Two weeks ago, I had a conversation about how I had somewhat reluctant plans to see the new Mission: Impossible film. As I voiced my unenthusiasm, my friend Corey Atad started listing off reasons to be excited about the film. He brought up details like Brad Bird’s direction, the use of IMAX for certain action sequences, and the way it would build upon what we saw in MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 3. I shrugged them off at the time, but as I watched the new film unfold, I couldn’t shake the feeling that he was completely right.
Boy, do I hate when he’s right.
MISSION IMPOSSIBLE- GHOST PROTOCOL (or “M:I-4 for short) begins with a killing. IMF agent Hanaway is assassinated trying to thwart an arms sale. His killing prompts agents Jane Carter and Benji Dunn (Paula Patton and Simon Pegg) to stage a jailbreak. The jail is in Moscow, an the inmate being sprung is disavowed IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise). He is immediately recruited to join Carter and Dunn’s mission of picking up where Hanaway left off.
The first step to identify the parties involved in the arms deal is to break into The Kremlin – which Hunt and his team manage to do, moments before it is the target of a terrorist attack. The Russian government calls the attack an act of aggression by America. To avoid making matters worse, The US Secretary of State (Tom Wilkinson) invokes “Ghost Protocol”, meaning all IMF agents are immediately disavowed. But in his last conversation with Hunt, The Secretary learns the identity of the European terrorist who is behind both the attack and the arms deal. He is a man named Hendricks (Mikael Nyqvist), and a genuine threat to world peace.
Off the record, The Secretary tasks Hunt with Hendricks’ capture and the retrieval of the weapons in play. For good measure, Hunt gets one more addition to his team – an analyst named William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) who may shake his head at the team’s cowboy tactics, but turns out to be a valuable asset. The team has no back-up, and no supply chain, but the team’s mission (should they choose to accept it) is to chase Hendricks through Dubai and Mumbai to avoid global catastrophe.
M:I-4 marks the live-action directorial debut of Brad Bird, the brains behind animated neo-classics such as THE IRON GIANT and THE INCREDIBLES. One has to believe that handing the reigns of an action franchise over to an animation director – even one as talented as Bird – is a risk. Impressively, Bird proved equal to the task. It seems strange to say this, but he has directed these sequences like cartoons. The laws of physics take a back seat for a moment or two, and the freneticism is dialled up instead. What’s more, Bird and the screenwriters knew well enough to keep the story breezy, and not bog it down with espionage. This allows the movie to remain amusing, thrilling, and fun.
What gives much of that a real shot in the arm, is the decision to use IMAX cameras to film the action sequences – sepcifically the vertigo-inducing Burj Khalifa sequence, where Cruise scales the exterior of the hotel one hundred stories above the ground. The scene uses the broader canvas to up the audience’s sense of danger and make us feel like we’re the ones about to take the fall. It’s a shot that doesn’t play as well in any other format, and makes the case for more action films to use the full IMAX format. Amazingly, just two scenes later, the movie goes right back to IMAX for a thrilling chase in a sandstorm. Y’know, sometimes I have trouble justifying the cost of a movie ticket to potential filmgoers. Where M:I-4 is concerned , that just isn’t the case.
When the movie isn’t feeding you eye-candy, it’s doing what’s most essential for a popcorn flick of it’s ilk: It’s having fun. Much of the fun comes courtesy of Simon Pegg, who seems to make every project he’s part of just that much better. I’m not entirely sure how he does it, but he seems to have a knack of always finding the right mix of klutzy and clever. The other promising inclusion is Jeremy Renner whose star continues to rise. M:I-4 was originally supposed to be a starring role for him before Cruise decided that he wanted another kick at the can. For some actors, this would be reason to bail out or phone it in. Renner, on the other hand, makes the most of the opportunity and plays a solid multifaceted character. He is the future of the franchise, and with that in mind the future looks bright.
The unexpected side effect of this film is that it has re-invigorated my interest in the M:I franchise, and in Tom Cruise as an action star. When Corey gave me that laundry list of reasons why this film would succeed, I had no response to how it would build on M:I-3 because I hadn’t seen it. Like many others, I skipped out on it, perhaps believing that I’d outgrown it and Cruise as a star. There are many “yeah, right” moments in this film: moments that subscribe to the 007 Laws of Physics. Not many actors can sell these sorts of shenanigans, but Cruise isn’t an actor – he’s an action figure. He still has a place in my film-watching…much like a Big Mac has a place in my eating habits.
When you put it all together, M:I-4 succeeds for every reason Corey predicted it would. It is escapist entertainment that executes on every level. It allows the audience to have fun, and go home feeling like they got their money’s worth. My tempered expectations helped this films impact on me, but it doesn’t deserve the “It Doesn’t Suck!” stamp of approval. It’s better than that…just like Corey said it would be.
Did I mention how much I hate it when he’s right?