The Mission: Impossible films have been decidedly mixed bags in the 15 years since the first film came out. Based on the popular television series from the ’60s and ’70s, they’ve all taken different approaches to modernizing the serial’s dashing hero, Ethan Hunt, and his team, the Impossible Mission Force. The newest entry, Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, is a loud, bombastic, unrelenting exercise in the ridiculous and unbelievable. It throws all elements of rationality and common sense out the window, and is rife with impossible technologies, insane leaps of logic, and some glaring plot holes.
But holy shitballs, is it a lot of fun.
Ghost Protocol is directed by Brad Bird, in his first live-action feature film. After cutting his teeth on animated fare such as The Incredibles and The Iron Giant, Bird finally makes the leap to the real world, and he does it in a manner that easily betrays his roots. The plot of the film is simple enough, despite its convoluted development — the Kremlin is bombed while Ethan and company are trying to steal something from it. He and his team are blamed, the IMF is disbanded, and in order to clear their names and save the world, they must chase after a villainous madman named Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist) before he … does a bunch of bad things and kills everyone. Of course, there’s more to the story than that, but a) it’s really all you need to know going in and b) no point in ruining your fun.
Despite the aforementioned flaws, Bird has accomplished something that occasionally evaded those responsible for the prior films — he made it fun. Really fun. Much of that is due to an excellent cast that plays off of each other exceptionally well. In past efforts, the focus has been on Ethan (Tom Cruise) and his steady sidekick, Luther (who isn’t in this entry). This time, he’s got Benji (Simon Pegg), Jane (Paula Patton), and the mysterious, late-to-the party Brandt (Jeremy Renner). And while Cruise certainly and understandably gets the lion’s share of the action, the other three manage to snag substantial pieces of the film, and they’re great. Pegg is wonderfully dry-witted and affable, a nervous, blabbermouth geek who finds that life in the field is far more intense than he expected. Patton’s Jane is a gorgeous asskicker with a taste for vengeance, and I must applaud Bird for minimizing the “vamp” aspects and instead showing her as a smart, clever and deadly member of the team. And Renner’s Brandt is the x-factor, the enigmatic puzzle piece that they don’t know or trust, but nonetheless need. At the same time, he plays the part with an odd vulnerability and nervousness that makes him endearing.
Of course the film is, as they’ve all been, dependent on Cruise to carry it, and he does so gamely. Cruise is incredibly divisive, of course, but he’s a hell of an action star, and he’s damn good in this. His intensity is on full display, but he also manages the moments of levity quite well, and it’s those traits that allow the team’s chemistry to work so effectively. Coupled with Cruise’s utterly mad stunt work — he’s notorious for performing most of his stunts by himself — and it’s hard not to appreciate his work in the film, regardless of his personal life’s wingnuttery.
The cast works wonderfully on their own and together, but it’s the action that’s the lead. And Bird has an uncanny gift for assembling an action scene. The pace of Ghost Protocol is relentless, almost exhausting, as they fly around the world getting into chases, fights, and narrow (really narrow) escapes. It stretches credibility to the snapping point — a team that’s been disavowed and has no one to turn to conveniently has every single piece of tech that they’d need for the specific and highly unlikely scenarios that they find themselves in. It’s reminiscent of video game writing, where the character conveniently finds a grenade launcher right before encountering something that can only be killed with a grenande launcher. Yet despite that, I couldn’t help buying into it, because, despite the films pseudo-serious tones, everyone seems to be having so much fun. Coupled with Bird’s absolutely spectacular action direction and the wickedly clever moments of intrigue, and you’ll find yourself engrossed and trying to ignore your own rolling eyes.
The story of Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol is actually pretty good. It’s complex and intriguing, and it’s certainly engaging to watch Ethan and his rogue IMF team race against time and enemies as they try to save the world. The problem isn’t the story, it’s the little parts along the way that occasionally fail. It’s a film that’s radically dependent on suspension of disbelief, on a certain acceptance of coincidence and illogical occurrence. The villains lack the punch of some of the past ones, and Nyquist’s Hendricks could basically have been played by anyone, but in part that’s due to the film’s narrow focus on the team’s players. The gadgetry is wickedly fun, borderline nonsensical, James Bond-type stuff, but Bird and company is wise enough to never be entirely dependent on it. Instead, Bird played to the strengths of his cast and his skills as a director of insanely paced, breathtaking scenery. The rest takes care of itself. You’re either along for the ride, regardless of its flaws, or you’re not.