol (Andre Nemec and Josh Appelbaum) are from J. J. Abrams’ (producer of MI 4, Director of MI3) team at Bad Robot, who used to write for television’s hit program “Alias.” Each week they would have Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner) appear in disguises at some exotic location around the world, taking down the bad guys with kicks, punches and ferocity. In this film, Jane Carter (Paula Patton, from Déjà Vu with Denzel Washington) plays the look-a-like role of Sydney Bristow—only she’s an IMF agent working on Hunt’s team instead and far more deadly with her takedowns. There is a scene in the film where Patton actually (just briefly) looks like Garner when she is on assignment to seduce a rich Indian entrepreneur in Mumbai, Brij Nath (Anil Kapoor from “Slumdog Millionaire”) and has to move quickly to extract her information from him.
Without going into too much detail and trying to remain clear of becoming a “spoiler” let me summarize. The story begins with an attempted courier intercept in Budapest by the IMF team of Jane Carter, Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg, from MI3) and Trevor Hanaway (Josh Holloway from “Lost”). Something goes wrong and next the team is extracting Ethan Hunt (Cruise) from a Moscow prison. All of that happens before and during the opening credits. The plot thickens with a relationship between the failed courier intercept, the Kremlin blowing up, and a Swedish-born Russian Nuclear strategist who wants to start a nuclear war to initiate the next stage of human evolution—believing that the weak must die in order for the strong to survive. The IMF’s chief analyst, William Brandt (Jeremy Renner, Hurt Locker) becomes part of the team unpredictably, forcing the team to black ops, or ghost protocol, meaning “off the grid.” Add to the mix a Russian agent who mistakenly thinks Hunt is behind the Kremlin bombing and a cleverly “hatched” plan to trick all parties into an exchange of diamonds for nuclear launch codes on the 118th floor of the world’s tallest building, and there you have it, an impossible mission. There’s a lot going on but it’s not so convoluted that it can’t be followed.
Brad Bird brings a very James Bond like quality to the film, but leaves out the compulsory Bond sex scenes which were also a pleasant and unexpected departure for this genre. There were two on screen kisses which were part of the undercover work, one of which occurred when Patton was trying to seduce the Indian businessman for information, as I mentioned earlier. There was some drinking but no drunkenness. The drawback, of course, is the extreme violence with plenty of shooting, car crashes, and fighting, way too intense for small children. Finally, there is the lying, killing and deceiving on the part of undercover operators. Even though this is a fantasy spy thriller in the realm of the impossible, I can’t help thinking about the scripture’s relevance in Romans 12:19—Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,'* says the Lord. In an age of terrorist plots, just how far should governments go over the line to protect the innocent? It does bring those questions to surface.
Overall, the film played well, with a simplistic, but well-intentioned good vs. Evil underpinning. Teamwork and personal sacrifice for the good of humanity are obvious themes, along with perseverance and dedication to both team and personal objectives. Personal integrity is well-demonstrated during the dénouement, when a major character confesses something to Ethan. Continuity is also provided between M:I-3 and M:I-GP, showing Ethan’s devotion to his wife.
Lastly, I will end with a quote from the director, Brad Bird who once said:
“I think all movies are an illusion, whether they are live action or animation. And I think the best special effect that people don’t pay enough attention to is caring about the characters who are going through the set pieces. If you can be invested in the characters that you are putting in danger, then you can amp up the pressure, and it really means something because people are rooting for them to survive. Characters are the special effect.”
Somehow Brad was able to get the audience to root for these characters, even amidst all the special effects that wrapped around them. That speaks to the other two key ingredients I mentioned in paragraph three: great acting and a succinct script that the actors could work with. This film had everything needed to provide top quality entertainment, and it does. Unfortunately it’s entertainment that leaves even the idea of God completely out of the picture. I hate when that happens.
Violence: Heavy / Profanity: Mild to Moderate [“Oh G_d” (6), “My G_d,” “For the love of G_d,” “sh_t,” “hell” (several), “d_mn” (4)] / Sex/Nudity: Moderate
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.