When last we left Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) of the Impossible Mission Force (not to be confused with the Extensive Paperwork Bureau), he and his new bride were traipsing off to a car chase-free life of early retirement. But as we all know, Hollywood cops and spies are never allowed to stay retired for long. After the thrilling opening sequence of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (which continues the Scream-like trend of casting stars to off them early), we cut to a Moscow prison where Ethan is mysteriously being held. Agents Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and Jane Carter (Paula Patton) are plying their tech and explosives skills to break him out. The scene is jaunty and light-hearted, and scored, in the film’s reality, to Dean Martin’s “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head.” (The song times exactly to how long they have for the breakout.)
Light fuse. Cue famous theme.
What follows is the best entry in the Mission Impossible franchise, and one of the best action movies in recent years. Not bad for first-time live-action director Brad Bird, though with his widely acclaimed previous work on animated features The Iron Giant, and Pixar’s The Incredibles and Ratatouille, it’s not a huge surprise.
Ethan and his thrown-together team (including late-to-the-game IMF analyst William Brandt, played by Jeremy Renner) find themselves on their own with limited resources when their infiltration of the Kremlin goes horribly wrong and the IMF is blamed. This causes the U.S. government to invoke the titular spectral protocol, in which the entire agency is disavowed in order to avoid a war much worse than a Cold one with Russia. From there, it’s a global cat-and-mouse game with a megalomaniacal arms dealer who’s attempting nothing less than to wipe the Earth clean to start the cycle of life anew.
When George Mallory was asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest he famously replied, “Because it’s there.” One imagines Tom Cruise looking at the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, and having a similar sentiment about staging an action sequence there. The centerpiece of the film takes place in, atop, and around this building, and is worth the price of admission alone, especially in IMAX, which is how I saw it. The scene produced audible gasps from many in the audience, including myself. (Those with a fear of heights need not apply.)
Cruise is as electric as ever. A fun fact that’s been floating around the internet bears repeating here: in Ghost Protocol, he’s the same age Wilford Brimley was when he made Cocoon. Whatever you may feel about Scientology, they clearly must have some excellent vitamins in their water cooler—Cruise’s stiff-necked, flat-handed sprint is just the same as you remember.
The performances are strong across the board, inasmuch as they simply don’t detract from the action. Geek icon Simon Pegg is great comic relief as the wet-behind-the-ears tech agent who just graduated to field duty, even getting in one or two badass moments of his own. But truly everyone has their share of exciting and witty moments. A sense of fun permeates the entire production, with even the occasional potshots at the franchise’s own clichés.
It there are any nits to be picked, it should be noted that if you see the IMAX version, the entire film isn’t shot in that format, only certain scenes amounting to about a third of the running time. As with other recent films released this way, the result is an occasional switch from the standard widescreen format to the full screen, stories-high IMAX footage, which can be a little distracting. Also, the gadgetry the agents use occasionally pushes the boundaries of believability, such as a portable projection screen that Wile E. Coyote might have ordered from ACME to catch the Road Runner. But these are minor gripes at best. Ghost Protocol is wholly satisfying, and a breathtaking blast from start to finish.
Director: Brad Bird
Writer: Josh Appelbaum & André Nemec
Starring: Tom Cruise, Paula Patton, Jeremy Renner & Simon Pegg
Release Date: Dec. 21, 2011