Published on July 24th, 2015 | by Brad0
IMFriday – Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
Five years after the relative commercial disappointment of Mission: Impossible III and three consecutive box-office flops, Tom Cruise stepped back into Ethan Hunt’s well-worn boots in 2011 for Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. Following Brian De Palma, John Woo and JJ Abrams into the director’s chair this time was animation veteran Brad Bird, former writer on The Simpsons and director of such classics as The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and Ratatouille, making his first foray into live action filmmaking. Returning to the cast was Simon Pegg as Benji Dunn, putting him in an exclusive club with Cruise and Ving Rhames as the only actors to appear in multiple films in the franchise. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol was a smash hit, grossing $694 million worldwide, which made it both the most successful Mission: Impossible to date and the most successful Tom Cruise film as well.
The plot this time concerns an attempt by rogue Russian nuclear strategist Kurt Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist) to bring about global nuclear annihilation. Ethan, Benji and new additions William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and Jane Carter (Paula Patton) are forced to go on the run after Hendricks frames them for blowing up the Kremlin, and have to take him down. Because lord knows Ethan’s never had to go rogue to bring down the real villain and clear his name before!
In all three previous reviews I’ve waxed lyrical about the villains; Jon Voight’s twisted father figure, Dougray Scott’s evil twin and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s black hole of amorality challenge Ethan in different, interesting ways which provide some substantive character work to fill the gaps between set-pieces. Kurt Hendricks offers none of that. Michael Nyqvist is a fine actor, and as we saw in John Wick he can be a fantastic villain in an English-language action film. Unfortunately he has nothing to work with here. We barely see Hendricks throughout the film, and his only lengthy interaction with Ethan is the final fight sequence. The lack of a credible villain really lets down Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol a lot.
With the villain out of the picture for the most part, the focus falls onto Ethan and his team. Ethan is practically a cypher throughout the bulk of this movie. He’s calm, cocky and competent, and driven to bring the mission to a successful conclusion at all costs. That’s how he comes in and that’s how he comes out. You’d think the apparent loss of Julia might have taken Ethan to some darker places, particularly given that he begins the film in a Russian jail, and we’re later led to believe that he’s there for killing six Serbian terrorists responsible for Julia’s death, but it never really surfaces. He bonds with Carter over her killing the contract killer who killed her boyfriend not making her feel better, but that’s about it. The emotional lifting is left to the newcomers, Carter (Patton) and Brandt (Renner).
Fortunately those two are very much up to the task, with Carter still raw over the killing of her boyfriend in the prologue and dealing with that open wound, whilst Brandt is seeing an old wound torn open in the form of Ethan Hunt; Brandt was the head of the Hunts’ protection detail at the time of Julia’s apparent death, and his guilt over her loss caused him to quit as a field agent and become an analyst. It turns out she was OK and her death and Ethan’s revenge were faked to give him access to the prison at the start, which Brandt is weirdly OK with for something which ruined his life. Both Renner and Patton mix this vulnerability with the competence and professionalism you expect of an IMF agent to great effect.
While the hero and villain are something of an afterthought, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol excels in the action set-piece department. Brad Bird is one of the best animation directors out there and he brings all that visual acumen to bear on some of the most stunning scenes in the franchise to date. At the heart of it all is the Burj Khalifa sequence – in order to gain access to a computer server room, Ethan must free solo climb up the outside of the tallest building in the world., with a sandstorm approaching and a limited window of time. Shot in ultra-high definition on IMAX cameras, it’s one of the most thrilling scenes in the entire series. The IMAX is so detailed you can see the slight warping of the glass as Ethan presses his hand against it. It’s absolutely incredible, by far the highlight of the film.
In all, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is a bit of a curate’s egg. The action sequences are impeccable, and it’s got a real kineticism which belies its lengthy running time. It doesn’t feel nearly as long as its two and a half hours. For all that length and action, though, it doesn’t have the same heft as its predecessors. This is largely down to the marginalisation of Ethan and the almost complete lack of a villain. It’s a gorgeous film, but ultimately a bit hollow, and certainly my least favourite of the Mission: Impossible franchise to date.
Next up, it’s all new. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation hits cinemas worldwide next Thursday, and my mission, which I choose to accept, is to have a review for you right here next Friday. Until then, this message will self-destruct in five seconds.