Is there anything more to Ghost Protocol than spectacle and style? Well, no, not really. That, some gorgeous globe-hopping backdrops (beautifully filmed by director of photography Robert Elswit) and the considerable star power of Cruise and his costers.
These include returning comic sidekick Simon Pegg (Scotty in Abrams’ Star Trek) as tech agent Benji Dunn; Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker) as an enigmatic desk agent; Paula Patton (Déjà Vu, Jumping the Broom) replacing Maggie Q in the role of Kickboxing Female Agent who Gets out of a Snazzy Sportscar in a Slinky Dress at Some Fancy Soirée. The story gives these characters just enough personal history to have motivations and emotions that are important to them, if not to us, but that’s enough to be serviceable.
Bird’s animated films are so full of heart and ideas that one could reasonably have hoped for a transformational take on Mission: Impossible for his live-action debut. Instead, for the first time directing from a screenplay he neither wrote himself nor rewrote (as he rewrote Ratatouille after taking over the project from Jan Pinkava), Bird has taken the opportunity to flex his muscles—to showcase for the world, and possibly to discover for himself, what he can do in a new medium.
Other extraordinary sequences include a chase sequence in a sandstorm in which visibility drops to zero and a climactic hand-to-hand combat in a high-rise robotic parking garage with cars on hydraulic platforms moving up and down. I can’t think of anything offhand comparable to either one.
One thing that makes these scenes special is the way Bird injects personality into them. An opening set piece, with Hunt breaking out of a Russian prison amid a prisoner riot, comes to a head in a silent exchange between Hunt and Benji Dunn in which neither party can hear the other, and Hunt can’t even see Benji, but each knows exactly what the other is thinking.
In other sequences, the movie’s most reliable gambit is for the Impossible Missions Force’s high-tech gadgets—some of which are among the most inspired gadgets we’ve seen in a long time—to fail, forcing the agents to improvise. This isn’t played for mere cleverness, but for how the characters respond, and it ratchets up the suspense to tightrope tension.
I also really like a few wincing moments when Hunt doesn’t quite nail his landings, with potentially disastrous consequences. Fallibility and vulnerability make a hero more appealing, like Indiana Jones not quite making that first jump in the Peruvian temple, or landing hard on his backside when slugged by the burly German pilot. (By contrast, an opening stunt with an IMF agent landing a crazy backward jump off a roof onto an absurdly tiny airbag sets an unfortunate precedent that the movie doesn’t shake off for awhile—and the rolling climactic sequence goes too far in allowing its heroes to shrug off ridiculous amounts of physical punishment.)
Ultimately, the movie’s breezy confidence and lighthearted tone is a big part of its success. Like all the best moments in the Mission: Impossible films so far, Ghost Protocol is a romp, and it knows it. In my review of Mission: Impossible III I commented that “for the first time a Mission: Impossible movie has a level of emotional urgency. The downside is, having seen it, I’m not sure I want emotional urgency in a Mission: Impossible movie.” Ghost Protocol has just about everything I want in a Mission: Impossible movie, and just about nothing that I don’t.
Content advisory: Much intense action violence, sometimes deadly; brief unclear reference to killings in a heroic character’s past; some suggestive content including images of erotic art; a few instances of profanity and some crass language.