Franchise Expansion (Or Implosion) – Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

by Ben Martin

Franchise Expansion (or Implosion) is a column that looks at franchises that have new installments or releases forthcoming. In looking at a franchise, each entry in a franchise will be given a review and then be examined as part of the bigger franchise. (i.e., Was this sequel a worthy expansion of this franchise or was it an implosion of sorts?)

The mission, which I have chosen to accept is to review the Mission: Impossible franchise. A sixth installment, Mission: Impossible- Fallout opens at the end of this month. With that in mind, I’ll examine this franchise that has spanned 22 years and six Missions. This time around, I’ll review the film that’s considered to be a real evolution of this franchise. With that, let’s look at the IMF file on Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol!

There’s one major complaint that old-school fans of the Mission: Impossible TV series have always had about the film franchise in review. Said gripe is that these movies have always focused on its star, Tom Cruise (Jack Reacher: Never Go Back), as opposed to being ensemble pieces, like the show on which they’re based. As I mentioned in my review of Mission: Impossible III (2006), I understood fans having this issue but was never particularly perturbed by it. However, after seeing M:i-III, I fully realized that (up until that entry) this franchise had failed to incorporate the team dynamic. To me, this franchise being star-focused for so long was a mistake. I’ll admit to being a mark for Cruise, but  the team aspect of Mission: Impossible is a large part of what makes it unique in the spy genre. Thankfully, it was clear that Cruise and the filmmakers understood that following the third Mission.
As a result, after Tom Cruise had a string of films that were only mildly financially successful and panned critically, he knew it was time to go on another Mission. In doing so, Cruise decided to take a smart, albeit, safe approach. That being to incorporate the team dynamic and tone of that more heavily than ever. Also, for the first time in the series history, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011) was slated to have the same director in J.J. Abrams, who helmed the previous entry. And, unlike any of its predecessors, Ghost Protocol would intentionally incorporate continuity. Unlike the earlier films which had never referenced such.

Alas, as is the case with every Mission, this fourth installment proved difficult, though not impossible to get off the ground. The film was plagued with production delays and script-rewrites to the point where Abrams stepped down as director. At the time, the production window for Abrams’ passion project, Super 8 (2011) had opened, and pre-production needed to begin. However, Abrams did remain onboard as a producer to help guide the film tonally. In need of a new director, Cruise and Abrams made an inspired choice.
They approached Brad Bird, who brought us this summer’s Incredibles 2. Bird had been an animator and director of animated films at Pixar for years. Although he’s considered a master in the animation medium; the fact remains that Bird had never done any live-action work before the picture in review. Such a fact left many, including myself, to wonder if Bird was the right person to head-up this Mission. Well, I’ll go ahead and tell you. I should have never doubted Bird’s abilities or the intuition of those who elected him to direct this installment. Bird quickly showed vision and fully-invested in the project.

Jumping in with enthusiasm is a great thing. And, in Bird’s case, doing so would provide much momentum to the movie, and with good reason. You see, when he asked J.J. Abrams for a copy of the screenplay for Ghost Protocol, Abrams confessed that they didn’t have a completed document yet. To the contrary, the script was being re-drafted by screenwriters Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemac (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows). So, just as with Mission: Impossible (1996), this fourth film went into production with an incomplete screenplay which was continually being redrafted. Adding to the irony is the fact original Mission: Impossible screenwriters Steven Zaillian and David Koepp performed uncredited rewrites on Ghost Protocol.
As a result, the following story unfolds. Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is back in the field. Unfortunately, for Ethan, his latest mission has gone askew, resulting in a bombing of The Kremlin. Following these events, the IMF is shut down due to being implicated in the incident. Despite being disavowed, Ethan and his team must now go rogue to prevent a terrorist known as Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist) from employing nuclear launch codes he acquired during The Kremlin attack.
If Ghost Protocol has a significant weakness, it’s this story. Mind you; it’s not the narrative is terrible, it’s merely generic. The plot works, but it also would’ve worked in a Sean Connery era Bond adventure. Perhaps it’s the simplicity of the plot or the fact that it has shadows of The Cold War hanging over it. Whatever the case, such a narrative feels recycled and standard. Although, that’s not to say that this screenplay doesn’t have its strong suits. Indeed, the screenplay nails not only action set pieces; but also a proper team dynamic.

As is tradition, Ethan has a new team this time around. That is, except for Benji (Simon Pegg). The new blood here is missions analyst, Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and IMF agent, Jane (Paula Patton). For the first time in this franchise’s history, the team dynamic is fully-utilized. It took four films to get an actual ensemble piece; but Ghost Protocol fits the bill! No doubt a result of superb casting choices. Renner, Pegg, and Patton provide perfect partners for Cruise. Thus, we finally get to see a team working together as opposed to working behind the franchise’s star. Of course, this is because a team dynamic is one of the focuses of Ghost Protocol.

Then there’s the movie’s other focus which is action. While this entry may have a lackluster plot, the action here makes up for it. In fact, I would argue that Ghost Protocol showcases the best action sequences of any Mission thus far! At the very least, (except for wire scene in M:i) this is the only other installment featuring sequences that fill my stomach with butterflies and make other parts of my anatomy tighten-up! All of which is expertly crafted by director Brad Bird; as is every other aspect of the movie. Frankly, Ghost Protocol is a better-made film than its direct predecessor. Then again it helps that this sequel looks fantastic; having been shot by cinematographer Robert Elswit (Tomorrow Never Dies).

For all the film craft presented, Bird also manages to inject some fun into the franchise. Yes, all of these pictures have been entertaining. Yet, I wouldn’t necessarily call any of the previous installments fun. Ghost Protocol, however, is a ton of fun. Unlike those that came before it, this fourth Mission embraces the silliness of the spy genre just enough. Doing so by having more outlandish action sequences as well as having Cruise actually say, “Mission accomplished!” It should be made clear though that the movie never goes overboard on that kind of thing. Instead, it’s just enough fun to open up this franchise’s future potential.

In the opinion of this reviewer, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is the best representation of what this franchise can be. Or perhaps, should have been all along. Then again, film franchises must learn from every entry to maintain proper growth. Ghost Protocol does just that, making it a substantial Franchise Evolution! While the film covered here, may not be my favorite. It may very well be the best film in the series. Though, I’ll reveal my thoughts on the best and favorite entries once Mission: Impossible – Fallout is released.

But before that, there’s one more installment to be reviewed. Join me next time when I review the fifth movie in this franchise, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation!

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