*** Originally published on Beyond the Marquee, 04/14/12 ***
I’m pretty sure it’s an impossible mission to discuss spy franchises without even thinking about the timeless James Bond movies. However, since 1996 Tom Cruise has given us a series that has not only been as commercially successful as the 007 flicks, but are every bit as fun as any license to kill. On April 17, Paramount Home Media Distribution (finally!!!) releases “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol”, a fourth glimpse at Ethan Hunt and his unachievable goals.
This time around, we meet up with Ethan (Tom Cruise) in a Moscow prison, where he’s busted out by a team of IMF agents who don’t exactly know why they’re doing it. Things clear up a bit when he gets the mission: to steal files relating to a Russian consultant known only as Cobalt, who plans to set off a nuclear attack. The impossible part: they’re stealing these files from the Kremlin.
With help from IMF agents Jane Carter (the ravishing Paula Patton) and Benji Dunn (the dangerously close to overexposed Simon Pegg, reprising his role), Hunt naturally succeeds in infiltrating the complex. However, when they get to the files, someone broadcasts over the agents’ frequency alerting the Russians to their presence. To make things worse, the saboteur then sets off a bomb blowing the place to bits. Not the greatest thing for diplomacy.
Now the IMF as a whole is branded as a terrorist organization and the president initiates “Ghost Protocol”, disavowing the entire agency. In a last ditch effort to track down Cobalt and undo the damage, the department’s secretary allows Hunt and his team to evade government custody – but only moments before he’s shot dead by Russian security forces. Operating on bare bones using a small weapons cache hidden on a freight train and accompanied by William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), an intelligence analyst with a secret, the team embark on an impossible mission to save the world from nuclear destruction.
“Ghost Protocol” marks the live-action debut of director Brad Bird (“The Iron Giant”, “The Incredibles”) who gives us a slightly lighter take on the franchise. The film is a little more humorous than past installments and Ethan Hunt serves at times as mentor to the other agents, but this doesn’t mean the franchise is getting soft and fatherly. The film is almost non-stop action from the opening cat and mouse spy game to a climactic fight to save the world… in a state-of-the-art parking garage. Hell, anybody who was fortunate enough to see “M:I 4″ in IMAX will tell you that the Dubai Tower scene is some of the most stupefying and jaw-droppingly tense footage ever shot for a Hollywood movie. Bird also gives us a fresh take on the typically ultra-slick genre with this film being “the one where nothing works”.
Everything fails in this movie. Intelligence is occasionally faulty and almost every single gadget screws up, leaving the team unprepared in most situations. These guys are vulnerable – capable of having a cover blown, getting themselves killed or both. It’s hard to feel scared for a swinging gentleman spy, but you can’t help holding your breath for one that’s dangling from the world’s tallest building by a single hand.
As far as the BluRay goes, it’s not surprising that this is a gorgeous disc. ”M:I 4″ is both new enough and successful enough that it would have been unusual for this to be a bad transfer… especially coming from Paramount. The picture is crisp and a 7.1 Dolby TrueHD sound mix drops you right in the middle of the action. Yes, the rumors are true that Bird opted not to change aspect ratios for the scenes shot in 70mm to keep viewers from being distracted. I wouldn’t say that this is necessarily bad, but I don’t remember distraction being an issue with The Dark Knight BluRay, in the least. Just saying.
The special features are top-notch on this release. The entire second disc is full of goodies, like deleted scenes offering additional insight into the characters and story. Despite being discarded for various (and mostly good) reasons, there’s a real bonus quality to these outtakes – as if you’re being allowed to peek behind the curtain. It’s kind of fun to watch the semi-raw footage put together with shot names changing on every cut and the director explaining how the film would’ve been different had the scene been kept. Bird admits that one lengthy (and confused) exposition scene among the agents is basically a reflection of the filmmakers’ own confusion at that point. It’s this kind of candor that makes him enjoyable to watch in the many featurettes provided.
Just as great, is being able to see how involved Tom Cruise was as a producer. There’s no doubt his star power helped in making this film as epic as it is. I’m not so sure Steve Buscemi could’ve nabbed some of these locations and Brad Bird on his own wouldn’t have received a budget to allow overseas shooting on his first live-actioner. But Cruise doesn’t let his fame do the work for him. A love of the filmmaking process is evident and he nurtures his director’s vision. Before shooting an action scene in a Russian prison, he actually made the stunt crew watch all of Bird’s films to get a feel for his style. How cool is that?
But it doesn’t just stop with directors and producers. Almost every major department is represented with an extra in a section titled “Impossible Missions”. Props, art department, stunts, camera, music… there’s a little something about everything found here. There’s no commentary provided, but anything you’d want to know about any particular scene seems to be covered by a featurette. The “Mission Accepted” section goes into major depth on shooting this beast of a film in seven different countries over ninety days. The seventeen minute section on Dubai alone beats out entire bonus discs of other major releases and what they went through on the Burj Khalifa tower probably could’ve been made into a feature-length documentary in its own right. Making a movie is hard, but making this movie looked impossible.
I’d say “Ghost Protocol” is the best of the series, with M:I 3 being a close second. The disc is worth buying on the strength of the movie alone, but the Special Features disc was a pleasant surprise. Providing a warts and all look at the filmmaking process, you get something that’s not only entertaining, but also educational… and durable! (It’s yet to self-destruct in my player.)
Your mission, should you choose to accept it (and you really should):