Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol

Directed by Brad Bird.
2011. Rated PG-13, 133 minutes.
Tom Cruise

We start on what by now seems to be a normal day in the life of extra super duper secret agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise). He busts out of a Serbian prison while dragging along a fellow inmate who may have some valuable information. He finds out that one of his buddies was killed in the line of duty. More importantly, Hunt learns that he has to retrieve a file that’s locked away in the Kremlin. Yes, an actual physical file and not an electronic one. While there, someone else blows the place up. Unfortunately for our hero and his crew, they’re being blamed so the good ol’ USA has to disavow any knowledge of Ethan and company. We learn this is called ghost protocol, hence the title. Anyhoo, not only do the good guys have to clear their own names, but that of the United States, as well. They must do this without the help of their native land, either. Of course, accomplishing this means they also must stop some Russian nut from starting a nuclear war. And you thought you had a tough day at work.

Thankfully for us, watching this particular mission is a better viewing experience that the last couple. The first movie in the series was pointlessly and aggressively convoluted making it a chore to watch. As a knee-jerk reaction to the sheer confusion of much of its audience, parts II and III turned Hunt into a superhero and dumbed everything down to seemingly random stunts and explosions. So far, the franchise hasn’t been able to strike the proper balance between sophisticated espionage and stupid action.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol takes a step in the right direction. Make that a few steps. The action is dialed back a bit. Don’t worry junkies, there’s still plenty for you to tweak on. The difference is that everything going boom isn’t the focus. The story between the stunts actually intrigues us. Occasionally, it slips into needlessly cryptic exposition but for the most part, it works. So does the comic relief, courtesy of Benji (Pegg). For that matter, the camaraderie and sometimes contentiousness of this new squad is pretty entertaining. This includes an interesting turn by Jeremy Renner as Agent Brandt. Though I must admit that I did miss Ving Rhames who only has a cameo in this installment.

If there is a problem with MIGP it’s with Ethan Hunt, himself. Mind you, I’m not talking about Tom Cruise. Haters be damned, he’s solid just doing what he normally does: giving us the Tom Cruise persona. I’m talking about the actual character. It’s the same problem that’s plagued the franchise and one I alluded to earlier: Ethan Hunt is invincible. His decision making is also infallible no matter how quick he has to make them or how stressful the situation in which he finds himself. It’s kind of hard to generate any real suspense when we know that regardless of what our hero does it will work out without any real consequences. Brandt even asks about Hunt’s extraordinarily quick wit. Hunt responds that he was playing a hunch. His hunches are always right.

Complaints aside, I have to reiterate that MIGP takes the franchise in a positive direction. In fact, it may well be the best of the four movies. In my opinion, only the first is any competition. That’s the only one that even tries to engage our brains. The other two are assaults on our senses, and not in a good way. Here, there is a well stirred mixture of the two approaches. Sure, we might still roll our eyes at some of the stuff Super Ethan pulls off, but when woven into the fabric of an interesting narrative it’s more palatable. For me, at least. If you’re already a fan of the series you won’t be disappointed. If you’re not, you might actually be pleasantly surprised.

MY SCORE: 7/10

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