Ethan Hunt has seen better days. The last time we saw him (in J.J. Abrams’ 2006 “Mission Impossible III”), IMF superspy Hunt (Tom Cruise) was still married, and while still on the job, wasn’t about to let it spoil his happy ending. But when we first meet him in “The Incredibles” director Brad Bird’s live-action feature film debut, Ethan is inexplicably rotting away in a Russian prison for reasons unknown. Have no fear, though, this wouldn’t be much of a movie if he stayed locked up. In short order, computer nerd Benji (Simon Pegg), now a field agent (though still a wisecracking computer nerd), has come to the rescue with fellow operative Jane (Paula Patton). They free Hunt — for another impossible mission, as it turns out.
Tasked with infiltrating Russia’s Kremlin for super secret documents or some such, Hunt and his small band of IMF spies do the job without a hitch. Well, almost. Turns out, they’re being set up, the Kremlin is obliterated before their eyes, and Hunt, Benji, and Jane end up on everyone’s shit list. In fact, the entire IMF as an organization has been disbanded, the President having activated the dreaded “Ghost Protocol” of the title. Apparently the activation of such a pessimistic sounding protocol translates to, “Sorry, super agents of the U.S., although you’ve risked your lives countless times in the service of your country, since it’s way convenient for us, we’re gonna let the wolves have ya. Good luck!”
Left to their own devices, Hunt, Benji, Jane, and newcomer Brandt (Jeremy Renner) — who literally falls in with the group after the IMF chief (Tom Wilkinson in a cameo) is shot to pieces during a meeting with Hunt — go after the culprit, a Bond villain wannabe name Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist, of the original “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” fame). Hendricks, you see, is one of those genius crackpots who wants to start a World War, and he’s going to use a bunch of Russian nukes to do it. And framing the IMF (and by association the Americans) was part of the plan. It’s up to Hunt and company to thwart the evil villain’s doomsday plan. They’ll have to use every skill at their disposal to accomplish the mission. Not to mention those very groovy (and, of course, impossible) gadgets.
Set up as essentially three major action set pieces in three International locations — Russia, Dubai, and India — “Ghost Protocol” is an impressive debut for former Pixar man Brad Bird. The film moves at a nice clip (despite the over two hour running time), and there are always plenty of eye candy to ogle. For someone who has spent most of his career directing CG characters, Bird has turned in a surprisingly effective debut behind the camera. You’re not going to confuse “Ghost Protocol” with some character drama, of course, because that isn’t the point. The big Hollywood budget allows for a series of ridiculous and highly choreographed “capers”, and Bird orchestrates them with a nice balance of thrills, humor, and high-octane action. Want to get a huge jolt of adrenaline rush? Cruise’s climbing of the Burj Khalifa tower, aka the world’s tallest building, will more than suffice. Compare to that, the film’s Third Act in India is underwhelming, though Paula Patton in a killer dress lessens that disappointment a tad.
Tom Cruise is, of course, old hat as Ethan Hunt, and he hops back into the role without missing much of a beat. The ensemble cast has an easy chemistry, with British comedian/actor Simon Pegg designated as the purveyor of most of the film’s gags. While early rumors regarding “Ghost Protocol” had it being a “passing of the torch” from Hunt to Jeremy Renner’s Brandt, that doesn’t really seem to be the case here. The script actually connects the two men nicely, their destinies having been intertwined for some time. Renner is presented as more of a Hunt-lite, and while he gets to participate in all of the film’s caper sequences, it’s still Hunt who takes center stage. Cruise as Hunt still looks more than capable of carrying on for the foreseeable future. I mean, hell, if you really want to get practical about it, it’s not like Renner is all that much younger than Cruise (there is 10 years between them, give or take).
In terms of “Mission Impossible” films, I would still have to rate Abrams’ 2006 entry as the best of the bunch. That film just had an edge about it (not to mention more balls-out action) that “Ghost Protocol”, for all its high-flying escapades, just doesn’t have. For escapist fun, though, “Ghost Protocol” should be a real crowd pleaser, with some killer and complex stunts spread throughout the movie. Bird has demonstrated obvious skills behind the live camera, and I look forward to his future projects. I suspect it’ll involve lots of action-adventure stuff with plenty of humor, preferably without the fate of the world at stake. I would even like to see him tackle a superhero or two, actually.
Brad Bird (director) / Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec (screenplay)
CAST: Tom Cruise … Ethan Hunt
Jeremy Renner … Brandt
Simon Pegg … Benji
Paula Patton … Jane
Michael Nyqvist … Hendricks
Vladimir Mashkov … Sidorov
Samuli Edelmann … Wistrom
Anil Kapoor … Brij Nath
Léa Seydoux … Sabine Moreau
Josh Holloway … Hanaway