Five years ago, Tom Cruise derailed the success of Mission: Impossible III when he showed off his hidden couch-jumping talent to Oprah, her studio audience, and millions watching at home. The incident tarnished his reputation as a leading man, and he’s spent the last six years rebuilding his image, even going against type as the expletive-spouting movie producer in Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder. In Ghost Protocol, he jumps (not on couches, but rather cars and other building structures) and runs a lot, and is game to prove why he’s still a box office threat. Yes, the series is still just a team version of gadget James Bond. Yes, the mid-section is a little long. And yes, the action situations are beyond ridiculous – almost as if the filmmakers borrowed the blueprint from Live Free or Die Hard or Wile E. Coyote.
Nevertheless, director Brad Bird whets the appetites of audiences by building the action, and by having each new sequence be as crazy and absurd as the ones preceding. Ghost Protocol is Bird’s fourth film, but this marks his first live-action feature. It also happens to be the best in the series. Better than Brian De Palma’s 1996 original, John Woo’s action-heavy sequel, and a third installment that saw newly-minted Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman playing the heavy with J.J. Abrams occupying the director’s chair.
Whereas the first and second films in the series acted as standalones, Ghost Protocol makes an effort to be a “true” sequel in continuing after the events of the third Mission. The story picks up a few years later with Cruise’s Ethan Hunt in a Russian prison. A clever jailbreak is staged by Impossible Missions Force agents Jane Carter (Paula Patton) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg). The sequence does nothing more than to set up an opening-credit montage and allow this reviewer to reminisce about the poorly reviewed but cult fave Hudson Hawk, as Hunt has to be at the extraction point before a Dean Martin song finishes playing.
From there Hunt isn’t afforded a proper haircut or anytime to relax, as he is quickly activated into service to infiltrate the Kremlin and retrieve some classified information. Unfortunately, the mission ends in disaster with his team being the scapegoats for a deadly explosion set off by madman Kurt Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist). The bombing was to cover his theft of a Russian nuclear launch device.
The fallout leaves Hunt and the rest of his team burned. Now their problems are twofold; they need to clear their names and stop Hendricks from the nuclear endgame he’s envisioned. He is of the belief that life on Earth needs to be reset to allow for a fresh start.
Hunt’s team grows by one with the introduction of William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), who is an aide to the IMF secretary. Though he’s made out to be a desk-jockey analyst, it isn’t too long before he shows he can do more than crunch numbers and sharpen pencils.
Up until now we’ve had the Mission team in action yet they lacked a total team effort. Tom Cruise, as leader, is in Terminator mode, seemingly dying at least three times from what I could tell, yet able to walk away with just a small limp. Simon Pegg reprises his M:I III role as the computer tech whiz that is now a full-fledged field agent. Paula Patton’s specialty is unknown but let’s call it Preying Mantis: someone whose sexiness ensnares foolish men before she kicks their asses. Jeremy Renner is a serviceable number two, and he’s armed with enough charisma to be number one should Cruise decide to sit out a mission.
When you hear that the writers of Ghost Protocol worked on the spy series Alias you probably expect a swerve at some point. But that story point is too much of a franchise staple and is overdone. Instead, the principle plot is twist-free giving us a simple good guy versus bad guy story. Such a low-minded concept wouldn’t fly during the summer where high concept is the plot du jour. Thankfully, all this pre-Christmas release needs is impossible stunts that defy the laws of physics.
One scene in particular will have viewers discussing its intricacies. It involves no gunplay or fighting or car chases. Tom Cruise is hanging more than 100 stories up on the glass windows of the Burj Kalifa in Dubai, a building recognized as the world’s tallest. Special adhesive gloves allow him to scale the structure without a harness. The scene is so visually amazing that those who have a fear of heights may want to make sure they grip the arm rests and plant their feet to the floor.
The pre-production plan was to recreate a large portion of the exterior on a soundstage and have Cruise scale it. But Cruise had other ideas. He wanted to do it for real. So much of the sequence involves him being harnessed to the building more than 1,000 feet up. Leave it to viewer interpretation to decide what is real and what’s fake.
Mission: Impossible is that rare franchise that has succeeded to do what other TV properties haven’t, and that’s become a hit film series – not just a one and done. And it’s probably one of the few series, adapted or otherwise, where the films actually get better with each successive release. Outside of a drawn-out second act and tacked-on epilogue that is too sappy, Ghost Protocol remains an action-filled winner. You owe it to yourself to see the Burj Khalifa sequence on the big screen, specifically in the IMAX format. You’ll thank me later.
Director: Brad Bird Notable Cast: Tom Cruise, Paula Patton, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, Michael Nyqvist Writer(s): Josh Appelbaum & Andre Nemec
Travis Leamons is one of the Inside Pulse Originals and currently holds the position of Managing Editor at Inside Pulse Movies. He's told that the position is his until he's dead or if "The Boss" can find somebody better. I expect the best and I give the best. Here's the beer. Here's the entertainment. Now have fun. That's an order!