Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol is a surprisingly effective chapter from a notoriously underachieving franchise. The first three films in the series all felt like the noodlings of talented but seemingly bored directors: Brian De Palma’s rambling, impenetrable narrative, John Woo’s operatic action punctuated by more doves and religious iconography than an ’80s-era Madonna video, and virgin director J.J. Abrams laying it on thick with a technique that played like Michael Bay Lite. This time around, Brad Bird (who won Oscars for directing Ratatouille and The Incredibles) makes his live action debut with an entry that’s just as silly as the others, but a lot more fun.
The movie opens with Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) being busted out of a Russian prison by his IMF teammates Benji (the always enjoyable Simon Pegg, who returns from M:I3) and Jane (Paula Patton) and quickly put on the trail of a rogue scientist (Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace’s Dragon Tattoo co-star) hell-bent on initiating a nuclear war. Framed for a devastating attack on the Kremlin, Ethan and his colleagues go underground with intelligence analyst Brandt (Jeremy Renner) in order to stop an impeding armageddon.
It’s fairly simple stuff, but this brand of spy-fi usually is. Ghost Protocol makes it work by borrowing the basic formula of the ’60s-era Bond franchise: a fast-paced story that globe trots from one exotic locale to the next, each populated with eccentric villains, beautiful women, and nifty gadgets. (Though the IMF’s supply of the latter makes 007’s friends at Q Branch look like Radio Shack rejects.) The required action sequences include the aforementioned scenes in Russia, a trip to the Burj Khalifa in Dhubai (the world’s tallest building, which Cruise gamely scales the side of without use of a stunt double), and a manic conclusion in an automated parking garage in Mumbai.
Yes, it’s goofy — but it’s an incredibly fun goofy. Those opining the turn towards the serious taken by the Bond franchise will find what they’re jonesing for here. Bird is an inspired choice of director, putting the emphasis on excitement and adventure, and proving himself capable of navigating the narrative twists that both the TV and film series were known for while keeping the story easy to follow and the pace so brisk that you don’t feel it’s hefty 132 minutes.