With Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton, Simon Pegg, Michael Nyqvist; Written by Josh Appelbaum & André Nemec; Directed by Brad Bird; Rated PG-13 (for sequences of intense action and violence). 133 minutes.
Spy movies have always had a touch of science fiction about them, especially if they place a special emphasis on the special technology with which the spies carry out their missions. Five years after his last franchise outing, Tom Cruise is back in MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL as Ethan Hunt who, for some reason, is being busted out of a Russian prison. From hacked computers to trackable paper, there’s spytech galore here.
Why Hunt is in a Russian prison in the first place and why he’s being brought out are plot details that will not be spoiled here. The interesting wrinkle in this, the fourth film based on the classic ’60s television series, is that there has been a bombing at the Kremlin that the Russians are blaming on the U.S. As a result, the President has invoked the “Ghost Protocol,” which means that the Impossible Mission Force is officially shut down. Ethan and his team will have to conduct their assignment – stopping a madman (Michael Nyqvist) who wants to start a nuclear war – without any official assistance.
What the viewer needs to know is this is the first live action film by director Brad Bird, better known for such animated films as “Ratatouille” and “The Incredibles.” With a keen eye for visual action, he sets the movie up as a series of set pieces, each more exciting than the last. From the prison breakout to the Kremlin break-in to a convoluted series of mishaps in Dubai to the climactic showdown in India, the action is relentless, imaginative and one is tempted to say “animated.” (The battle between Cruise and Nyqvist in a Mumbai parking garage evokes the scene in the warehouse full of doors in “Monsters, Inc.”)
While the action is thrilling, Bird hasn’t forgotten what he’s learned from his animated films. Character matters. Whether it’s Simon Pegg offering some comic relief as the techie of the crew, or Jeremy Renner as an “analyst” who has more history than he’s letting on, or Paula Patton as an agent with a score to settle – these aren’t just stick figures. Screenwriters Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec give Bird and the actors a bounty of material to bring the characters to life. The cast takes them seriously enough so that it doesn’t turn into camp, but not so seriously that it threatens to become a John le Carré novel.
And then there are the gadgets. Some may like the adhesive gloves Ethan uses to climb the outside of a massive hotel tower, or the briefcase that contains a printer to make copies of secret documents in a different suitcase. The cleverest item may be a portable video rig that displays what’s behind it so that it can be used to make a security guard think he’s seeing an empty hallway instead of just a video screen.
It’s been a while since Cruise has had a hit film, but “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” is positioned to put him back on top. It’s a witty and exciting thrill ride that may be the most fun of the entire series.***
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.