Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol

Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol seems to be the beginning of the end for Tom Cruise’s starring role in the series. It was rumored before Ghost Protocol‘s release that Cruise would finally retire his character, Ethan Hunt, after this, the fourth installment in the long-running Mission: Impossible film franchise. Whether or this serves to be the case still requires a “wait and see” approach, but if the series is to carry on without Cruise in the lead, this film establishes a character who could take over for him.

That character is played by Jeremy Renner, an “analyst” named William Brandt. You’ll see midway through the film why he could take over for Cruise, but let’s just say that he’s got the action chops to pull it off and leave it there. Why is Brandt even here? Well, some nuclear launch codes have been stolen, the entirety of the IMF — the agency for which Hunt works for — is shut down, and Hunt and his team are the only people able to stop a World War. The team this time around will consist of Hunt, Brandt, Jane Carter (Paula Patton), and Benji (Simon Pegg), the only other returning member from previous films.

The villain is a man named Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist), who is as clever as anyone that Hunt has ever faced. He singlehandedly blows up the Moscow Kremlin and manages to put the blame on America. This is the most international Mission: Impossible yet, having the group move from Russia to Dubai to India over the course of the film. These places allow for some amazing scenes, the pinnacle of which is in Dubai.

It’s here where two things happen, neither of which I will reveal. One of them, either done because Tom Cruise is insane enough to put his body at risk, or because special effects are just so advanced nowadays — the producers claim the former — is unlike almost any other scene I’ve ever seen. It is the most thrilling scene of all of 2011. The second, which directly follows the first, is also tense, but for entirely different reasons. All it (initially) involves is talking, while the other is far more physical.

Most of the film is intense, making you feel at almost every instant that feeling where, if one thing goes wrong, it’s all over. The stakes have never been higher for Hunt and his crew, and with no backup, they have no opportunity to mess up — despite everything seeming to work against them. It has the coincidences stack upon one another, and it’s a bit unbelievable at times, but for the most part, thanks to a breezy pace and some incredible sequences, you don’t think about this while it’s playing.

Not a moment of Ghost Protocol drags, which is saying something considering it’s the longest Mission: Impossible yet at 130 minutes. Thanks to Brad Bird, the director of the animated classics The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and Ratatouille, there is never a dull moment. It’s surprising how a man who is making his live-action directorial debut can appear on the scene like he’s been making films of this nature for two decades. I suppose it makes sense, as animated films thrive on action and creativity — there’s certainly not a lack of either in this film.

This is the funniest entry to the series, in large part because Simon Pegg — who appeared in a couple of scenes in the third film but was firmly in a supporting role — has been added to the main cast. Many of his lines are comedic, in large part because he’s just become a field agent and doesn’t quite know how things work. His inexperience is funny, I suppose, although the actor playing him certainly helps. Renner wouldn’t be able to pull off most of Pegg’s lines if the roles were reversed.

Unfortunately, Ghost Protocol peaks midway through — in Dubai, if that wasn’t clear — and can never reach the heights, both literally and metaphorically, that it accomplishes in that sequence. The ending feels anticlimactic as a result. There’s a futuristic parking garage where the final showdown takes place, and while the fate of the world is at stake, and context ensures that it’s nowhere near boring, I couldn’t help thinking back to the earlier moment when — no, I shouldn’t say. Watch it for yourself.

I don’t hope that Cruise is done with this franchise. He’s been one of the reasons that it has been such a success. He’s certainly still in good enough shape to continue, and while he’s close to 50, he doesn’t look it. He does many of the stunts in this film himself, so we’re led to believe, and I believe that. Renner is fine, and can also handle the action, but this is Cruise’s series and considering the output has been consistently good, I would be disappointed to see Cruise retire his character.

Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol is another solid entry into the series, and contains a scene that finally tops the finale to the 1995 movie. It’s incredibly well-made, it’s funny, it has enough depth to the characters to allow you to care about them just a bit, and it’s superbly paced, never giving you time to question it. Its only real problem is that its best moment comes in the middle, as the rest of the film cannot possibly top that. It is definitely worth a watch, though, and might just be the success Tom Cruise needs to agree to star in another one. I can only hope.

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