Starring: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg
Directed by: Brad Bird (“The Incredibles”)
Written by: Andre Nemec (TV’s “Alias”) and Josh Applebaum (TV’s “Alias”)
The “Mission: Impossible” franchise is an odd one. As the only, “Hey, let’s update an old TV show!” film series to make it out of the ’90s alive (“Lost in Space,” anyone?), the movies have been a mishmash of styles, each film having little to nothing to do with the one that preceded it aside from the character of Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise).
The first one, released 15 years ago and directed by Brian De Palma, was Tom Cruise’s answer to James Bond with elements from the TV show, like fantastic disguises and self-destructing messages, grafted onto the plot for name recognition alone. “M:I- 2” in 2000 was a balletic John Woo-directed fever dream that featured things like a motorcycle fight and slow-motion doves. In 2006, “Mission: Impossible III,” directed by J.J. Abrams, brought a lens-flared grittiness to the series. Hunt took a beating after finally being held accountable to the laws of physics, and the franchise was given new life, as if a tiny explosive device had been shot up its nose.
“Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” directed with ease by animation veteran Brad Bird (“The Incredibles”) ends up being the first true sequel in the series. Continuing the tone set by Abrams (credited here as a producer) “Ghost Protocol” opens to find Hunt locked away in a Russian prison. With the help of agent Jane Carter (Paula Patton), recently-promoted agent Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and Dean Martin’s “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head,” Hunt manages to stage an elaborate escape. The IMF needs Hunt, because it seems the recent murder of IMF agent Trevor Hanaway (Josh Holloway) has resulted in the loss of Russian nuclear launch codes that could bring about the end of the world. After a mission to infiltrate the Kremiln and obtain a launch device goes awry, resulting in the IMF being branded as terrorists and disavowed, it’s up to Hunt, Carter, Dunn, and analyst-turned-agent Brandt (Jeremy Renner) to stop global nuclear war.
While you can’t deny the slickness of the presentation, it’s the mechanics of the plot that dampen the enjoyment. The film’s big action set piece, featuring Cruise sprinting vertically down the side of the world’s tallest skyscraper, ends up being the end result of an incredibly robust network firewall, of all things (not to mention that his stealth is undone by running on the outside of building on actual windows), and the back story of Renner’s character (rumored to be a replacement for Cruise in future missions) is unceremoniously defanged by the time the credits roll. The gadgets range from innovative and fun, like an iPad-powered cloaking device, to complex and contrived, like a magnetic hover suit/robot combo. As villains go, Michael Nyqvist’s Kurt Hendricks is a disappointing bore, especially following Philip Seymour Hoffman’s brilliantly psychotic turn as Owen Davian in “M:I-3.” While Cruise’s Hunt remains a cipher, Renner and Pegg combine for some welcome bursts of humor, and the chemistry of the pairing is reassuring for the day Cruise decides to step away.
The stakes have never been higher and the spectacle has never been greater, but the plotting has never felt more episodic. After raising the bar with the third movie, you can’t help but feel a little let down that Cruise, Abrams, and Bird merely maintained the status quo.