Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011) a (right on time!) review

I’m re-posting this review here (it was in my original, now defunct blog that used to be in this place).  I’ve revised it a bit for clarity, but it is essentially all here:

Short review: Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is a fun, exciting action film with some truly great action sequences that will have viewers -especially those who went to see the film in IMAX- on the edge of their seat.  Only real minus: the villain, Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist), isn’t terribly well developed.  He’s just “there”, a deadly threat who is being chased throughout the film but, in the end, a character who isn’t defined much beyond being a bad guy who wants to start a nuclear war between the Soviets and the USA.   I would even recommend the movie to those who may have had their fill of Tom Cruise.  Set those feelings aside.  He’s awfully good in this movie, as is the “team” around him.

SPOILER-filled review follows!

Have you ever seen a film that, upon exiting the theaters, you could tell it underwent some major revisions in the story it was trying to tell?

Note, for example, how the original Lethal Weapon began:  The movie starts with a pretty young (and topless!) woman very graphically falling to her death from a ten story building.  We then switch over to a mentally damaged Vietnam vet (Mel Gibson’s Martin Riggs) who is doubly traumatized by the war and the recent death of the love of his life.   He’s a man who wanders naked in his trailer home, drinking heavily while building up the courage to -quite literally- blow his brains out.  After this very heavy and melodramatic start, what should happen?   The film makes a very sudden shift in tone and becomes a slapstick action/comedy, with Riggs acting more and more like a missing member of the three stooges!  The most incredible thing?  Despite that R-rated “grindhouse”-type start, the shift worked!   To this day, I suspect the original script of the film was more in line with those first ten or so minutes of the movie, but the director and actors decided to move into other territory, eschewing the script in the process.

But changing a film on the fly doesn’t always work quite as well.  I was so excited when the original Tim Burton-directed Batman was about to be released that I purchased and read the film’s novelization before the movie’s release.  Upon seeing the film, I was surprised to find the second half of the novel and the second half of the movie were completely different.  The differences between the novel and what appeared on the screen, I could only guess, were the result of the novel’s author going by the film’s screenplay while Mr. Burton and company deciding while filming to eschew the screenplay and go their own way.  This, in turn, explains why the second half of the movie was so…out there.  Note, however, that what was in the novel was not all that much better.  The original Batman film was cursed with a great opening but a weak conclusion.

In a very roundabout way, this leads us back to Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.  Upon seeing the film, I was satisfied with the experience, as mentioned above, but I immediately suspected there were some big changes made to the movie’s script, changes that made a darker, more labyrinthine story far more simple.  For if there is one thing anyone who sees the movie should realize is that the film presents numerous very, very strong hints that someone within the Impossible Missions group (IMF for short) is a traitor.  And yet, despite all those very clear indications early on, by the time the film ends, that element is completely discarded and ignored!

Allow me to present my case.

In the film, we begin with a botched mission involving Josh Hollaway’s Hanaway, Paula Patton’s Jane, and Simon Pegg’s Benji.  In a train station Hanaway pilfers a file and is immediately (indeed, almost too quickly) identified by the bad guys and is given chase.  Hanaway eludes the bad guys, but just when he thinks he’s gotten away, he is confronted by Sabine Moreau (Lea Seydoux) a beautiful female blond assassin who shoots him and steals the prized file.

Jane, Hanaway’s teammate and (we find) girlfriend, arrives just as he draws his last breaths.  Tears are shed for the lost teammate/boyfriend and the story proper then begins.  Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) joins the remains of that original team and continues their mission.

They’re off, with only four or so hours to spare, to infiltrate the Kremlin and steal some nuclear missile codes that, in conjunction with the now lost file Hanaway had, will allow the big bad guy the ability to launch a nuclear weapon.  As it turns out, the big bad guy, Hendricks, is already in the Kremlin, stealing the files right under the nose of Ethan Hunt and his group (or is he?  More on that in a second).  Not only that, Hendricks knows the IMF is there, and makes a fake radio message on their radio frequency (which the Russians hear) implicating them for what follows: a massive bomb that takes out a section of the Kremlin.

Thus, in very short order our bad guy has had the jump on the IMF team not once, but twice.  But how would he know what they’re doing in such a short period of time?  There is only one possibility, of course:  Someone in that group is a mole and tipped him off.

