Thursday, January 12, 2012

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol -- secrets and teams

Director: Brad Bird, 2011. (PG-13) 

When Ghost Protocol is enacted by the President, all of the IMF (Impossible Mission Force) is disavowed. They have no backup, no communications, no gadgets; they are on their own with just the world to save. It’s another mission impossible!

This one, though, is full of gadgets, a new team, and a new director. It might possibly be the best of the bunch, filled with more action than ever before. It won’t win any Oscars, but it will give thrill-ride junkies the satisfaction of being swept along for two hours at a wicked pace with whiplash action.

The movie opens with an IMF team trying to break into a Russian prison to free Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise). With Jane Carter (Paula Patton) running the op and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg, Hot Fuzz), returning from his cameo in MI3, manning the technical consoles in the spy truck outside, they are prepared to enact Hunt’s rescue. But there is a reason Hunt is in prison, which we find out later, and a reason the IMF want him out now. A crazy European, Kurt Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) is planning to launch a nuclear missile from a Russian sub to spark the next stage of human evolution and Hunt needs to stop him.

Hunt’s mission, with his team of Benji, now promoted to field agent, and Carter, is to recover the launch codes for the nuclear sub, thereby stopping Hendricks in his tracks. But it is not as easy as that. To do this, he must break into the Kremlin. Moreover, when he and Benji, on his first mission and nervous as a teen on his first date, make it into the Kremlin, a bomb goes off. The American team is implicated and the President enacts Ghost Protocol. With his mission still in place, Hunt has little time to stop Hendricks.

Another member joins his team: William Brandt (Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker). Apparently an analyst, he bears some hidden secrets and is carrying a bucket-load of shame. Only in the final post-climax concluding scenes do we discover his secret and even Hunt’s secret. Both have been bearing burdens the whole time, and it has impacted them and their relationship.

Secrets that harbor shame and guilt will damage relationships. In this case, we see Hunt and Brandt literally at each other’s throats without knowing why. When we carry such secrets around they become cancers, eating away at our character and sucking away our life. The best resolution is confession. Indeed, Brandt practices this at the end with positive results. Biblically, such advice is paralleled in John’s epistle. When our secrets cover up sin, we are entreated to bring them to God: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9). Such confession combined with repentance (Lk. 24:7) provides purification and reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:20). It worked with Brandt and Hunt; it will work with you and God.

Brandt may be an analyst, but once the fighting starts it is clear he knows a thing or two. He has seen field work. It was rumored that he was being lined up to replace Ethan Hunt when Cruise steps down, but these rumors have been disavowed. It is clear that Renner is replacing Matt Damon in the Bourne series. From Ghost Protocol, it seems that Cruise has years ahead of him in the main IMF role, and there is talk of Brad Bird and Tom Cruise preparing for MI5. And we hope this is so.

Indeed Cruise, even at 49, continues to do most of his own stunts. And what stunts they are in Ghost Protocol. The best is probably his attempt to climb the outside of the hotel in Dubai using electronically enhanced adhesive gloves (“blue is glue, red is dead”). Using the Burj Khalifa tower, literally the tallest building in the world, Hunt has to scale a dozen floors even while a sandstorm approaches and his gloves stop working. Then there is a tremendous mano-a-mano fight sequence in an automated car park in Mumbai. He brings new meaning to the term “head-on collision”!

And if this sounds like a James Bond film it should. There are glamorous locales a plenty. But unlike Bond, Hunt works with a team. And this is something director Brad Bird brings to this installment of the IMF series.

This is the first live-action feature film that Bird has helmed. He is better known for animated movies, like The Iron Giant or The Incredibles. Indeed, the latter Pixar film featured super-heroes who had to work together to conquer a master villain. On their own they were inadequate, together they were victorious.

Unlike earlier directors, this teamwork prevails throughout. In MI1, Hunt relied on his technical assistants, including Luther (Ving Rhames, who does have a cameo here), but he resorted to his own efforts at the end. Likewise in MI2, where John Woo brought a martial arts feel to the film but left Hunt to solve his own problems in a duel to the death. JJ Abrams directed MI3 with more of a family feel, Hunt getting married to Julie (Michelle Monaghan, who also has a cameo), but we remember that again Hunt ended up having to defeat the arms dealer without IMF support. Not so here.

At the climax, we find all four IMF team members heavily involved. All are necessary to save the planet. If any one of them fails in their sub-mission the missile will arrive and explode. Hunt is fighting Nyqvist for the launch codes. Carter must seduce an Indian to get access to the satellite. Brandt must reprogram the satellite while being levitated magnetically by Benji via a robot and a metallic undershirt. This is truly teamwork in action, just like in the old TV series. It is tremendously exciting.

It reminds us, too, of the teamwork necessary in the church. Paul uses the analogy of the human body with reference to the spiritual gifts God has distributed within the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12): “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ” (1 Cor. 12:12). He goes on to refer to the foot, the eye, the ear, the hand, and even our private parts. His point, though, is very clear: “The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” (v. 21). All are necessary for the body to function correctly, to operate as designed.

Likewise, God has given various kinds of spiritual gifts to people in the church and these are meant to function together. We are not all apostles, we are not all teachers. We are not all miracle workers. Some are, but most are not. We have other gifts, not necessarily less important, just different. This broad diversity of gifting enables the unity of the church. We should not be caught up with what we are not; rather we should rejoice with the gifts God has given us. And we should use them in the context of the church, to enable it to achieve its mission: to glorify God and to spread the gospel.

We will never be an Ethan Hunt, climbing impossible towers. We are more likely to be a Benji Dunn, cracking nervous jokes as we do something outside of our comfort zone. But we can rely on God to work through us to achieve his impossible mission as we exercise the gifts he has given us through his Spirit, the Holy Ghost. We can be certain that in this mission, he will not enact ghost protocol and disavow us!

Copyright©2012, Martin Baggs

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