DVD Reviews: Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol

In the first of our DVD reviews, Rishi Sethi sums up Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.

For those with short attention spans I generously provide the review in 140 characters or less:

Gadgets stunts impossibleness iPhones sandstorms hoodies. SPOILER Cruise really was on the Burj Khalifa. FOR REAL. Fun action flick. See it!

For the other 10 people, please carry on to the first of what I hope will be many reviews I contribute to the great Philosophical Bear. (If I can get him to fund a summer spent in the cinemas instead of writing my dissertation. Holler at me Executive Editor! I’m only talking one film ticket a week. Get at him on the Twitters and comments dear readers if you want a summer filled with more of the verbal excellence/excrement that follows. You know you do).

INTRODUCTION

I have always enjoyed the Mission: Impossible movies as a nice bit of escapist fun, even if it doesn’t inspire the same level of dedication or geekery of other franchises. With this type of flick I’m just looking for an enjoyable summer action film experience (albeit one that was pushed, successfully, to a Christmas holiday release date and I am watching upon its early spring DVD release) that provides solid fun, story, and characters. Too many rancid blockbusters just fail to achieve this simple premise. For the fourth Mission Impossible film aka Ghost Protocol aka MI4GP, the trailers looked great and I was totally in. Of course I was just too popular and busy with important stuff to have time to see it with everyone else in the theater so I had to wait for this DVD release.

I don’t really remember the details of the third Mission: Impossible film, other than it was mainly about Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) having to rescue his wife; there’s some IMF betrayal and disavowing going on, there was a great sequence on a bridge, Maggie Q is one of the sidekicks/eye candy, and Philip Seymour Hoffman is the bad guy. And Tom Cruise defeats him when a truck takes off Hoffman’s head. Betrayal, great action scenes, Philip Seymour Hoffman. So really it couldn’t have been a terrible film. Not at all. Yet still it was more than five years before they bestowed another Mission: impossible upon the waiting public.

The wife is not physically present when MI4:GP begins but serves as the source of Tom Cruise’s angst, having apparently been lost to divorce or death in the hiatus between films. But who cares about that stuff. This is Mission Impossible!

So what were my actual expectations for MI4:GP? They could primitively and yet not incorrectly be summarized as: explosions, innovative gadgets, and gravity defying stunts.

*Spoiler Alert** I was not disappointed.

KEY PLOT MOMENTS

[Opening scene]

As the film opens, there’s a spy running from the bad guys, and he jumps off a building and lands successfully on his backpack airbag/parachute. I assume that this is probably going to be Tom Cruise in a mask. But no wait, that’s Sawyer from Lost. Oh and he’s been shot. He’s dead already. RIP Sawyer.

We transition, and some subtitled Russian swearing is occurring and Dean Martin music is playing, and now we are introduced to Tom Cruise for real. He’s throwing a rock against the wall of a Russian prison cell. His team comes to break him out and he individually plows through a mass of prisoners and Russian SWAT teams, making it look completely effortless. Welcome back folks!

[Opening credits]

Are they giving away the whole movie during the titles? Yes, apparently they are.

[Flashback]

Sawyer is doing some weird acting in the next scene. Sorry I’m not going to call him by his character’s name, I don’t even know what it is and really who cares, he’s in the movie for like 5 minutes. And now he’s dead again. His character and this flashback just serve to give Paula Patton’s character the motivation for revenge (not to dissimilar from Kate’s role in Lost)

[Team sneaks into the Kremlin to acquire a file]

Mostly this scene is filled with a fairly stereotypical depiction of Russian government. Autocratic, humorless, male dominated. It’s a superficial scene so I don’t take it too seriously or read that much into it but I’m sure Russia was not happy.

Soon Cruise and Pegg are in a hallway and using some awesome hologram technology that tracks the guard’s eye movements and is displayed on an iPad (awesome tech provided by apple products being a continuous theme throughout the movie). Stickling point however: this makes absolutely no sense. How were they expecting no one else to ever come into the hallway? Why not just knock out the guard after they rig the cameras? Whatever, it’s just about suspension of disbelief you guys. And massive amounts of product placement money I’m assuming.

However, the daring raid goes wrong, Cruise’s cover is blown and the Kremlin soon explodes. (Seriously, now. Was this movie even allowed to be screened in Russia?). The team is blamed for the Kremlin explosion and has been disavowed causing them to go rogue. Aren’t they always?

