Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol is 2011's most consistently entertaining effort.
Over the last few years, ever since Paul Greengrass handheld his way into the path of an erratically edited Michael Bay, the action film has lacked... something. Call it intentional internal logic or a sense of space and time, the notion of video assist and the whole "you are there" approach has turned the average thriller into a confusing - and sometime, nauseating - shaky-cam experience. So it's with much fanfare that Academy Award winning director (Ratatouille, The Incredibles) Brad Bird arrives to the genre with his Pixar polish intact. Aping James Cameron and other who understand that stunts have to be carefully crafted and captured in order to mesmerize the viewer, his take on the tepid Mission: Impossible franchise is so fierce, so absolutely astonishing, that you'd swear you were watching a whole new style of filmmaking, not some long lost art.
Tom Cruise is back as Agent Ethan Hunt, and this time, it's World War...3. When a bomb goes off in the Kremlin, it stirs up bad feelings between the Russians and the United States. Smack dab in the middle of this crisis is the IMF - Agents Carter (Paula Patton), Dunn (Simon Pegg), and our hero. Seems they were trying to discover the identity of a madman named Cobalt, and got caught up in the crossfire. Now the US has disavowed the group, the Secretary (Tom Wilkinson) is warning about blowback, and the entire planet seems poised for nuclear annihilation. With the help of an 'analyst' named Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and their individual undercover skills, they tie the plot to a radical named Kurt Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist) with a fatal prediction for everyone on the globe.
With a "WOW" that should send shivers up the spine of every would-be action auteur, Bird crafts the year's most satisfying theatrical experience. From the opening bombing of the Kremlin to the delirious automated car garage finale, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol plows forward at breakneck speed and rarely lets up. With just enough narrative - stop the rogue nukes - to hang its set-pieces on, the film flies in the face of traditional big screen convention. As mentioned before, purveyors of latest editorial approach to cinematic derring-do have overloaded the stream with unnecessary shakes and jitters. Instead of creating logistical flow, understandable odds, and the (barely) believable breaking of same, they believe hyper histrionics will keep you engaged. Bird, on the other hand, goes old school in combination with F/X high tech, the result being a pure lump in the throat exhilaration.
Bringing back the best of the previous installments - that would be Pegg's prissy, hysterical Dunn - and adding a pair of amazing co-horts, Cruise combines his best attributes with an aging maturity to really get us to sympathize with Hunt. We can tell he's suffered, see the pain behind his otherwise steely eyes. Because there is this tragic nature to his personality, we want to see him win. It's not a question of stopping Armageddon. It's Hunt proving that no one - not anyone in IMF or any other similar secret organization - does it better. Since they are literally on their own (the title refers to a Presidential order dismantling the elite espionage ring) and must rely on only themselves, the story gives everyone a chance to shine...as well as a reason to do so. For Carter, it's personal. For Brandt? Well, let's not spoil one of the movie's major reveals.
Still, no one really comes to a Mission: Impossible movie for plot. They come for the fireworks, and Bird brings enough sky rockets to keep the twilight's last gleaming well in check. We begin with a prison break, followed by the aforementioned explosion. Then there is a trip to Dubai (and the scaling of the world's tallest building) that simply has to be seen to be believed. Filmed partially in IMAX and benefiting greatly from the clarity and detail provided, the entire hotel sequence is mind-boggling...and then the chase takes us into the middle of the city and a major sandstorm. As cars fly through zero visibility and every turn takes on an extra level of suspense, we recognize we're in the hands of a true master. While The Incredibles proved that cartoons could be just as spell binding as their live action cousins, Ghost Protocol takes it to a whole new level.
Even better, you can tell that this movie wants to deliver. You can see a desire to play to the audience, to prepare them for something great and then giving it to them over, and over, and over again. By the ending, everyone and everything is exhausted...including the viewer. Indeed, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol may suffer a bit from overkill. Bird is so eager to please that he practically levitates, his images spinning out of the frame in near frantic freshness. Luckily, he realizes his mistake and constantly keeps things in check, allowing his ambitions to merely suggest, not sink, his final results. As for Cruise, he keeps confusing those who would write him off as a fading superstar. Granted, his last few films have been more global than localized events, but Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol should bring his original legions back in droves.
That's because this is an action movie for those who've forgotten what made the genre so formidable in the first place. One can easily imagine the about face studio suits will have to do once the box office tallies come cascading in. While Brad Bird will get the majority of the credit - and he deserves it, along with ex-Alias scribes Andre Nemec and Josh Appelbaum - it's the series itself that probably deserves the most appreciation. Without the desire to constantly try something new, to make these movies a director's medium, we wouldn't have the bravado on display here (and, as many would point out, the flop sweat of John Woo's take on the material). Luckily, someone decided to give Brad Bird a shot. His Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol is 2011's most consistently entertaining effort.