January 4, 2012 -- The Mission Impossible franchise, and Tom Cruise's career had been on the skids until this latest Mission Impossible movie hit big in the world wide box office. Cruise, and the Mission series have rebounded in a big way, and with good reason. This is a solid action film in the globe-trotting tradition of James Bond, but this movie emphasizes teamwork, rather than a lone wolf approach. It also emphasizes improvisation when plans and gadgets fail.
This is the fourth film in the series. So far, it seems that the even-numbered films, 2 and 4 are the best ones, even though some like the first one. I didn't think the plot held together all that well in the first one. I still think the John Woo-directed second film in the series is the best one, with the sizzling hot Thandie Newton making a memorable entrance into the series. But this fourth film, directed by Brad Bird (“The Incredibles,” “Up” and “Ratatouille”) is a close second with some nice comic touches and interesting characters.
Since “Ghost Protocol” is mostly a caper film, with spies breaking into places and stealing secrets, you expect a lot of gadgets, like a moveable fake wall that displays an image of what is behind it, and you get that, but you also get more. In several scenes, the gadgets fail and the team has to improvise a solution on the spot. This changes the dynamic of these scenes from a mere step-by-step execution of a clever plan to reveal more of the human element, the way a character adapts to an unexpected development to accomplish a goal.
The screenplay, written by Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec, doesn't rely too much on gimmicks to advance the plot. Instead, the plot is also character-driven to an extent. There is an interesting dynamic going on amongst the Mission Impossible team, especially between team leader Ethan Hunt (Cruise, reprising his role from the previous three Mission Impossible films) and the mysterious State Department analyst, William Brandt (Jeremy Renner of “The Hurt Locker”). There is a connection in the past between these two men which is revealed near the end of the film. The tension between the two hums through most of the film. Jane Carter (played by Paula Patton of “Precious”) has a personal vendetta against one of the targets of the operation, assassin Sabine Moreau (Léa Seydoux of “Inglourious Basterds”). She needs to control her desire for vengeance against Moreau. Whether she succeeds in this is not quite clear. The fourth member of the team is the nervous, talkative, nerdish Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg of “Star Trek”).
While the members of the team are well-defined in the story, the villains are not. The team is trying to prevent a brilliant, but psychopathic scientist, Kurt Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”) from launching a nuclear missile at the United States that could start World War III. Hendricks, code named Cobalt, thinks the world would be better off if most of the people on it died. Hendricks seems to be well-financed, but unlike most such villains, he doesn't seem to have a lot of minions to do his dirty work. He does a lot of it himself, aided by his faithful henchman, Wistrom (Samuli Edelmann) and a few other hired hands.
The movie would have been better with more fully developed villains, but it works well enough as a series of capers, con games, stunts, fights and effects scenes, held together by some interesting characters and a fair amount of humor. One character that isn't too well developed, but is interesting is a Russian intelligence agent Anatoly Sidorov (Vladimir Mashkov of “Behind Enemy Lines”). He has a role in the film similar to that played by Tommy Lee Jones in “The Fugitive”) only not nearly as well developed. Sidorov is a character with a lot of untapped potential. Ving Rhames also has a small, uncredited role in the film, reprising his Luther Stickell character from the previous three Mission Impossible films. It is too bad his role wasn't a lot bigger in this one.
All things considered, this is a good action film. It is not without problems, but its strengths overcome its weaknesses. This film rates a B.
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