[Team escapes to safehouse hidden in a train compartment]

Now the IMF (Impossible Missions Force not International Monetary Fund, I know it’s confusing) safe houses definitely have the apple store décor and gadgets. Although your local Genius bar probably doesn’t have the same level of weaponry. Another minor quirk:  that train car is way bigger on the inside then it was outside.

[Rest of movie]

Typical Mission impossible ridiculousness and bad-ass-ness ensues. The action jumps from Russia to Dubai to Mumbai. The team uses a private jet and an awesome futuristic car. Tom Cruise does insane stunts. I’m still amazed by what was happening on top of the Burj Khalifa. Forget about just climbing up there instead of a green screen or something. Cruise did all of the stunt work himself. This is one of the highest paid movie stars in the world; it’s a huge business risk. How did they insure that? I know he didn’t mention it to his wife that day. “Hi honey, just climbing into the stratosphere with nothing but a harness, 35000 stories up” (all numbers approximate). This guy is nothing if not dedicated to the cause. He’s still a legit movie star! This franchise hasn’t spanned three decades for nothing.

[Climax]

NUCLEAR MISSILE HAS BEEN LAUNCHED! They can’t stop it! Even though Cruise has beaten the bad guy, who inexplicably killed himself by jumping off the futuristic garage car they were fighting in. Now they can’t connect to the satellite to abort because the power has gone out. (Initially I can’t tell if this is because of the terrorist henchman or just because they are in India and the film is making a joke that the power goes out on occasion)

Could this actually happen? Are they actually going to let the nuke go off? Could this movie actually be that kind of perversely awesome and subvert the genre by letting the heroes fail?

But the power’s back, and in the nick of time. Ethan Hunt presses the convenient red abort button with seconds left and the missile falls harmlessly into the sea right before striking its target. That abort signal was transmitted awfully fast. And I think he was tweeting and instagraming about accomplishing his mission at the same time (location undisclosed obviously). They must have had 4G or something. Seriously, nothing uploads to Facebook that fast for me.

[Dénouement]

So we just had that appropriately climatic action sequence. End of movie, right? Well, one might think so but then we get another completely different ending. The missile was launched at San Francisco and then for some reason the team is gathered in Seattle (that’s Microsoft territory for goodness’ sake). The scene does serve an important purpose to wrap up all the emotional threads and plot lines but it is just a bit of a jarring transition to a more subdued and sentimental ending to the film. It also serves the purpose of providing the requisite Luther (Ving Rhames) cameo. I had started to think we wouldn’t get it this time. The team laughs, share meaningful words and everyone agrees to join the next mission. Cruise reveals his wife’s death to have been faked for her protection and the two have a brief loving conversation with their eyes, and apparently he’s totally cool with her going out to the movies with some random dudes. Yea right.

[Final scene]

From the script notes: Actor: Tom Cruise, stage directions: Puts hood up. Answers iPhone. Fog envelopes him. Cue music. Fade to black.

YES. Now that’s an ending.

Key Performances (besides Tom Cruise and Steve Jobs)

Jeremy Renner

Jermey Renner (The Hurt Locker) is also in this movie. As the rest of the Internet has already noted he’s basically being inserted into every franchise at this point. Besides the joining the team for impossible missions he’s assembled in The Avengers, and is taking over in the new Bourne. How did this happen? Can we expect Hurt Locker 2: Lost in New York anytime soon?

To be honest though, I’m not sure if he could carry this franchise on his own if Cruise left. I’m not saying he can’t headline a film; Renner’s obviously an intense and Oscar nominated actor. I’m just not sure he’s “fun” enough for this type of franchise. He’s usually a badass but more in the super serious mold whereas Tom Cruise usually looks like he’s having a blast in blockbusters.

Also, since when are we expecting Cruise to just back off and let someone else take over? Renner was good but he just didn’t pop on screen the way Cruise has done going back to his Top Gun days. Disclosure, I haven’t seen The Avengers yet, though I’d imagine Renner’s not asked to fill the charisma role in that film with the personalities he’s surrounded by. The Bourne spin off should be a different story, and Renner seems like a great choice to lead it. I think he is well suited for that darker milieu and the intimate physical action scenes.

In an important plot line I completely did not touch upon, Renner and Cruise show off their fancy spy skills and it is apparent Renner has more skills then he let on and is harboring a secret (turns out that it’s his fault Cruise’s wife died). You think this is going to come to a head or that Renner will at least say something. Instead he just turns and does this and it’s end of conversation. WTF? Who knows? But this should have been on his Oscar submission reel. Look at the intensity.

