The Mission: Impossible movie franchise keeps getting better and better which each successive sequel, something few other franchises can ever lay claim to. The first one directed by Brian De Palma had a confusing storyline but spectacular action set pieces. The second one had a plot which was easier to follow and the signature ballet of action sequences we’ve come to love from John Woo. Part three gave us the directorial debut of J.J. Abrams, had a stronger plot, a very effective villain in Phillip Seymour Hoffman and ended up remembering what made the original television series work so well. Each movie in this series has its own unique identity which allows for a longevity which, after the third one, seemed to be growing thin.
But Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol turns out to be the best of the bunch (as of this review, I have not yet seen Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation) as it features some of the most ingenious action scenes I’ve seen in a movie for quite some time. It also has the added benefit of having been filmed in part with IMAX cameras which gives certain scenes a realistic feel which puts you right in the center of the action. Just when you think this franchise ran out of steam, Cruise and director Brad Bird (making his live action debut) thrill us in a highly unexpected way.
It appears that Hunt’s retirement from the IMF after Mission: Impossible 3 didn’t last long, and we find him at this movie’s beginning in a Moscow prison throwing a rock at the wall like he’s Steve McQueen in The Great Escape. But he is soon sprung from his cell with the help of Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and agent Jane Carter (Paula Patton). We find out that Hunt was imprisoned for a mission gone wrong, and he has since become estranged from his wife Julia (Michelle Monaghan) for mysterious reasons. Just like Jack Bauer in 24, Hunt can’t stay away from what he does best when danger rears its ugly head.
After their great escape, Hunt and Dunn infiltrate the Kremlin in order to locate files of a nemesis with the code name of Cobalt. This mission, however, goes horribly wrong when the Kremlin is blown to smithereens, and the entire IMF is disavowed as a result. Hunt and his team are forced to take blame for the attack, but they are allowed to escape in order to locate Cobalt and stop a nuclear war. This time, Hunt and company have no support to rely on as they forced to work on their own.
As with the previous entry, Cruise has come to realize that he needs to let other actors shine in this series and not do all the hard work by his lonesome. Seeing Pegg’s character get upgraded from techno nerd to field agent, and Pegg is a real treat to watch here as he becomes much more than just comic relief. Paula Patton embodies her agent character of Jane Carter convincingly and gets to kick some serious ass in various scenes, one of which has her taking on a female assassin in something more than just your average catfight.
The best addition, however, to this Mission: Impossible movie is Jeremy Renner who plays William Brandt, a chief analyst for the IMF. Renner, whose career has been on a major upswing thanks to his performances in The Hurt Locker and The Town, is great here. Even he gets a big action set piece as his character proves to know far more than he lets on. His secrets threaten to be devastating if revealed, and Renner does excellent work in showing the turmoil Brandt endures as he is faced with a whole other kind of impossible mission.
The main antagonist this time out is Kurt Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist from the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) who is bent on starting a nuclear war so that he can bring about the next evolution of the human race. Nyqvist brings a strong villainy to this role which makes you sneer at his presence whenever he’s onscreen. However, he’s upstaged by Léa Seydoux who portrays French assassin Sabine Moreau. Her cold glare penetrates your inner defenses with little difficulty, and you have to put on your best poker face in her presence to stay alive (and even that might not be enough).
But the real star of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is director Brad Bird himself. You’d think that stepping outside the world of animation where he made The Incredibles, Ratatouille and The Iron Giant would leave him at a spectacular disadvantage as what you can get away with in that realm of filmmaking does not necessarily translate as well to live action. But when watching what’s on display here, it’s clear that Bird allows nothing to stand in his way in terms of what can be accomplished, and he comes up with one amazing action sequence after another.
The one sequence which needs to be acknowledged above others is when Cruise scales the outside of the Burj Khalifa tower, the tallest building in the world. The IMAX cameras give this moment a reality like no other, and that feeling of intense vertigo is hard to ignore. Seriously, I felt like I was outside of that building with Cruise as he climbed up with nothing but suction gloves. If there is a more intense action sequence with a character hanging on for dear life from one of the world’s tallest buildings, it certainly didn’t come to mind while I watched this movie. I had trouble getting to sleep after watching Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol because that crazy stunt was still on my mind and would not let me be.
There’s about a half hour or so of footage shot in IMAX, and Bird makes use of that format to great effect. Aside from Cruise scaling the world’s tallest building, there’s a scene of the Kremlin exploding which literally takes your breath away. While many still complain of IMAX feeling like a rip off with its high ticket prices, it’s worth the extra money in a way 3D could only dream of being at this point.
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is a big surprise in that this franchise looked like it had already hit its peak and had little room to improve. But Cruise and company successfully revive it by giving us characters to care about and root for, and they outdo themselves with stunts that are even more amazing than what we saw previously. Regardless of what you may think of Cruise as a person these days (many of my friends can’t stand him), he still puts on a good show even as he grows visibly older. Just when you thought he was out, he pulls himself back in!