Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol is the fourth film in the Tom Cruise franchise vehicle series. It stars the aforementioned Mr. Cruise, along with Simon Pegg (returning from an earlier M:I appearance in M:I 3), Paula Patton and Jeremy Renner (of The Hurt Locker and the upcoming Avengers movie). It was directed by Brad Bird, which is apropos even though his prior big hit was animated - because he directed The Incredibles. It was produced by Cruise and J.J. Abrams (of Bad Robot productions, maker of Lost and more importantly the director of Mission: Impossible 3, which was better than the second outing). The budget was approximately $145 million, and it was released in the US on December 16, 2011. It came out in Dubai a week or so earlier, which makes sense since a big chunk of it was filmed there.
This is a fun movie. It is not a good movie. If that distinction confuses you, don't worry, you'll probably enjoy it. If it doesn't confuse you but makes you suspicious, well, you might not be the target audience - but there's still a chance for you. I'll explain.
The M:I series has been uneven. The first one was pretty good - hewing close to the line laid down by the original television series back in the 1960s, it had a (for an action movie) relatively complex plot, and its execution depended heavily on the kind of spy trickery for which the TV series was justly famous. The second movie, directed by Hong Kong action master John Woo, delivered heavily on explosions and fight scenes but failed nearly every other requirement for a fun movie. It had a really linear and boring plot. The characters made no sense and weren't really that engaging and seemed mostly to serve as ragdolls and props for elaborate explosions and fight sequences. I have to say that I didn't actually enjoy it much. The third outing was not bad at all, mostly (in my opinion) due to two things - first, the addition of Simon Pegg for some light humor to counterbalance Cruise's iron-faced action hero and second, the casting of Philip Seymour Hoffman as almost a caricatured mirror of Cruise's good guy. He was, essentially, Ethan Hunt gone bad, and that contest made the movie fun to watch, for me.
So here we are. The fourth movie. I have to say, it feels like Brad Bird sat down with the first three movies and the TV show in a screening room and a notepad and said "Okay. What makes these movies fun to watch that's relatively distinctive?" He came out of there with two words, circled on the notepad.
It's hard to make an action espionage movie these days, as all such live in the shadow of the Jason Bourne movies. Jeremy Renner, in fact, will move from M:I-4 directly (without passing go) to a starring role in (yes) The Bourne Legacy - another fourth installment of a spy series, but this one no longer starring the titular Jason Bourne. Anyhow, the problem with making action espionage movies is that if you're not careful, you'll end up with green filters and tight, (un)Steadicam-filmed close hand-to-hand combat sequences, and harrowing escapes, and not much else. Safe House, a recent Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds film, went so far down this path to imitative mediocrity it even had characters who were clones of (the excellent) Bryan Cox and Joan Allen's characters from the Bourne movies.
But Mission: Impossible offers a director an out, and Brad Bird didn't just take it, he stormed that beach. That out is: science fiction technology allowing completely impossible scenes to seem tension-filled but possible. It's as if Bird came out of that screening room with two hours and fifteen minutes of nothing but sci-fi-backed chase, heist and escape sequences in his head and then commissioned somebody to write up a paper-thin plot (yadda yadda nuclear weapons yadda psychopath 'terrorist' yadda) to loosely tie them together.
I think it works.
It's like watching two hours of nothing but Bond movie climaxes, intercut with Bourne-style escapes (not too many, though) with a dash of Ocean's Eleven and The Italian Job heisting thrown in for spice.
And damn, you know what? It worked for me. And I really dislike pretty much everything about Cruise. I reached the end still entertained laughing at the ridiculousness of the plot but having loads of fun with the action sequences. Despite Ving Rhames only showing up for a cameo, I consider my ticket money well spent - I got what I came hoping for.
The plot? Seriously? You want to know? Um, OK. It goes something like this (don't worry about spoilers, all this is in the trailer, pretty much): a rogue Russian strategic weapons planner has a vision that the world need a nuclear war to reach real peace, so he kicks off an elaborate plot to steal a Russian nuclear launch console and the appropriate launch codes. In so doing, he sets off a big (conventional) bomb in Moscow, both to cover his theft and to ratchet up tensions between the US and Russia (because, sure, Russia immediately assumes the US sneaked a big conventional bomb into their Defense Ministry and blew up, like, one corner of it). The explosion is blamed on the IMF (because who *else* could have done it?) so the president 'initiates Ghost Protocol' - disavows and disbands the entire IMF, except (you guessed it) Ethan Hunt and his band of 3 pals who are in the field. They're the only ones who can track down the whackjob, intercept the codes, steal back the console, prevent nuclear war, etc. etc.
See? I told you it was thin.