Later in the film, the team is in Dubai.  The female blonde assassin, Sabine, is selling the file she took from Hanaway to Hendricks.  The IMF team is forced to separate the buyer from the seller because a key piece of their tech malfunctioned (as presented in the final cut of the film, this is just an innocent thing.  But if we are to assume one of the IMF members is a mole…).  Because of the malfunction in the equipment, the big bad, or rather his henchman, has to be given the actual nuclear codes because he brought along someone who can verify them.

The teams separate, in a clever set piece where buyers and sellers and their files/pay is swapped.   The upside to all this is that Ethan is forced to chase after Hendricks’ henchman while Jane, still nursing extreme hatred toward Sabine for what she did to her boyfriend, has to guard the blonde assassin.   Before this, Ethan Hunt had drilled into the team the need to keep Sabine alive.   She is an “asset”, he says, and Jane can get her revenge on Sabine AFTER they have gotten intel from her.

But what does Jane do with Sabine?

She has Benji guard her while she blows off steam in the bathroom.  She leaves a deadly killer who -incredibly!- hasn’t been subdued or handcuffed, to be guarded by the team member who is least qualified to take care of her!  Of course, Sabine busts loose.  Belatedly Jane jumps into action, fighting Sabine and eventually kicking her out of the building and to her death.  Dead men/women, as they say, tell no tales.

Meanwhile, Ethan Hunt chases Hendricks’ henchman through Dubai.  In the course of the chase, Ethan grabs at the henchman’s face, ripping off a piece of it.  Ethan is shocked to realize the henchman is wearing an IMF face mask disguise!

It was precisely at that point in the film that (I thought!) the movie’s plot became crystal clear.   The “henchman,” I was certain, was in actuality Josh Holloway’s Hanaway.  He wasn’t really killed by Sabine after all.  And because it was his girlfriend, Jane, at his side when he supposedly “died”, that meant she too knew he was still alive.

Things fell into place.

Which of the IMF people was outside the Kremlin when the explosion went off?  Jane.  Of the three members of the IMF, she was in the safest place when the explosion occurred -on purpose!- and she was the one that made sure the IMF people were right where they needed to be.  She set the trap.

Backing up a little, it was now clear Hanaway and Jane had also subcontracted Sabine to get the file and fake Hanaway’s death.  That in turn explained why the IMF equipment malfunctioned (Jane sabotaged it) and also explained why Jane mysteriously left Sabine alone with the inexperienced Benji.  Sabine likely thought Jane was giving her an opportunity to escape while in reality Jane was setting up another double cross to plausibly be “forced” to kill the blonde assassin despite Ethan Hunt’s repeated instructions she be kept alive.  Returning to Hendricks’ appearance within the Kremlin:  Clearly it was Hanaway disguised as Hendricks who was actually there.  After all, wasn’t it odd how he almost made himself be seen by Ethan Hunt?

Now, I was certain, as Ethan Hunt grasped the piece of facial disguise, he was aware of this subterfuge.   He knew Hanaway was alive.  After all, who but an IMF agent would use such a disguise?  For all we knew, the supposed big bad guy, Michael Nyqvist’s Hendricks, may not have even been alive anymore.  The bad guys, all along, were Hanaway and Jane.  It all made so much sense.

And then the movie proceeded.

Ethan Hunt looks up at the henchman, whom he had just ripped part of his disguise off of.  The bad guy is in the back of a truck, quickly moving away from Ethan Hunt’s reach.   The bad guy rips the rest of the mask off, revealing he’s… Hendricks.


As the movie continued to its end, this little reveal made increasingly less sense.   First off, why would Hendricks go to Dubai disguised as his own henchman?   Later in the film, when the actual henchman appears at his side, we find the man is in complete lock step with his boss…to the point where he’s very willing to die for their shared beliefs.  Again, why would Hendricks show up personally in Dubai, dressed as his own henchman when the guy is so clearly loyal to him?   It made no sense.  When the film was over, I was more convinced than ever that the original story had Josh Holloway’s Hanaway and Paula Patton’s Jane as the “big bads”.   But maybe during production of the film all those double crosses were considered a little too much and the decision was made to streamline the story.

Thus, Hanaway dies at the start of the film, period.  Jane is one of the good guys, period.   Hendricks is the bad guy, period.  Despite mountains of evidence, there is no mole.  Hendricks has the jump on the IMF force several times because…well…because he’s a very smart bad guy.  No more explanation offered or needed.

Much simpler.  Yet not nearly as satisfying.  Still, it didn’t destroy the film and I continue to recommend it.  However, I do think the film could/should have been even better, if indeed it originally had these concepts.

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