Second Opinion: ‘Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol’

‘It’s fun, but it’s also incredibly disappointing.’

William Bibbianiby William Bibbiani

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol isn’t a particularly good movie. It’s impressive cinema, I’ll give you that, since it’s beautifully shot and the action sequences are strikingly realized. But I felt nothing whatsoever  as the film progressed, beyond an occasional whiz-bang exhilaration. That’s all anybody can ask from a typical Hollywood action movie, and this is not a profoundly negative review. But since the first review of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol that we ran last week called it “the first genuinely thrilling live-action movie in years,” I have to present a second opinion. This is an excitingly produced but frustratingly vacuous thriller that proves animation director Brad Bird knows how to make a live-action movie, but not that he knows how to pick the best live-action scripts.

Admittedly, we’ve set Brad Bird up for a fall. I’ll take some blame for that. The other three films Bird has directed will probably be considered timeless classics some day, and rightfully so. The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and Ratatouille are gorgeously animated, but beyond that they have fabulously empathetic characters with relatable, expertly dramatized problems. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol can’t boast that claim. The previous film in the franchise, the aptly titled Mission: Impossible III, took straightforward action hero Ethan Hunt and finally gave him a personal life that made his external action hero plot – which was little more than a MacGuffin – affect him on an intimate level. It wasn’t Shakespeare, but it made the his problems our own. The outside stakes in Ghost Protocol are higher than ever, but Hunt has once again reverted to a cipher focused solely on the mission at hand. Those personal connections that made him so compelling last time are now written off completely, and there’s nothing humanizing to take their place.

The problem is alleviated somewhat by the presence of Paula Patton and Jeremy Renner, both of whom have emotional subplots to offer, but these subplots are either concluded before the film hits its halfway mark or, in the end, negated altogether. Nobody changes as a result of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol’s storyline. You might think that one of them does by the end of the film, but without delving into spoiler territory I ask you the following question: did they really change, or did they just learn that they never needed to change in the first place?

All of this sounds extremely academic, because it is. There’s an art to cinematic storytelling, and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is no masterpiece. It’s a fun film, but not a terribly engaging one. The villain of the film has a motive, but no character. We never see him on his off hours, interacting on a human level with anybody… least of all Ethan Hunt. There’s a knockdown, dragged out fight between our bad guy and Hunt at the end of the film, and it’s stunningly choreographed. But it’s empty, because there’s nothing personal about it. Contrast this with the fairly simple fist fight between Hunt and Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Mission: Impossible III, where the conflict was deeply personal, and you’ll find this new climax lacking in comparison, no matter how many flying cars are involved.

At the risk of beating a dead horse, here’s what it boils down to: in Ghost Protocol, the bad guy wants to do bad things, and the good guy wants to stop him because that would be bad. That's pretty pedestrian stuff without a personal component. Their conflict gets from Point A to Point B, but they took the shortcut. That’s a shame, because the scenic route would have been a lot more fun than the destination itself. And it doesn’t help that the villain’s evil plan seems cribbed from The Sum of All Fears, either.

Where Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol excels is in the action sequences, spectacular cinematography and a charming cast that makes the most of their underdeveloped characters. The witty dialogue helps too. But it amounts to nothing for anyone on a human level, so it left me amused but uninvolved. I can’t recommend Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol with any kind of enthusiasm, but I can recommend it. It’s fun, but it’s also incredibly disappointing.