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REVIEW: On a rooftop in Budapest, Sawyer crashes through an access door, chased by two men from The Others. Wait, what? Sawyer? Hold on. Am I watching the right show? Yup. Turns out after escaping the island, Ford got himself a job with the government as an IMF (Impossible Mission Force) agent. Worse, he’s not that good at it. Sure he stuck the landing after jumping off the building, backwards, and shooting the two guys chasing him, but once on the ground, let’s his guard down when approached by a killer blonde. And I mean that literally. She is a blonde assassin. He get’s a goodbye hug before it’s all over though. That’s sweet.
Okay, so he’s not really Sawyer. That would make no sense. But he is a dead IMF agent and the assassin stole nuclear missile activation codes that the IMF thinks really shouldn’t be in bad guy hands. What are they to do? Well, they need the best, and the best means only one name: Ethan Hunt. Problem is, Hunt is in a Russian prison cell. Why is Ethan in a Russian prison cell? Stop asking unimportant questions. What is important is getting him out. Leave that to the new IMF crew.
Turns out Benji, from the last film, has been promoted up from his desk job and is now a field agent because Hollywood scriptwriting regulations strictly enforce compliance with Rule LW2, better known as “The Leo Getz,” requiring funny minor supporting characters to be involved more prominently in sequels. Using his computer hacking abilities, he starts opening cells in what is surely the quietest Russian prison in, well, Russia. Out pop criminals, and soon there’s some scuffles between guards and inmates, escalating to a near riot. Expected to escape, Ethan instead decides to head into the fray and rescue another inmate who will prove valuable later. After some tussles, they eventually make it to the lower tunnels where another IMF agent is waiting. And no, sadly, it’s not Luther. It’s Carter, and she’s a woman. And she’s pretty. But based on the series so far, having a lanky, leggy women on the team won’t at all be a deciding factor in successfully completing a mission.
The team is then directed to gather information and identify a rogue mysterious figure code-named “Cobalt,” a Level 1 Russian nuclear strategist whom that nasty assassin from the beginning works for. All they have to do is break into some secret archives in Russia, and since they are already there, should be easy-peasy. Except, those secret archives are in The Kremlin. And they have only 4 hours 52 minutes to do it.
The plan almost goes off without a hitch, but just as they are about to make a clean get away, a radio frequency mix-up gives away their position. Worse, as they run to escape, a bomb goes off and destroys half the world famous landmark, knocking Ethan unconscious while Benji and Carter get away. When Hunt wakes, he is in the hospital. He’s also handcuffed to a gurney and told he is the main suspect in the Kremlin bombing. Naturally, via a dropped paper clip, he escapes, leaving the lead investigator fuming and the Russian government no choice but to claim the bombing is an act of war. The U.S. President initiates Ghost Protocol, immediately disavowing all field agents, but secretly issuing new directives to Hunt and his team through the IMF Secretary, who happens to be in Moscow traveling with his Chief Analyst, William Brandt.
Brandt seems a little uncomfortable with Hunt, but Hunt just drew a face on his hand so maybe that’s forgivable. Despite the crude sketch, Brandt identifies the man as Kurt Hendricks, “Cobalt” and warns that this is a man dead-set on starting a nuclear war. The Secretary gives Hunt a new mission: Track down the terrorist and prevent him from beginning Armageddon. Then he is promptly shot by Russian police chasing down the car they are driving in. Impeccable timing. Brandt and Hunt survive the attack, escape, and later learn that Hendricks will meet up with the assassin and her activation codes in Dubai. More specifically, the Burj Khalifa. If you are unfamiliar with the Burj Khalifa, look out your window, you can probably see it. It’s the tallest building in the world.
Devising a trap that will convince both the bad guy and bad girl that they have met and made a deal, the team set out to steal back the codes, stop Hendricks and maybe even avenge the death of Sawyer. Directed by Brad Bird, the fourth installment of the Mission: Impossible series is a well-made, slickly produced action thriller that is both entertaining and very satisfying. While it lacks a delicious villain like what Philip Seymour Hoffman created in MI:3, and also the gritty realism of that film, it has a charm and approachability that makes it fun to watch. Never dipping too far into the cartoon style of the second entry, it manages to make all its set pieces plausible, if not a little hokey. This is mostly because of Cruise and his continued commitment to the role, finding more and more ways to give horrible disfiguring death the middle finger. The big draw here is, of course, his free run down the side of the Burj Khalifa, which is spine-tingling to be sure, but is just one of many escapades the actors dives head first into that makes one wonder if maybe someone shouldn’t have a sit down with the man and explain the current rendering capabilities of modern special effects computer generated images. Have to give the guy credit for putting himself out there to entertain the masses. He’s clearly a junkie. While MI:3 was almost humorless, MI- Ghost Protocol loosens its collar and has more laughs, which surprisingly, works well. If anything, the series manages to stay fresh and never complacent. Each previous film found its own style and MI:GP does the same. Another solid entry.
