Directed by: Brad Bird
Starring: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg
The Mission: Impossible franchise, despite its longevity and apparent popularity among those who don’t know any better, has had some trouble in figuring out just whether or not its next installment will be its last. Maybe it’s because each new director thinks they can outdo their immediate predecessor, or maybe it’s because the powers that be felt as if the films should merely stop taking themselves so seriously. Either way, M:I 3 was a welcome departure from the series’ convoluted roots, forgoing any semblance of valuable substance in favor of giving us hi-tech gadgetry to ogle, a textbook villain to hate for obvious reasons and a bare bones objective for the IMF team to tackle as grandiose action set pieces unsubtly litter the entire the production. To put it plainly, J.J. Abrams was on the right track outside of a questionable adherence to human emotion, and with Ghost Protocol, the series’ fourth (and hopefully final) director Brad Bird has done a bang-up job in implementing everything we’re expected to care about in relation to how much fun we’re expected to have.
For as purposefully over-the-top each installment’s been, but a small fraction of them have been at least partially grounded in reality, ensuring that while Mr. Hunt and the gang inevitably complete the task at hand, they still manage to take their fair share of licks in the process. Ghost Protocol rings the truest in this regard, regularly beating the piss out of Cruise’s titular character and his cohorts as one excellently choreographed action sequence segues almost immediately into the next. Thankfully, such a characteristic leaves little to no room for excess emotional baggage, and while the requisite amount is still present so as to give these hollow, one-track-minded individuals a heart, it all becomes negligible once things start to go bang all over again.
It goes without saying that the film’s ability to engage from a purely visceral, action-oriented standpoint is easily its strongest suit, and to try and perceive the laughably uninspired central story arc as something more than it is would be foolish on your part. I mean, if you’ve seen one post-Cold War threat of nuclear war against the United States, you’ve probably seen ’em all. Wafer thin and sometimes ridiculous as the narrative becomes, Brad Bird manages string together each compelling, frequently tense scenario with surprising finesse, ensuring us that the last thing the film wants to do is take itself too seriously.
Coupled with an obvious overabundance of tech wizardry, the characters in M:I 4 are presumably black-and-white; portrayed with surprising conviction by Cruise and the gang while remaining likable as heroes or detestable as villains. While Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg and even Paula Patton do wonders with their respective roles, the film seems to center primarily around them preventing the nuclear apocalypse that’s been set in motion by an almost invisible mastermind, of whom has a peculiar, sometimes distracting lack of screen time. In fact, it isn’t until the film’s latter act that we really get a glimpse of Michael Nyqvist’s far less than intimidating Hendricks, forcing me to question just why the film would choose to do a complete 180 and forgo providing us with someone as ever-present as Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Owen Davian: an individual that made this film’s immediate predecessor as good as it was.
All things considered, Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol is an action junkie’s wet dream. Combining stunning, expertly choreographed action set pieces with but a tinge of human emotion while remaining appealingly grounded in reality, Brad Bird’s first foray into the realm of live-action cinema is a pretty tremendous success. With fantastic performances across the board from Cruise and his supporting cast of underlings, the fourth film in this exceptionally long-running franchise is a true testament to what it could’ve been all along outside of an achingly mundane central premise and a not-so-compelling criminal mastermind at its core. Needless to say, it isn’t without its more obvious flaws, yet the entire production’s just plain enjoyable enough to almost force you to look past them.