The law of diminishing returns that often applies to film franchises seemingly doesn’t apply to the Mission: Impossible series. After an okay, but incomprehensible first film, a dreadful second film, and a fun, but needlessly convoluted third film, director Brad Bird (previously known for animated work on The Incredibles and The Iron Giant) comes to the now aging series of spy thrillers to deliver a no-nonsense action film that strays from the elaborate plotting of previous entries in favour of a more straightforward and delightfully boneheaded approach. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol quite possibly represents the kinds of movies this franchise should’ve been from the start.
Impossible Mission Force veteran Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) starts of this entry being broken out of a Russian gulag to help track down a terrorist, code named Cobalt (Michael Nyqvist, original star of the Swedish Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series), who is hell-bent on acquiring Russian nuclear missile codes. After an effort by Hunt and his team (Paula Patton, Simon Pegg) to stop him turns out to be a setup, the IMF are disavowed by their government and forced to work off the grid with the help of a pencil pushing analyst (Jeremy Renner).
Of course, not everything is what it seems, but this is truly the first Mission: Impossible plotline that can be distilled into a single paragraph. The streamlined storytelling on display here counts for quite a lot. While the previous films awkwardly tried to combine brains and spectacle, Ghost Protocol simply sets out a scenario, adds requisite spy thriller twists and character developments, and moves from point A to point B in a no bullshit manner. It’s not reinventing the wheel in any way, but it allows the audience to shut just enough of their brain off to have a good time watching the film instead of stressing them out over nitpicky details the other films would demand people remembered.
With the plot out of the way, Bird gets the chance to really shine as a first time live action feature director. The film is made with such a steady hand that one would be hard pressed to tell it was made by someone having their first go at an action film. The action tends to drag slightly in the expository scenes necessary to move the plot along, but once the film gets to the gloriously shot set pieces, Bird’s authorial voice and past successes are evident on screen.
The majority of the action sequences – shot in IMAX, which really is the only way to watch the film to truly get the full effect and scope of the production – are handily the best in the series. Shots looking down the side of the world’s tallest building in Dubai are intense and almost vertigo inducing. A fight sequence in an automated car park feels like a demented cousin to the climactic scene in Pixar’s Monsters Inc. where the heroes are constantly going in and out of doors in midair. It’s a simply stunning looking movie.
With all the flash and style the film has, there’s not a lot of room for the cast, but damned if they don’t perform their jobs effectively. Nyqvist is sufficiently slimy and creepy. Patton is tough, sexy, and not merely used as one-note eye candy. Pegg gets a beefed up role from the last film and puts his comedic zeal to great use. Renner, whom it’s rumoured will be taking over the series in the near future, gets to play the tightly wound tough guy with a secret. Even Cruise gets to give Hunt a different slant by matching the tone of the film around him by dialing back his natural charisma and portraying Ethan as a picture of lethal efficiency.
Is it anything special? For action film buffs it certainly is. Does it change the nature of action filmmaking? Hardly. Does it matter what “Ghost Protocol” even means? Not in the slightest. Is it fun? Loads. Is it the best of the franchise? Absolutely.