In an important plot line I completely did not touch upon, Renner and Cruise show off their fancy spy skills and it is apparent Renner has more skills then he let on and is harboring a secret (turns out that it’s his fault Cruise’s wife died). You think this is going to come to a head or that Renner will at least say something. Instead he just turns and does this and it’s end of conversation. WTF? Who knows? But this should have been on his Oscar submission reel. Look at the intensity.

Paula Patton

She’s pretty good and kicks some serious butt in this movie, including sending Sawyer’s femme fatale assassin flying off the 1500th floor (estimated) of the world’s tallest building with a vicious kick. Though mostly given one-note to play as driven by revenge for Sawyer’s death (obviously we would care more if their relationship had been part of the movie instead of the jumping off point*), she’s has a relatively decent character compared to what actresses usually receive in these types of films. And she seems a worthy sidekick, though again not possible replacement. There’s potential for her character to become more fleshed out and prominent if she stays on.

*To be honest I kind of wish Sawyer hadn’t died. I feel that inserting the character as is from Lost with the same badass personality and his witty remarks and nicknames for everyone would have been really fun. Like I said though Josh Holloway’s acting in his brief scene came across as wooden and a bit strange to me. Perhaps that’s how they wanted him to portray a spy but maybe it’s for the best he didn’t make it past the opening scenes.

Simon Pegg

Simon Pegg provides the comic relief (as usual) and gadgets. Always great to see him, and he also gets to shoot a guy at the end. Although he never got to wear one of the famous Mission Impossible masks he so badly wanted to.

Michael Nyqvist

In fact, for once in this series, I don’t think anyone wore a mask the entire time, except for “Star journalist Mikael Blomkvist” (from the Swedish version of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), who is the baddie in this one. He does some weird English accent, even though I thought he was actually supposed to be his native Swedish in the film. He seems to make a poor decision by jumping off in the climatic fight sequence when he could’ve just thrown the briefcase. Also, he seemed to be a terrorist team of one in this movie, with one henchman to assist and some hired assassins here and there. That’s some serious lone wolf work right there.

If I am being overly critical, this may have been one of the weaker written villains in the franchise, given he was basically just your standard crazy evil genius who wants to nuke the world for the greater good. This is a character that could be intriguing but really the film never develops enough of him or his motivations to give the viewer any sense of context or complexity. The film’s momentum is driven simply by the narrative device of having to follow the villain around and stop the nukes going off. There’s no sense of the pathos or more intimate levels of threats and malevolence that have driven previous villains and plots.

Anil Kapoor

Indian actor Anil Kapoor (you might know him as the host in Slumdog Millionaire) appears as a creepy Mumbai billionaire hosting a party the team has to infiltrate. Again, he’s just really sleazy and mostly serves as another plot point for the heroes to overcome. And as a reason for Paula Patton and Tom Cruise to look great in a dress and tux respectively. Kapoor was also on one the recent seasons of 24. That’s 2 big movies and a TV show so apparently he’s doing well for himself crossing over into Hollywood.

Brad Bird (Director)

Bird, who did The Incredibles, is the director this time and not JJ Abrams (who still stayed on to produce). So basically the main difference is that there are less lens flares. But seriously, there are pretty great performances and action sequences from a guy making his first live action film. Not his first big-budget film. His first live action film of any kind.

Michael Giacchino (Composer)

I’m a big fan of his and he does a good job with the soundtrack as usual. But while watching the opening credits we couldn’t shake the feeling that his take here on the iconic mission impossible theme needs more pep or oomph or something.

Conclusions

I appreciated the sense of fun and self-awareness in this film (Tom Cruise cheesily yelling “Mission Accomplished”, a moment that is ridiculed by Luther as they crack up about it at the end). This film probably looked great on IMAX and I’m a little disappointed I didn’t get a chance to see it. The whole team around Tom Cruise was great. Let’s hope they run them back for the next film. And soon.

Final thoughts: Tom Cruise has like 6 concussions in this movie. I’m calling BS.

As someone who recently suffered ONE concussion, making me an expert on the issue, I can confidently tell you that everything that ensues in this entire movie is ridiculous and utterly impossible.

I can now reveal the big secret that this was actually a covert campaign by sports leagues such as the NFL to subconsciously reduce public backlash against the their sports and downplay the severity of concussions.

There it is, the big multi billion dollar corporate conspiracy that I undertook this assignment at great risk to uncover.

This blog will self-destruct in 10 seconds.

Tweet the author @thiefstatus but be sure to observe Ghost Protocol


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