I’ve seen all the previous Mission: Impossible films, and while I do recall liking them to varying degrees, I’m hard pressed to say that I remember anything about their plots, characters, stunts, special effects, or even their casts. What I do remember, obviously, is that they all starred Tom Cruise. With Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Pixar veteran Brad Bird not only makes his live-action directorial debut, he’s also eager to have you forget the first three entries in the series entirely. He succeeds. This is a fun, thoroughly entertaining, immensely satisfying spy/action thriller. It actually makes an effort with an engaging plot, clever dialogue, pulse-pounding stunts, great special effects, and well-developed characters. It even has just the right amount of humor. If there’s anything a movie like this shouldn’t do, it’s take itself too seriously.
But it also shouldn’t be so silly that it becomes a self-congratulatory form of parody. Ghost Protocol shows a clear awareness of the spy-movie formula, utilizing such clichés as frequent travel, exotic locations, high-tech gadgets and gizmos, impossible stunt work, foreign madmen, nuclear codes, and a scheme to create chaos and war on a global scale. It also makes no apologies for being preposterous, as evidenced by the outlandish displays of technology and numerous scenes of destruction and death-defying escapes. And yet, never once does anyone stop to wink at us slyly. Bird gives audiences what they want without insulting their intelligence. For the first time in what seems like ages, I didn’t ask any questions; I just sat back and let the story happen.
Cruise returns as Ethan Hunt, an agent for the aptly named Impossible Missions Force (IMF). After being sprung from a Moscow prison, he joins fellow agents Jane Carter (Paula Patton) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) on a mission to infiltrate the Kremlin and gather files on a person of interest codenamed Cobalt, a name somehow tied to the death of another IMF agent in Budapest. But wait a minute. Did I say infiltrate the Kremlin? To describe this feat would only spoil the fun. Let’s just say that this kick starts a chain reaction that leads Hunt and his team around the world. The first stop is Dubai, where Hunt is forced to scale the Burj Khalifa using nothing but specialized sticky gloves. In case you don’t know, the Burj Khalifa is the world’s tallest building, standing at just over 2,700 feet tall. I’ve never been acrophobic, although I’d be lying if I said that seeing Hunt hundreds of stories high clinging to glass panes didn’t make my heart race.
On two floors of the tower, two separate meetings will simultaneously take place. Both are in regards to making an exchange. They each involve people who are either pretending to be someone else or are not wise to the fact that they’re being deceived. Here’s an example of timing so precise, performances so nuanced, and editing so skillful that the scenes never fail to generate suspense. But mere descriptions can hardly do them justice. The same applies to a surprisingly spectacular car chase, which happens in the middle of a sandstorm. Perhaps we’re too accustomed to always seeing the cars in movies like this. And speaking of cars, there’s a superbly choreographed showdown in an automated parking garage in Mumbai, where vehicles are lifted and lowered into place via a concrete elevator. There’s a lot of jumping, falling, punching, and precarious dangling.
Upping the stakes for these agents is the fact that they’re being shadowed by an unknown operative, who successfully got them blamed for a catastrophic explosion in Moscow – which, consequently, has the Russians believing the Americans have initiated an act of war. This calculated move results in the IMF being dismantled from the inside out under a covert operation known as Ghost Protocol. If Hunt and his team are to track down Cobalt and prevent nuclear war, they will have to do it completely on their own. Their actions will not be officially sanctioned by the American government, but then again, even those in power know that a few rules need to be bent in desperate situations.
Along for the ride is William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), an IMF analyst with remarkably good fighting skills. How he came to be a part of Hunt’s team, I leave for you to discover. The same goes for the secrets he’s keeping from Hunt. What I liked about this character is that he addresses many of the questions audiences are likely to ask themselves. Exactly how does one think of using a dead body and a lit flare to dodge underwater gunfire? Or of wearing a metal suit under your clothes so that you can jump twenty-five feet into a concrete cylinder, be caught mid fall by a magnetized rover vehicle before being shredded by a giant fan, and be dragged floating through a massive computer core? Or of wearing a special contact lens that can take pictures when you blink twice? You’ve got to love this. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is a mission you should choose to accept.