Director: Brad Bird
Length: 2h 13m
Synopsis: After an IMF agent is killed in an effort to capture the launch codes for Russian nuclear warheads, Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his crack team of agents are assigned to find out who took the codes and why. Their efforts, however, lead them to being framed for the destruction of the Moscow Kremlin, which makes Ethan Russia’s most wanted and forces IMF to disavow all of its agents. So with no help from IMF and a huge target on their backs, Ethan and Co. must prevent the stolen launch codes from getting into the wrong hands. Crazy and elaborate plans ensue, with stunts and chases aplenty. What we see may possibly be their biggest challenge yet.
Analysis: It was a wonder to some whether Brad Bird, who had not yet directed a live-action film before now, could maintain the same level of excellence that he accomplished in directing Pixar’s The Incredibles and Ratatouille. Both animated films were marvels to behold for various reasons, but Bird’s deft direction of their action sequences definitely stands out. One imagines that such a skill, certainly in addition to many others, helped qualify him to helm the newest entry into the Mission: Impossible series. Bird’s directorial style with action sequences carries over from his stints with animation fairly well, as it seems he didn’t have to make many compromises regarding the placement and movement of the camera. Seeing his style play out in live-action helps to point out its similarities to Chris Nolan’s work, which features a healthy usage of crane and POV tracking shots, and an almost rhythmic capturing of fight scenes. And whereas J.J. Abrams’ style for M: I 3 was sometimes gritty and dark, Bird never loses that glossy veneer of clean-cut Hollywood fastidiousness. The result is a very polished look that emphasizes a sense of modernity about the film that hasn’t been seen in the series before.
As is customary for sequels, with each new addition to the franchise the stakes get higher and higher. In the original 1996 movie Ethan Hunt (Cruise) worked to save the identities of hundreds of secret agents, its sequel in 2000 had Ethan save Australia from a biochemical attack, and in the third film we’re not told exactly what the “rabbit’s foot” is but it’s suggested to be something almost unimaginably dangerous. With M: I – Ghost Protocol, the stakes are no lower than nuclear war. It’s curious that this is the second major movie this year wherein the major threat to be avoided is a nuclear holocaust (the first being X-Men: First Class), but let’s refrain from suggesting a pattern until a third film does the same in the next few months. If so, then we’ll have something to talk about. Meanwhile, some hints about the next M: I movie are worth mentioning. First, Renner’s character Brandt at one point takes a leap of faith somewhat reminiscent of the one Ethan made in the first film. Word is that he’ll be replacing Tom Cruise as the face of the franchise once Cruise decides to walk away. In pondering how the next film will escalate beyond nuclear war – or, rather, in pondering what threat will first be faced by Renner in Cruise’s stead – we should probably keep in mind a reference toward the end of the film of the Syndicate, which was the terrorist organization from the M: I television series. If Tom Cruise were to retire from the franchise now, such a change in enemies would make a good point of transition. And with Renner at least superficially linked with Cruise’s Ethan, audiences will at least be somewhat ready for the passing of the torch.
A rather familiar narrative aspect can be found in this newest Mission: Impossible. Like with the first and third films in the series, Ethan and his team find themselves not only in opposition to their mark but also a faction of authority. Instead of that faction being IMF, though, this time it’s the Russian government. Once again, they find themselves caught between authority and criminality. And like before, the faction of authority, after chasing Ethan and Co. for most of the film, ends up helping our heroes clean up their mess and/or apprehend the bad guys. This in-between position that our protagonists continually occupy has usually helped to keep the plot progressing at a brisk pace, but here the impression is that the Russian government is not so much on Ethan’s heels as at least one or two full steps behind. We’re reminded every so often that they’re giving chase, but because they never get close until it’s most convenient for Ethan such reminders really only work to keep us from forgetting about them so that their involvement at the end doesn’t seem to come completely out of left field. In other words, the involvement of the Russian government in chasing Ethan and his team is not so much a way of elaborating the story as it is a way of providing a convenience that helps tie everything together. And if the IMF weren’t completely absent, such a convenience wouldn’t even be necessary. The point to be made from this is that the premise of the film (i.e. the disavowing of all IMF agents), while intriguing, forces the plot to be simplified, which is not typical of a Mission: Impossible film. The action is great fun, the techno-tools are cool, the chases are exciting, but at no point is one’s brain ever teased. Because the fun factor is so high such a shortcoming might seem ineffectual to some, but for others exercising the brain is a part of that.