Dear Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,
My love for you may seem hypocritical given the things I said regarding the spy/espionage genre in my review of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. After all, how could I go from lauding a film for its staunch refusal to give into the modern freneticism and fantastical technology one week and then praise a film for doing those very same things the next week? I think the answer lies in the artistry of the execution, and the fact that while films like the Bourne series attempt to mimic reality, you, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, decide to use technology in the same way old school Bond films did – to inspire awe and allow for complex, heart stopping set pieces unique from almost any other film.
Very few film series/franchises have had the odd evolution that you have. Your first film was a hopelessly complex, cerebral, almost reality-based tale of subterfuge and duplicity. From there, your next two films tried to correct the labyrinthine nature of their predecessor’s plot and over-corrected in terms of technology, spectacle, and bombast. The enemies and their threats were cartoonish in their extremity, and they lacked any real-world grounding. So you had a hefty task in front of you, trying to strike a balance between set pieces worthy of gaping over and still somehow creating a threat or plot that could be viewed as anything other than bald fantasy.
To bridge this gap you set your story in the real world, and use actual geopolitics as a means of creating a tension that – while still fictional and fantastical – keeps one toe in a post-nuclear, post-Cold War reality. A nuclear extremist, hoping to foster a new era of world peace by exposing the world to the horror of nuclear war, steals Russian nuclear launch codes and the mechanism to transmit them. He then sets off a bomb in the Kremlin, making it appear as though the explosion was the result of an operation underway by the U.S. government’s Impossible Mission Force, headed up by Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), leading to increased tension between the two countries. As such, IMF is disbanded, and Ethan must assemble a team of agents to stop the madman from fulfilling his plot.
The “hijacked nuclear weapon” plot is nothing new, but the energy and the spectacle that take us through the plot are top notch. Director Brad Bird makes a seamless transition from animated films like The Incredibles and Ratatouille to live action fare. Unlike many action directors, he seems to understand that being able to discern and follow action in a set space makes for a far more thrilling and engaging experience than frantic, blurry inscrutability. While shakycam work does have its place, it is nice to see a coherent, well-plotted, expertly-staged and shot scene of nearly super human bravado.
And what scenes. You are a film that leaves the audience breathless and energized through the sheer audacity of your action. Fights and chases endure and engage with far more stamina and intensity than one would think any scene capable of achieving. Yet the fatigue that so often accompanies scenes of extended action is completely lacking here, replaced by a propulsive sense of energy and glee that makes an audience feel excited rather than embattled. The fatigue at the end of it all is a result of adrenaline-saturated, pulse-racing fun, rather than mind-numbing excess.
Each of the actors you assemble to create this impossibly skilled and talented group of clandestine operatives brings their own flair to the screen, and your story is all the better for them. Simon Pegg as the team’s tech guru has some of the funniest and most beguiling scenes, while Jeremy Renner makes a convincing case for taking over for Tom Cruise when he inevitably decides to leave the building-jumping to a new generation. Paula Patton serves as the attractive female operative, but she also brings an intense and convincing physicality to her role, in addition to some well-earned pathos. Watching this team bond and grow and tackle all manner of increasingly insurmountable odds is a great, indulgent treat.
That these actors seem to very clearly do most of their own stunts deepens the enjoyment. Watching something happen on the screen takes on a new level of pleasure when it seems as though, in another world, that thing could actually occur. The same is true of the technology on display. While hallway cloaking devices and gecko-inspired climbing gloves might not be real, they aren’t so fantastical as to be completely disorienting. There is a sense, at the bottom of it all, that somewhere in the world someone is perfecting this technology now, and that sense of inspired wonder only furthers the joy of your spectacle.
Given the way your franchise has played in the past, I can understand some people may be averse to seeking you out. To those people I would say this; put the past behind you, get over whatever issues you may have with Tom Cruise, and let yourself go. This film will knock you flat early and often, and you’ll be more than eager to spring back up and go another round.
Glad to have accepted the mission,
Brian J. Roan
I saw you on IMAX, and given that many of your most breathtaking moments were shot in that format, I would encourage anyone who intends on seeing you to splurge on the extra couple of bucks. Well worth it.