Are you afraid of heights? Does the mere idea of standing on the roof of a three-flat unit give you a mild case of vertigo? Then you might want to avert your eyes during Tom Cruise’s daring climb up the exterior of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the world’s tallest building, in “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” especially if you see it in an IMAX screen. The stunt, performed by Cruise, is just one element of the film’s pièce de résistance: an elaborate action sequence that involves the sale of nuclear codes, a chase (by foot and car) through a sandstorm and that nerve-wracking climb. The sequence should cast aside any lingering doubts about Brad Bird’s skills as a director.
Best known for his work on the animated features “The Iron Giant,” “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille”, Bird takes the plunge into live action filmmaking with this fourth installment in the blockbusting franchise produced by Cruise and based on the popular TV series. And while Bird might seem, at first, a risky choice, it’s a risk that ends up paying dividends. In this age of hyperactively shot and edited action sequences, where every shot is cut to the narrowest nanosecond and logic is thrown out of the window, it is refreshing to see a director who understands the dynamics of what makes a great action movie.
As directed by Bird, these action sequences are clean, coherent and exciting. His attention to detail is impressive: you know the empty space left by the glass Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and tech wizard Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) remove to facilitate Hunt’s climb up the Khalifa will play a key role in this sequence. You have no choice but to wait for the inevitable. Except that the inevitable comes times three.
“Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” opens in Budapest, where an agent of the Impossible Missions Force is gunned down after intercepting a file containing Russia’s nuclear codes. The movie immediately transports us to Moscow where a two-person IMF crew –Benni and agent Jane Carter (Paula Patton)– prepare to break Hunt out of prison. The reasons for his imprisonment will be revealed later: suffice it to say that the sequence’s combination of humor and bone-crunching action and stunts sets the tone for the rest of the film.
Within minutes of his release, Hunt is entrusted with a new mission: to infiltrate the Kremlin and withdraw the files of one Kurt Hendricks (Michael Nyquist, who played Mikael Blomkvist in the original “Millennium Trilogy” and the second star of that film to appear in a major Hollywood franchise this season). Hendricks, who wants to trigger a nuclear war in the belief that such a catastrophe would give humanity the opportunity to start from scratch, is after those very same nuclear codes.
Hendricks is one step ahead of the game: he steals his files before Hunt is able to retrieve them, and blows up the Kremlin, forcing a confrontation between the United States and Russia. Blamed for the blast and disowned by his government, Hunt, his two-person crew and former analyst William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) must now stop Hendricks from acquiring the codes and pressing the red button with whatever little resources they have (which turns out to be quite a lot of gadgets under the circumstances). Their mission takes them to Dubai and Mumbai, each the stage for one amazing action setpiece after another.
Bird, Cruise and the whole cast and crew have concocted a classic piece of entertainment that seems, at times, refreshingly old-fashioned. Tom Cruise again gives a charismatic performance as the hands-on Hunt. As the awestruck Benji, Pegg brings the right amount of comic relief to the film’s more tense moments while Patton brings the right mix of sensuality and brute force to Jane.
Yet, Jeremy Renner’s Brandt is the film’s trump card. By bringing an outsider’s perspective and questioning every move, his character is almost a stand-in for the audience. He is pragmatic, while Hunt is more gung-ho. Brandt is also capable of delivering a good kick in the ass to the villains.
But, let’s face it, the real star of this movie is Brad Bird who, after tackling such a behemoth, is most probably asking himself, “what the hell do I do for an encore?”.
It took Cruise four films to find the right team for his “Mission: Impossible” franchise. There is no reason why he shouldn’t follow the original TV series blueprint and bring this team back for a fifth installment.