There was a time when moving beyond the standard trilogy structure for a film series usually involved the words “straight to video”, and those fourth films that did to make it to the big screen were laughed out of the theaters faster than you can say VHS. I can count on one hand the number of movies that are the fourth in a series of films and live up to the quality of their previous installments. Even smaller is the number of movies that in any way exceed the original trilogy from which they were born.
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol is at the top of that short list. In fact, it might be the short list.
MI:4 takes place some time after the third film ends. If you remember, the original trilogy closes on high note, with everything in the world as it should be. But right from the start of Ghost Protocol, we are faced with the reality that this world rarely stays peaceful for long. Ethan Hunt, played by the fully committed and always intense Tom Cruise, and his team are blamed for a bombing that has brought the world back to the brink of nuclear war. And now, with the whole IMF shut down, Ethan and his small, cobbled-together team of agents must go it alone, chasing down the real culprits to the farthest reaches of the world, without a safety net, and with little hope of success.
The stakes literally could not be higher. But what do you expect from a movie called Mission Impossible?
In every movie he’s in, Tom Cruise takes center stage. Regardless of what you think of him, there are few people more charismatic and singularly magnetic. He’s obviously the biggest star in the movie. However, the real star of Ghost Protocol is first-time live-action director and multiple Academy Award winner, Brad Bird. Brad is behind some of the greatest animated films of all time, having directed The Iron Giant, Ratatouille, and The Incredibles. Cruise may be the one carrying out the mission, but without Bird, there is no mission at all.
What he brings to the table is a comprehensive view of every minute detail of a film. In animation, the director is responsible to build their world from the ground up. There are no sets, no stages, and no backgrounds that are not completely dreamed up by the movie’s creative team. it is a mind-boggling amount of information to process. But Brad Bird makes it look easy.
He takes his keen eye for detail and his talent for creating dramatic set pieces, and shows them off in a way that I don’t know if we’ve seen before. The visual look of Ghost Protocol is absolutely spectacular. And that is no overstatement. And what’s most impressive is lack of CG effects. In a world where live-action filmmakers seek to dazzle us with bigger and more over-the-top CGI, it takes an animation director to remind us of how dazzling the real world truly is.
And there is no place in the film where this is more incredibly on display than at the Burj Kalifa in Dubai. No doubt you’ve heard about Tom Cruise’s high flying antics on the outside of the world’s tallest building. Well, those cell phone camera videos and unofficial set pictures were not just publicity stunts. They were documentation of perhaps the most heart-pounding, jaw-dropping, out-of-this-world action sequence in the history of film. That scene is worth the price of admission. It is nothing less than cinematic history on display. You have to see it to believe it. And, if you can, see it in I-Max.
With a scene so grand, it’s easy to forget that there’s great action scenes throughout the film, and they all deliver. You will not leave the theater unsatisfied with the amount of action, and if you’re like me, you will rarely leave the edge of your seat. As far as action is concerned, this is the best Mission yet.
But the visual aspect of the movie is not the only thing going for it. With Shawn of the Dead’s Simon Pegg reprising his role as the brillant computer expert Benji, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol is the funniest of the MI films. And when you add to the mix an actor like Jeremy Renner, who is effortless in his humor and heaviness, you’ve got yourselves a great cast.
That said, as with any action film, there are some holes left unfilled. They don’t take away from the heart-stopping thrill ride, but they do provide a few unexpected bumps.
Without giving anything away, there are a few times where the plot of the film moves from “high stakes” to “outlandish”. I wasn’t prepared for this and it threw me for a loop. So, if your suspension of disbelief is low, be prepared. Remember it’s not called Mission Potentially Challenging. That said, it’s also not called Mission Ridiculous. It’s a fine line to be sure, but MI:4 really tests the limits of that line.
Sad to say, Paula Patton’s Jane, the female member of the team, is a down side. She’s beautiful, capable, and relatively likable, but not that believable. I don’t know if I can pinpoint why, but I just can’t forget that she’s acting. Actors are supposed to be invisible, putting the character at the forefront, but she feels just a bit out of place. It could be worse, much worse. And I’d love to hear someone tell me I’m wrong here.
The overriding theme of the movie is that we won’t survive without putting faith in the people around us. This is a positive message to be sure. And one that Scripture affirms. We are told to bear each other’s burdens, to develop deep and abiding friendships, and to build one another up in love. the Christian life is not a vacuum. It’s not a lone ranger sort of faith. Christ is building a beautiful church of which we are all a part. We are called members of one body, living stones being built into a temple for the Lord. Community is essential to the Christian. In the movie, every person on the team fails in some way, but they remain faithful to one another, joined together for a common purpose. This is how life is supposed to work. We fail each other all the time, but our bond is deeper than temporary failures and disappointments. Our bond is Christ, who has united us through His blood and who perfects every failure to the glory of God.
When all is said and done, This is a near perfect action movie. No fluff, no baggage, and no drag. It clocks in at about 130 minutes, but feels like 40. It’s like a Ferrari in a wind tunnel. If it had a motto it would be:
You can breathe when it’s over