Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

This fourth installment in the Mission: Impossible film franchise has a plot, which means it is an enormous improvement over the (terrible) second film in the series. It also has a very simple and straightforward plot, unlike the more complicated first and third films in the series. The plot of this fourth film might be a little too simple actually, but it serves to set up the action sequences that make this film so enjoyable.

The plot – The Impossible Missions Force (IMF) is being blamed for an attack on Russia, and the president institutes “Ghost Protocol.” All the IMF agents are disavowed, and only Ethan Hunt’s (Tom Cruise) team is kept in action to catch the villain truly responsible for the attack and exonerate the IMF. Hunt’s team knows who is responsible and more or less how to catch him, but complication arise, it seems, because without them we wouldn’t have a movie. The convenience of these complications undermines the urgency of the plot.

The complications do serve to facilitate extraordinary action sequences though. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol‘s action sequences are great because they are real. So often these days it seems films feature action played out in front of a green screen, and as good as today’s CGI is, it’s not reality, and CGI stunts just lack peril. Ghost Protocol has peril. The scene where Tom Cruise climbs up the side of the world’s tallest building is worth the price of admission alone.

The movie is full of visceral power, but it is almost equally devoid of emotional umph. There is an attempt at relational conflict based on one character’s guilt concerning his role in the fate of another’s family, but because this isn’t brought up until over half way through the film, and because this relational conflict never plays into the situational conflict of the story, it lacks weight. It felt tacked on to me, as if the action of the film was predetermined, and the emotion was added out of perceived necessity. It’s not necessary though, and because it feels pasted on after the fact, it distracts from the compelling action.

The original Mission: Impossible television show is still the longest running espionage show of all time. The show is famous for it’s intricate plots and lack of character development. The point of the show was the playing out of the IMF team’s plans. The show was about the plot not the people, and it worked because it stuck to that motif. Mission: Impossible the television show never explained its plans to its audience. It just let the audience watch as the plan unfolded. Modern espionage stories always explain the plan to the audience beforehand, and then the audience watches as the plans mess up and the players must improvise. Responding to complications is fertile ground for character growth, but that only works if that is the story’s intent from the outset. Ghost Protocol doesn’t seem to ever make up its mind what it wants to be. It’s still fun though. It’s just not emotionally compelling.