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More Rock Climbing Fewer Martinis

Neil Mathieson | Wednesday, January 18, 2012

“Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” accomplished exactly what it set out to do. It hounded us through countless TV ads and billboards, built off the recognition of the franchise’s three previous films and at the end of the Christmas holiday was the highest grossing film in theatres. The series always promises audiences extraordinary special effects coupled with high-octane action. This newest addition is no different as, without question, “Ghost Protocol” hits all of its marks and provides some absolutely stunning visuals. The scenes in Dubai are particularly jaw-dropping. However, all the pageantry in “Ghost Protocol” got to be overkill. Although it succeeds as a truly red-blooded action film it has just enough lame dialogue, one-dimensional characters and convoluted plot to weigh it down.

In “Ghost Protocol” Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is rescued from a Russian gulag only to have himself and his entire IMF (Impossible Missions Force) team framed has rouge agents perpetuating terrorist actions and nuclear proliferation. In order to clear their name they must catch the man who framed them. His name is Kurt Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist) a militant extremist, who not only wants to set off Russia’s nuclear missiles at San Francisco but has obtained the launch codes to do so. Now Ethan Hunt and his team must travel around the world and engage in life-threatening covert operations in order to prevent catastrophe. It’s a race against time.

There are a considerable amount of new faces on the IMF team including Jeremy Renner (“The Hurt Locker”). The critically acclaimed actor plays William Brandt, a troubled military analyst with a secret past as an active agent. Although Renner gives a solid performance on limited screen time his character’s presence is puzzling. The film struggles to get Renner meaningfully involved in the narrative. It has problems formulating his character without taking too much time away from Cruise. Yet, I assume they are setting the foundations for Renner to continue as a major component of the franchise.

Unfortunately, or possibly fortunately, Tom Cruise is no longer the film’s most attractive eye candy. Paula Patton, playing Jane Carter — the only female member of the IMF, now claims this title. To accentuate her feminine quality one scene has Agent Carter in a catfight atop the Burj Khalifia wearing the tightest dress they could put her in. But she does more than just fulfill chauvinist fantasies. As an agent she is highly capable and can dish it out just as good, if not better, than the boys. Simon Pegg returns as the team’s nerdy tech agent. He continues to steal scenes as well as all the laughs with his sharp comedic timing and bumbling antics. However, there is one person who takes all of this very seriously. That would be Tom Cruise, the Grand Poobah and the engine on which “Ghost Protocol” runs.

Tom Cruise is much more than just an actor in the “Mission Impossible” franchise. He is also the producer and this time recruited Brad Bird (The Incredibles) to direct his pet project. We can see from Cruise’s commitment to his physical shape and the film’s elaborate action sequences that he has put his all into giving audiences their money worth. However, one wishes just as much effort and time went into developing Ethan Hunt as a character. What motivates him? Is he a fanatical patriot, a disillusioned knight or a cynical but noble pragmatist like Bond? He is still largely undefined. This is the biggest obstacle preventing the films from achieving the same sort of fandom that the James Bond films evoke.

I do not discredit “Ghost Protocol” for its ludicrous believability. Because let’s be honest. No government agency could ever be this efficient and effective. But, the screenplay written by Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec is clustered and the action suffocates it. Its structure is far too unbalanced to be emotionally compelling. Then when there is time for character development and exposition it feels forced and sudden, like a drowning man gasping for air. In fact the action scenes are so extensive and frequent that I actually found myself losing concentration at instances. At one point I drifted off wondering what The International Monetary Fund was doing. I thought, “They can’t be getting involved in such dangerous international liaisons.” Before long my brain started functioning again.

Great films consist of intriguing stories accentuated by action sequences whereas Mission Impossible seems to have the formula backwards. The cart is far too ahead of the horse. “Ghost Protocol” unnecessarily exhausts itself on delivering such grandiose spectacles that it neglects its most fundamental responsibility, a compelling story. As impressive and exhilarating as these scenes are in “Ghost Protocol” they are in no sense revolutionary. Inevitably the eroding quality of time will render the film’s special effects dated and obsolete. All that will remain will be a pedestrian spy story featuring the one of the world’s biggest movie stars in the twilight of his action career.

Is it pretentious to ask more of our Hollywood action films? I don’t believe so. Just think of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Aliens” and “The Dark Knight” as examples. These were all Hollywood blockbusters that deliver both the electrifying action that one expects from a multi-million dollar budget without compromising their substance. Stunts are ephemeral whereas characters and story are what endear an audience to Hollywood fare. Ethan Hunt is our extreme-sports American spy but there is still much to learn about him.