“Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” is the best action movie of the year. It’s also the best of the “Mission: Impossible” movie series, the first in which the star Tom Cruise seems to really be part of the ensemble and not just the star of the show. In being part of the mission rather than the reason to see the film, “Ghost Protocol” is wholly entertaining, completely involving and a hell of a thrill ride. And there’s one man to thank for all that, director Brad Bird.
As a director of animated pictures like “The Iron Giant” and Pixar’s super “Ratatouille” and “The Incredibles,” Brad Bird displayed his deft skill at blending action with comedy and poignancy. Still, who would have ever guessed that what Bird could do with cartoon characters could translate to live action? Well, Tom Cruise apparently, because he was the star/producer who endorsed Bird to resurrect “MI” one more time.
With this fourth installment, “Mission” is more fun than ever. The action is non-stop, but oh the wit and playfulness. The escape from the Russian prison starts with Ethan Hunt (Cruise) alone in a cell, bouncing a ball against the wall — just like Steve McQueen in “The Great Escape.” But as the IMF team infiltrates to bust Hunt out, confusion reigns as cell doors open and the sound of Dean Martin singing “Ain’t That A Kick in the Head” blares.
The ball turns out to be plastic explosives and Ethan has until the end of the song to get out. When he does — pulling another prisoner with him — Hunt tops the moment with one line, “Light the fuse!” They do and the opening credits are the perfect homage to the original television show, complete with Lalo Schifrin music.
From that rousing start, “Mission” doesn’t let up and you will be on the edge of your seat as you’re involved in the action. The set pieces are uniformly stunning. The tension created when the team uses a projection screen in the Kremlin to get into the files is another nod to the TV show, and the high-flying scaling of the tallest building in the world tops the mountain climbing in the second “Mission” film.
A car chase in sandstorm is something I’ve never seen on film before, but that’s surpassed when Ethan and the evil Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist) fight each other for an aluminum briefcase that’s necessary to stop a nuclear missile from hitting San Francisco. As you watch the skirmish in a multi-tiered parking garage, with levels moving up and down and the men hurling their bodies to desperately seize the case, you’re exhilarated. It’s close to the crazy door scene in “Monsters, Inc.” — but, hey, that was a Pixar movie and not live. This was a masterful use of stunts and camera work and editing.
The actors are all very good, including Cruise who seems less anxious and more comfortable in the character of Ethan Hunt this go round. Simon Pegg is welcome comic relief as Benji and Paula Patton provides the requisite kick-ass girl action (something of a cliche these days) as Jane. Josh Holloway, of TV’s “Lost,” is unfortunately killed off too soon. He would have been better in the role of Brandt, which is the only knock on the film; Jeremy Renner is just too grim in the role. He could have used some of Bruce Willis’ “Die Hard” bravado when he was stuck dangling over a turbo fan in an elevator. The bad guys were nicely evil, but hardly as memorable as a Bond villain.
All in all, in this holiday season of entertainment that reaches high but doesn’t always hit the mark, “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” does. It’s a bulls-eye.
Ally says: Get off the couch and go see it now!