The Mission: Impossible series will never be remembered as the greatest action franchise in cinema history, but it is certainly one of the most consistent. Aside from a wonky second chapter by the dove and slow-motion obsessed John Woo, the series always delivers on the promise of big budget spectacle and gentle entertainment. There’s never any attempt at political commentary, no sense of the characters as genuine human beings, or even much of a distinct tone or personality to set the series apart from every other international spy caper out there. Nope, they are merely well produced vehicles designed for the sole purpose of putting Tom Cruise into the center of massive action set pieces.
In a way, they are like the President’s Choice of action flicks. You get what’s promised on the box and nothing more. However, in a genre filled with ambitious disappointments, merely delivering what’s expected can be more than enough. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol won’t instantly skyrocket to the top of your list of favorite action movies, but you won’t leave the theater disappointed either. For a what’s essentially a $150 million B-movie, that’s more than enough.
Following a stunt-filled prologue, the film opens with Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt locked up in a Russian prison. But, with it being Tom Cruise, that doesn’t last long and he’s quickly busted out of the joint-ski by Simon Pegg’s computer genius from MI:3 and a new lovely lady spy played by Paula Patton. Within a few scenes a nuclear warhead is stolen, the Kremlin is destroyed, and Cruise and co. are fugitives on the run accused of the crime. Of course, they aren’t responsible. In fact, their humanity’s last hope and set out on a mission to track down the man with the nuke along with another new agent played by The Hurt Locker’s Jeremy Renner. It’s not really worth getting into specifics plot-wise because it’s all pretty convoluted and kind of irrelevant. You don’t show up for a Mission: Impossible movie for the story. You’re there for the action sequences and this one has some dooseys.
Unlike the James Bond franchise which until recently went out of its way to avoid name directors, the M:I series has always had a directorial superstar calling the shots. Brian DePalma launched the series, Hong Kong import John Woo handled the second, and JJ Abrams took the reigns for the third chapter. Big names all around and Ghost Protocol adds a surprising choice to the mix in Brad Bird. The guy’s already won Oscars and has been one of the best directors in Hollywood for years with titles like Iron Giant, The Incredobles, and Ratatouille under his belt. As you may have noticed, those are all animated films, so Bird came into this project to prove he could handle live action and good golly miss molly did he ever deliver.
The action scenes in this film are so strong that you’d think the guy had been doing them for years. Shot in IMAX like the big bang moments in The Dark Knight, sequences like the prison break, a fight scene in a moving car lot, and most of all a dangling sequence on Dubai’s Burj Khalifa skyscraper (the tallest building in the world for those keeping score at home) are absolutely breathtaking. Bird designed and executed the scenes like he’d been doing it for years and should have no problem landing his next live action directing gig. The Burj Khalifa sequence alone is worth the price of admission. Particularly on an IMAX screen, it induces cheers and vertigo like few set pieces I can think of and will be remembered long after the rest of the film is forgotten.
Bird’s amazing action scenes are the reason to see Ghost Protocol. Everything else is pretty generic. Ethan Hunt has long been one of the least interesting action leads around. He essentially has no personality beyond Tom Cruise’s charisma and brooding glare, but fortunately that’s enough for this type of movie. Simon Pegg makes a welcome return and gets more than a few laughs as the comic relief and Jeremy Renner is perfectly watchable and the secondary action star. Other than that, the characters are all fairly disposable, there only to spit out exposition and keep the story moving. Paul Patton brings sex appeal and little else while Michael Nyqvist is the villain simply because the music tells us so and he has an accent. The story itself is completely unmemorable, but moves fast and makes things go boom every 15-20 minutes, so that’s fine.
Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol is a serviceable blockbuster that reaches moments of greatness in a handful of stunning action sequences. There’s really no intellectual content or even interesting characters to care about, but this type of movie should be a rollercoaster ride first and a piece of storytelling second, so that’s not really a problem. Sure, it would be nice if the series had charismatic James Bond-style villains for Cruise to face off against each time, but clearly that’s never going to happen. These movies are about letting Tom Cruise work his movie star magic and beat up bad guys. Viewed entirely on that level, this is probably the best entry in the franchise since the original. It’s just popcorn entertainment folks, but it does the job and makes the concession snacks go down smoothly. Sometimes that’s all you need.