Scene Setup: Cobalt and the assassin, a beautiful vixen named Sabine Moreau have arranged for a meeting in Dubai. Cobalt has already stolen a nuclear launch-control device with access to a military satellite. All he needs are the launch codes, which Sabine has acquired. The woman only takes payment in diamonds, of course, and will be waiting on the 118th floor for the rendezvous. The IMF team has arrived first though and with Benji’s computer hacking and some manipulated door numbers, tricked the two separate parties into different rooms where Sabine will be meeting Hunt and Brandt, playing Kendricks and his code’s authenticator, and Carter will be playing Sabine, tricking the real Hendricks and his cohort. Naturally, a series of mishaps makes their original plan of wearing the famous Mission: Impossible masks, well, impossible. When it comes time for the face-to-face, no one is certain whether the two baddies have met before, so the whole exchange could go belly up before it even begins.
The Scene: (Time stamp 1:06:35) Hunt and Brandt knock on Sabine’s door while one floor above, the real Hendricks and his partner (who is really a code analyst being blackmailed) knocks on Carter’s room, thinking she is Sabine. All goes well, in the beginning. Sabine sees the two men and has no suspicions. Hunt and Brandt meet the killer for the first time. While they knew what she looked like before meeting her, she is anything but what might look like an assassin.
Meanwhile, Carter convinces her targets that she is the assassin. The two transactions proceed, cautiously, but successfully. In order to fool the real code analyst that the codes being given to Hendricks are real, Brandt is wearing a tiny contact lens that is able to scan and send documents to a printer inside a case Carter has given to Hendricks. He has to read the real codes first though, and Sabine allows this, though as she waits, she gets an odd feeling about Brandt and his twitchy eye.
The deals progresses with Benji getting involved, playing a building servant delivering coffee but secretly making a swap with the diamonds. All parties are convinced of each other until Sabine (the real one) finally catches on to the eye piece. Then it all goes to hell. Hendricks, (the real one) gets out of the building with authentic launch codes and Hunt gives chase, while Sabine (the real one) tries to run. But not for long. Carter catches up and it’s time for some girl-on-girl action, which is decidedly exciting for so many reasons. And it ends with a real kick. Well, to Sabine, where she flies out the window from the 118th floor. We’re spared a shot of the mush she most assuredly ended up.
The scene is the film’s real highlight, despite the great stunt work Cruise puts throughout the movie. Putting together everything that is at the heart of the Mission: Impossible franchise, the exchange in the Burj Khalifa is a master stroke. It creates a scenario where action is not the source of tension and the members are instead able to reveal unity, cleverness, and real improvised coordination that doesn’t rely on fast-paced vehicular set pieces, explosions, or gun-play, which are all good in the these movies, but it’s nice to see the team work on this level as well. Director Bird plays the two simultaneous meetings like a musical duet, with each IMF team member able to hear the others through ear pieces. Unknowingly, the real Sabine is feeding Carter the right lines, while Benji, running up and down between the rooms, keeps tabs on both parties.
Gadgets as well are an integral part of the MI universe and here we have a spectrum of them from the super hi-tech eye piece Brandt is wearing, which can scan and send files instantly, to Benji’s fake arm prosthetic, made to look like he’s always holding a draped towel.
The simplicity of the fake arm is genius and unexpected, as we’ve come to think that everything will be handled by the IMF team using some outrageous technology, but this quick slight of hand is fun and reminds us that these agents are not just fighters, they are thinkers. Benji gets his chance to be more than the driver and the hacker, putting his training to work, and it’s great to see him succeed and not always be the buffoon.
Furthermore, the competing scale of the world’s tallest structure and the intimacy of the two meetings is also striking. We are always mindful of the setting, able to see out of the enormous windows of the rooms, aware of the height the players are at. It is a metaphor for the situation as well, the gravity of the danger and importance of the team’s success symbolized by the tower’s imposing size and the team’s attempt at manipulating its infrastructure. But more so is the approaching sandstorm that begins to cloud the horizon and view from every window. While it might seem like just another obstacle and plot device, the storm is allegorical, representing a coming chaos that we can never control, no matter how well prepared we are. The team, trying to recover nuclear launch codes from a madman, may have the ability to fool him, but there are no guarantees, and as unpredictable as the storm is, so too is guessing Sabine will know Brandt is scanning the documents.
The scene is a carefully layered moment that is built upon an already tense set-up and then grows subtly. Bird sets his camera up close and moves with the actors, always putting in frame everything we need to see to stay with the story. For long stretches, there is no dialogue as the camera carries us about each room, diving and reaching to show us what is happening in places many of the characters can’t even see. This is all accompanied by a low rising string ensemble from Michael Giacchino’s score, steadily building the stress. Characters look at each other, nod, smile, wince, size each other up. It is about who can out play the other. The scene eventually erupts into a brawl on two floors, and a chase through a blinding sandstorm, because hey, the franchise is about action and there’s no denying that this:
. . . isn’t freakin’ awesome. But for a short while, the film takes a moment to play spy and let the IMF team do what really matters.
It’s why when we talk movies, we love That Moment In . . . Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.
Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec
Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg