In the wake of the re-envisioning of James Bond and the still potent wrath of Jason Bourne, Ethan Hunt and his IMF cohorts have taken something of a back-seat compared to their other cinematic special agent brethren. Unsurprising given the relatively lukewarm reception afforded to the Mission: Impossible series thus far, yet you can’t blame them for lack of trying. And, if this fourth entry is any indication, Tom Cruise believes there is still life in the franchise. Fortunately there is no hint of flogging a dead horse in this sequel as Cruise and co bring their A-game, delivering a film that merges the series’s now blockbuster pedigree with a devious plot of espionage. Think the smarts of M:I 1 with the action of M:I 3 and you have Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.
After a devastating explosion that destroys The Kremlin is blamed on the IMF, Ghost Protocol is initiated in which Cruise and co are disavowed. With few avenues of hope, what’s left of IMF aim to find who set them up and prevent them from starting full on nuclear war.
On the back of the previous two entries you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Mission: Impossible series had lost touch with its spy thriller roots. Gone was the intricately plotted narrative full of crosses and double crosses and, instead, the franchise veered more toward bombastic action, culminating in the third entry which, while a better film than part two, stripped the plot down to such bare essentials as to have the maguffin, the mysterious Rabbit’s Foot, be an unexplained loose thread for some admittedly well executed set pieces. Come the climax, the audience is still no closer to knowing what the Rabbit’s Foot is, making the preceding two hours almost seem somewhat redundant.
Fortunately, Ghost Protocol understands that a movie can have smarts amongst the explosions. It’s not as fiendishly intricate as the first film, yet it is refreshing to see that the action beats intrinsically rely on the narrative to propel them forward. One sequence in particular, a twenty minute set piece set in Dubai, demonstrates how well the blend of action and narrative can be, delivering a sequence that is both memorable and thrilling and plays on the strengths of the team’s ability to adapt to their situation when things, inevitably, go awry.
Unlike the third film, where the plot is shoehorned around the action scenes, Ghost Protocol rigidly executes narrative structure in its truest sense, each plot point directly influencing events that follow. The explosion at the Kremlin? Nothing more than a ploy to take IMF out of the equation. The scenes in Dubai? The team acting on Intel received as a result of the Kremlin bombing. Here, the kudos must go to Pixar regular Brad Bird who, directing his first live action film, demonstrates the same eye for action and pace as he did in The Incredibles. He leaves little room for breath during the downtime yet also opts not to drown the audience with a sensory barrage. Exposition is delivered on the fly, drip feeding the audience enough plot details to keep up whilst focusing enough on the spectacle to keep them on their toes. Brad Bird can manage the balance of plot and action in his sleep.
With Cruise fast approaching his 50th birthday, it’s questionable as to whether Ethan Hunt will grace our screens again. IMF, on the other hand, may yet have many more missions to come. It’s a wonder why this wasn’t released during the summer. Under normal circumstances this would be a studio tent pole.