Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011) Director: Brad Bird
Typically, Hollywood sequels tend to rapidly decline in quality with each new iteration, but the Mission Impossible franchise has somehow managed to buck this trend. Ghost Protocol is an all-around fantastic action film, it is unpretentious, engaging, simple, and fun (a sorely lacking experience in much of our action blockbusters these days). Here, both the style and design are surprisingly compelling.
In this wild thriller, the Impossible Missions Force (IMF) has been disbanded and “ghost protocol” has been enacted as a terrorist has gotten his hands on dangerous nuclear codes. The opening scene shows a dramatic theft sequence in which a secret agent character played by Josh Holloway (of Lost repute) steals a file containing nuclear launch codes in a train station in Budapest, but just as he is set to escape he is assassinated in an alley by Sabine Moreau (Léa Seydoux). It is a great hook for the film. Next, we catch-up with Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) as he is broken out of a Russian prison by the Impossible Missions Force (IMF) and whisked off on a quest to recover the nuclear codes.
However, the IMF has lost its credibility as the President has invoked “Ghost Protocol.” Ethan goes rogue yet again with a group (Jeremy Renner, Simin Pegg, Paula Patton) and we see him battling his way through three key situations in Moscow, Dubai, and Mumbai –with each involving a unique heist conundrum. In Russia, Ethan dons a military uniform and invades a government building using a fake digital projection screen, and in Dubai the most memorable scene of the movie showcases Tom Cruise suspended by ropes and magnets along the side of the world’s tallest building, and the whole scene is well-constructed, the tension is brutal, only to be followed by a disorienting sandstorm chase scene through the murky streets of Dubai. Scenes like these have cemented Tom Cruise as the great action figure actor of our era, despite his strange public persona. He has built a newfound reputation of himself as slightly insane, perhaps just enough to perform his own stunts –hanging out of airplanes, leaping across rooftops, and dangling off the tallest building in the world.
The gritty sense of realism in this film is buttressed by the fact that the IMF’s technology keeps breaking down –from the wall magnets, to the 3-D projection screen, and finally to the laser. It gives us the sense that they are not an all-powerful spy ring. It is yet another touch which makes this franchise gripping, though I generally agree with the critical consensus that the villain in this film is mostly forgettable (Michael Nyqvist as Kurt Hendricks or “Cobalt”) but it is still a terrific action film which surprisingly begs for rewatching.