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The filmmakers’ mission, which they chose to accept, was to resurrect the Mission: Impossible saga and Tom Cruise’s faltering career. By all appearances, it’s mission accomplished, as Mission: Impossible –Ghost Protocol has claimed the top spot at the box office and made more money than any Cruise film since Mission: Impossible III.
Surprisingly, Ghost Protocol tones down the violence, sexual content, and darkness of the M:I series with this installment, keeping things lighter with clever humor, less brutality, and a return to the more classic M:I roots. Unfortunately, the bar of negative content was raised so high in the previous M:I films, that even a lowering of that bar leaves viewers with too much flippant violence, sensuality, and relativistic ethics to consider this a mission worth watching.
Ethan Hunt, the now-familiar leader of the Impossible Missions Force (IMF) from the M:I movies, is back, but it’s hard to tell that at first. Ethan, viewers soon see, is locked behind bars in a Russian prison. In a promising start for action fans, the excitement of this story immediately takes off full-blast as two agents make a harrowing attempt to break Ethan out of this highly secure facility.
Once Ethan is free, there’s barely time to take a breath before he’s sent on a mission with a downsized team. To keep the audience fully involved, mysteries surrounding Ethan and what happened to him since the last M:I movie are teasingly dangled. [SPOILER WARNING] Ethan has apparently gone “rogue” by performing unauthorized killings, and yet the U.S. government is once again asking for his help.
Amid these intriguing unknowns, Ethan and the two agents he barely knows (one of whom is inexperienced in the field) have to hurriedly tackle a mission at the Kremlin. [SPOILER WARNING] Despite their high-tech equipment and Ethan’s expertise, something goes very wrong at the Kremlin, and the M:I agents suddenly find themselves taking the blame for an act of terrorism they didn’t commit.
The result? Ethan has to go underground once again and lead his makeshift IMF in a race to solve all the mysteries and save the U.S. against an imminent nuclear attack.
Explosive, thrilling action is the number one focus of this film, and with so much creativity (and money) aimed at that one goal, Ghost Protocol offers an incredibly exciting viewing experience. The stunts, especially those performed by Cruise as Ethan, are always impressive and occasionally astounding. In addition, the writing of the script and shape of the story itself are tailored to catalyze optimum opportunity for excitement, and this filmmaking team capitalizes on that material.
Director Brad Bird brings the same imagination that was so apparent in his animated film, The Incredibles, and applies it to live action with the help of a highly skilled special effects crew. Regrettably, Bird does not deliver on his family-friendly pedigree with Ghost Protocol. Perhaps Bird is to thank for the lessening of the negative elements that defined the other M:I films, but then he also could be blamed for not infusing this movie with the true heroism and uplifting values that permeated his previous work.
Instead, ethical problems are rampant from the opening moments to the close. Most prominent among these is the issue of utilitarian, casual violence. Though the graphic nature and amount of this violence is reduced from, in particular, the third M:I installment, Ghost Protocol has more than its share and, one could argue, might be even more dangerous, as such toned-down, fast-paced violence is often easier for viewers to accept and unconsciously absorb.
That kind of audience reaction is this film’s ideal, as the characters fully endorse the violence themselves as necessary and useful so long as it serves their purposes. Ethan, in particular, feels confident in deciding when violence and even death is appropriate to dish out and when it should be avoided. The only time that killing is frowned upon in this film, then, is when it counteracts the goal of the mission or when it is the brutal murder of a person loved by one of the “good guys.”
[SPOILER WARNING] At one point, viewers may think there’s hope for some sort of moral message from this film when Ethan speaks with another agent about the quest to avenge the murder of a loved one. In this conversation, Ethan indicates that executing the killers doesn’t actually bring satisfaction or healing, Ethan’s stance here is supposedly backed by his experience with taking such revenge himself, but his admission that it didn’t help, which would’ve offered the only redemptive moment in this film, is later undermined by the revelation that he actually didn’t kill out of revenge, but rather out of a desire to hide a truth that might have jeopardized someone he loves.
Beginning with the opening scene, in which innocent, bystanding guards are senselessly beaten by rioting criminals because of Ethan and his friends, Ghost Protocol promotes an idea of heroism that is relativistic at best and incredibly dangerous at worst. Long gone is the simple neck chop that TV’s M:I force used to effectively and humanely stop its enemies. Instead, this film’s “heroes” take revenge where and when they want, kill and injure people at will, and have no consistent morality guiding any of their actions.
The treatment of women is, as with all the M:I films, equally damaging. Fans of the M:I series may breathe a sigh of relief at the decrease in sexual exploitation of women in this film, as compared to the other M:Is, and may be happy to see the new character Agent Jane Carter, who is as brave and competent as the male agents. Her full admission into the boys’ club of action heroes, however, merely means that she gets to inflict pain and death on as many people, and with as little remorse, as the men.
[SPOILER WARNING] Yet, showing the dichotomy that exists in modern culture, Jane will never be a true equal with the men as long as she has no qualms (any more than the filmmakers do) about subjecting herself as a sex object when it has the potential to help the mission.
At one point, clothed in an immodest dress, Jane flaunts her body flirtatiously to seduce a target. In a change from previous M:I films, Jane never intends to go “all the way” with the man, but she doesn’t hesitate to sacrifice dignity and modesty on the altar of good intentions. Little wonder, then, that this sequence is followed by Jane undressing (to change clothes) in the front seat of a car next to a male agent. This scene isn’t intended to be sensual, but certainly endorses a complete abandonment of modesty, morality, and a biblical treatment of sexuality.
Beyond these ethical issues, Ghost Protocol also has weaknesses in artistic areas. Character development was never a strength of the M:I series, on the small or big screen, and Ghost Protocol offers no improvement there. The supporting characters are without exception predictable, and Ethan is the only character who has more than one dimension. Even Ethan, however, suffers from a lack of development that would make him downright dull if he wasn’t so constantly hanging off buildings and crashing cars.
Ghost Protocol manages to hide some of the evidence of this particular fault by compiling a cast of strong actors. Paula Patton (as Jane) and Jeremy Renner are particularly strong in their roles that sadly underuse their talents. Cruise is a gifted comedian who too rarely gets to show the lighter side of his abilities, but this film, unlike the M:I movies before it, sprinkles comedy throughout the action, enabling Cruise to be at his best.
The humorous element of this movie, in addition to the wildly imaginative situational concepts, is the strength of the script, as the dialogue and situations are often witty and clever. Frequently with tongue-in-cheek, the screenplay also makes multiple references to the TV show that inspired the M:I film.
A final criticism is one that can be made of many recent action-driven films, as the unending stream of dangers and stunts that pile up to an inordinate sum by the climax starts to threaten the audience’s suspension of disbelief. After all, just how many times can a person survive death-defying falls, collisions, and the like? If the name is Ethan Hunt, evidently even a cat can’t compete.
Even so, watching a “hero” defy death so many times while showing off impressive skills and intelligence can be thoroughly enjoyable. And Ghost Protocol is undeniably fun to watch. The thrills of the action in this film are matched by few movies, and it’s all done on a canvas of international sites and wonders, showcased with stellar cinematography. But this is one case when viewers need to question if Ghost Protocol’s brand of fun is worth the detriment that comes with it.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it: to watch this movie without letting the negative elements affect you, or, perhaps, make the more courageous choice of not watching it at all.
Check out these movies instead:
Batman Begins (Warner Bros., 2005)
Spider-Man (Columbia Pictures, 2002)
The Incredibles (Disney, 2004)