Mission: Impossible hits its stride with Ghost Protocol, a new Girl in town

by Mark Burger

The fourth time’s the charm for the Mission: Impossible screen franchise, as Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol is by far the best film of the series Bouncing around the globe (Moscow, Dubai, Mumbai, etc.), the story sees veteran agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise, encoring as star and producer) and his IMF cohorts in a race to prevent the Cold War from reigniting. Their last assignment was an elaborate set-up, with them taking the blame for a bombing at the Kremlin.

In order to clear the organization’s good name — and save the world along the way — this impossible mission involves a good number of white-knuckle thrills and spills, a gaggle of gadgets and gizmos, and the obligatory, if sleekly spectacular, destruction of people and property. No fair guessing as to who emerges triumphant in the end, but it would hardly be a stretch to contemplate Ethan’s further cinematic excursions.

Cruise’s poker-faced solemnity is nicely balanced by his onscreen team; Simon Pegg provides the comic relief, Paula Patton the glamour (indeed she does), and Jeremy Renner some like-minded intensity as IMF analyst Brandt, who finds himself at odds with Ethan while also nursing a secret (not too deep and not too dark) about his past.

Michael Nyqvist (of the original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series) plays the principal villain, the megalomaniac Hendricks, and the throwaway reasoning for his nefarious deeds boils down to “because he’s crazy.” (Under these circumstances, it’s hardly necessary to bother with psychological nuance.)

Vladimir Mishkov, Miraj Grbic, lovely and lethal Lea Seydoux and Slumdog Millionaire’s Anil Kapoor are among the others thrown in (and sometimes out) of the line of fire, while reliable Tom Wilkinson drops in briefly as the head of IMF, although a successor will surely be required if there’s another installment.

The American version of Stieg Larsson’s international best-seller, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is certainly top-heavy with talent, with an international cast headed by Daniel Craig, acclaimed director David Fincher at the helm, and Oscar-winner Steven Zaillian penning the screenplay.

The result is an engrossing and entertaining mystery yarn that does no disgrace whatsoever to its literary source, although it seriously overstays its welcome with a 160-minute running time. Those familiar with the original Swedish film trilogy – collectively an art-house smash in the US — may find it difficult not to compare the two, as the Swedish films were extremely good. For those unfamiliar with the earlier films, the point is moot.

Craig’s Mikael Blomqvist is an intrepid journalist licking his wounds after his career is crippled by a recent lawsuit. Rather than brood about his situation, he agrees to assist tycoon Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer, welcome as always) solve a 40-year family mystery — the disappearance of Vanger’s niece some 40 years before. Under the guise of writing Vanger’s biography, Mikael begins delving into the Vanger family’s past, opening up the proverbial can of worms along the way.

Aiding Mikael from both far and near is the title character, the mysterious Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), a fiercely striking — and strikingly fierce — young woman who favors piercings and tattoos, and who is one of the best computer “researchers” (read: hacker) around. The two make an engagingly unlikely duo as they sift through clues and sort through a veritable rogue’s gallery of suspects, (naturally) putting their own lives in peril along the way.

The film’s chilly — and chilling — atmosphere is well captured by cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, with secrets and corruption lurking just under the surface. Craig is fine as the put-upon hero, and although it’s a tall order measuring up to Noomi Rapace’s starmaking turn as the “original” Lisbeth, Mara acquits herself well.

The supporting cast is peppered with familiar faces: Stellan Skarsgard, Steven Berkoff, Goran Visnjic, Joely Richardson, Robin Wright (as Mikael’s editor/lover), Julian Sands, Martin Jarvis and Geraldine James, while Embeth Davidtz pops up in the tiny role of Mikael’s ex-wife. It’s not altogether difficult to figure out whodunit, even for those unfamiliar with either the book or the earlier film, but The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo hasn’t lost much of its initial power in this translation.

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