Saturday, December 24, 2011

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011)

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011)
Dir. Brad Bird

3.5 out of 5

Your mission, should you choose to accept it...these are words that call not only to Mission: Impossible series lynchpin Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), but also to the bevy of action-minded directors who have each taken a turn at the helm of this surprisingly hardy franchise. In Ghost Protocol it's former Pixar wunderkind Brad Bird (The Incredibles) who accepts the invitation to play with M:I's inexhaustible toybox of high-wire thrills in his live-action debut and, in doing so, submits the series' best entry since the original. After a bombing at the Kremlin gets pinned on Cruise, he must go off the grid with teammates Simon Pegg, Paula Patton, and Jeremy Renner to pursue a twisted nuclear scientist (Michael Nyqvist) hell-bent on initiating a global thermonuclear war. Veteran spies just can't seem to go more than a few missions (or a couple movies) without needing to restore their good names.

While much of the film is comprised of recycled parts from other spy thrillers, Bird manages to keep the proceedings fresh by refusing to let the audience catch its breath, taking advantage of as many swooping helicopter shots as Paramount can afford. With a narrative confined to three major locations, the action remains coherent and focused, even as the heroes produce a menagerie of gadgets that can't all have fit in their duffel bags. But it's difficult to sweat the details when the next breathtaking action sequence is just around the corner. Cruise and company's visit to Dubai is particularly noteworthy, a bravura piece of action filmmaking that manages to pack as much suspense into a tense exchange of stolen nuclear codes as a risky ascent of the world's tallest skyscraper.

Ghost Protocol suffers whenever there's a plot-necessitated lull - if you see the main characters sitting around a table or standing in a circle, you can be fairly certain that someone is about to start dictating their allotment of the film's expository dialogue. The entire Mission: Impossible series also shoulders the unique burden of attempting to humanize the action automaton that is Hunt/Cruise. It's mitigated in this film by the addition of new agent Renner, who lends a wry skepticism to a franchise that tends to project a greater swagger than it has truly earned. Truth be told, Ghost Protocol isn't too far from being a James Bond rip-off with more than a few hastily-drawn roles, but luckily distinguishes itself with an excess of confidence and panache. It may not stand up to the closest scrutiny, but it's such a successfully wild, satisfying ride that any direct resemblance to other films always feels more kindred than derivative.

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