Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol *** ½
Directed by: Brad Bird.
Written by: Josh Appelbaum & André Nemec based on the show created by Bruce Geller.
Starring: Tom Cruise (Ethan Hunt), Jeremy Renner (William Brandt), Simon Pegg (Benji Dunn), Paula Patton (Jane Carter), Michael Nyqvist (Kurt Hendricks), Vladimir Mashkov (Anatoly Sidorov), Samuli Edelmann (Wistrom), Ivan Shvedoff (Leonid Lisenker), Anil Kapoor (Brij Nath), Léa Sioux (Sabine Moreau), Josh Holloway (Trevor Hanaway), Pave Kris (Mare Stefan ski), Miraj Grbic (Bogdan).
I think one of the main reasons why the Mission Impossible series has the ability to remain fresh after 15 years and 4 movies is because they change directors every time out. Often times, movie series start to repeat themselves when in the hands of the same director in film after film, but every time out, this series starts fresh – with only Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt to string us between movies. Brian DePalma’s original was, like many of his films, more satisfying in parts than as a whole, but did generate some paranoia like he often does. John Woo’s follow-up featured his trademark operatic action. JJ Abrhams third instalment had the intimacy you’d expect from a TV director. And now comes Brad Bird, who comes from animation (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille) to make the slickest, most entertaining film in the series.
We open with Ethan in a Russian prison, apparently for killing the Siberian death squad you killed his wife. But the IMF needs him, so Benji (Simon Pegg) and Carter (Paula Patton) stage an elaborate mission to break him out of jail. They need him because the other member of their team was recently killed, and had some documents stolen from him that included Russian nuclear launch codes. By themselves, they are useless, but they have reason to believe an insane Swedish scientist named Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist) is trying to get a nuclear bomb to set off a war that would almost destroy the planet. Whatever is left, he believes anyway, would be better off. Things, of course, go horribly wrong at first – and the Minister (Tom Wilkinson) is killed, and the team picks up a new member, Brandt (Jeremy Renner) who they aren’t sure they can trust. But when the Russians think you have blown up the Kremlin, and you’re wanted all over the world, you take what you can get.
Brad Bird was an interesting choice to direct this movie, and it turns out to be a genius move. Perhaps only someone who comes from animation, where there are no rules because you can do whatever the hell you want, would think to stage some of the action sequences the way Bird does. In particular is an almost unbearably suspenseful scene where Cruise has to crawl up the tallest building in the world (in Dubai) to break into a computer room. It is improbably sure, but the way Bird shoots it is incredibly. There are other fine action sequences – a chase through a sandstorm, the opening prison breakout, and the elaborate climax involving magnets and later one of those fancy parking garages with moving platforms. But if Bird was aware of just how complex and difficult these scenes must have been to shoot, he shows no sign of it. The expert cinematography (by Robert Elswit) and the crisp editing work wonders. Thankfully, he doesn’t use the shaky camera movement and the rapid fire editing that many action directors today mistake for style. The action sequences are strong, clear, concise and thrilling.
Bird also keeps the story humming along at a wickedly fast pace, as the movie jumps around the globe for one operation after another. The story isn’t as needlessly complex as others in this series have been – it’s really pretty straight forward really – mad man wants a nuclear bomb, heroic team must stop him – but it’s handled really well. Tom Cruise may not be the most versatile actor in the world, but he does this type of role – where he is grimly determined and obsessed – quite well. He is also one of those movie stars willing to do insane stunts, which helps because Bird doesn’t have to cut around an obvious stand in. Simon Pegg does what he always does – provide expert comic relief. Paula Patton is sexy as Carter, but there’s slightly more here – she doesn’t feel like the token female member of the team. And best of all is Jeremy Renner, who continues his string of excellent performances as Brandt, a man we know has secrets, but don’t expect them to be what they are.
Every year at Oscar season, I sit through serious movie, after serious movie – which I love because they do tend to be my favourites of the year. And yet, sometimes you crave action filmmaking like this – and this truly is an example of an action movie at its finest. Should they make Mission Impossible 5 – with another new talented director at the helm – I’ll be there.