In 2011, the Tom Cruise controversy had certainly calmed down, but he was by no means back on top. His last movie was a goofy little flop called Knight and Day, and the conventional wisdom was that he was on his way out as a movie star. Enter ‘Incredibles’ and ‘Ratatouille’ director Brad Bird, who made the decision to take the five years dormant Mission: Impossible franchise and give it a kick in the balls for both the sake of the brand, and Cruise. He planned to incorporate more classical spy elements with a sense of fun that had been missing in some of the other installments. It takes such a visionary to save a franchise, and that is exactly what Bird did.
Ghost Protocol opens with Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) being freed from prison in order to carry out a new mission. He, Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), and Jane Carter (Paula Patton) must stop an insane terrorist by the name of Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist) from attacking the Kremlin. The mission fails, and the sacred building is destroyed, sparking tension between America and Russia. After the IMF is disavowed, our agents along with analyst William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) must operate only with sparse resources in order to keep Hendricks from striking again and starting nuclear war.
The strongest aspect of Ghost Protocol is it’s pitch perfect cast of characters. While MI3 finally made sure a team was heavily incorporated into the story, this is the one where each and every one of them not only have great camaraderie but become fully three dymensional characters. Cruise is as stalwart and controlled as ever as Hunt, but isn’t devoid of emotion either. A twist midway through that ties up some plot elements from MI3 requires him to convey a great deal of subtle pain, which he does with ease and gravitas. Meanwhile, each of the new additions pull their weight. Renner in particular shines, acting as both an audience avatar in the movie’s more ridiculous moments, while folding into a very interesting character with a solid emotional arc in his own right. Patton and Pegg both play a bit more in the beat-seat as far as the main story to go, but the former has a solid emotional back-story to fuel things, and the latter injects a great deal of humor because Simon Pegg simply cannot resist being funny. There’s a reason that MI:5 is mostly bringing back characters from this one, they’re by far the best ones in the series so far, with the exception of Ving Rhames’ Luther, who only makes a brief appearance.
From the moment Pegg’s Benji frees hunt from the prison to the tune of ‘Ain’t That A Kick In The Head’, Ghost Protocol reveals itself as both the most fantastical and humorous installment of the franchise yet. Bird, making his live-action debut here, directs as if he’s a seasoned blockbuster veteran here, with a perfect penchant for controlled chaos. While the action sequences are absolutely bananas, they fit perfectly within the loose, 70s spy flick tone Bird is going for, unlike a certain other director who just made it crazy to show off just how well Cruise can move around on a bike. With that said, Cruise gets to do his most impressive stunt-work to date here, the now infamous Burj Khalifa sequence just as thrilling now in it’s dizzying height and sheer scale as it was for the very first time in the IMAX theater. Bird is simply a master of not only camera placement in these action sequences, but the placing of the audience inside of them. The car chases rush by, the midway trek though a sandstorm is blinding, and when a character falls down or gets hit, we feel the impact. Beyond that, the added wrinkle of limit gadgets that don’t always work properly make the mission feel all the more insurmountable, making the team’s victories all the sweeter.
There is however one gaping flaw here that keeps this from being a perfect film, Hendricks. While Michael Nyqvist certainly is a fine actor and does what he can with the very limited amount he’s given, he is given nearly nothing at all. We know nothing about him beyond that he’s a former professor who went crazy and now wants war, and as such he never feels like anything more than a mcguffin. While too much screen-time for him certainly could have thrown off the pacing a bit, Bird would have been wise to just sprinkle in a little more just to make us care about stopping him more. With that said, his character has what is by far the best showdown with Hunt in the series so far, so at the end of the day, all is forgiven.
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is not only a stunning tribute to an older, looser kind of spy thriller, but simply a masterwork of fun in it’s own right. Brad Bird asserts himself as a major player here (until Tomorrowland came around a sullied that for the moment), and Cruise gets back the mojo that lead to a string of moderate hits like Jack Reacher and Edge of Tomorrow. Oh, and speaking of Jack Reacher, Christopher McQuarrie, it’s director, is the one taking us on our next impossible mission. Let’s see how that turns out…shall we?