Brad Bird, director of Pixar instant classics Ratatouille and one of my favourite movies, The Incredibles, makes his live action debut with the fourth film of the Mission: Impossible series, this time around titled Ghost Protocol. The last J.J. Abrams-directed outing in 2006 predictably made a ton of dough, but was a decidedly flat movie, so the franchise had a bit of redeeming to do, in my eyes. And that it does, lead by an excellent performance from star Tom Cruise.This is a well-paced, humour-laced, perpetually entertaining popcorn flick highly deserving of the franchise's latest commercial success, having just this past weekend surpassed the highest worldwide gross for a film in the series.
Cruise's Ethan Hunt character here is surrounded by an almost all new IMF (Impossible Mission Force) support team: back again is Simon Pegg's Benji character for tech support and comic relief, with new additions in the form of the gorgeous and versatile Agent Carter (played by Paula Patton), and Jeremy Renner as William Brandt, an IMF analyst with a mysterious background. Renner's derivative backstory and subplot is the flimsiest part of the film, so combine that with the fact I'm just not much of a fan of his (I've found it somewhat extraordinary watching how much mileage he's wrung out of the hugely overrated The Hurt Locker) and he definitely emerges as the movie's weak link, one of its very few. After an international incident that implicates some of the IMF team, they are "disavowed" by the U.S. government and forced to operate independently, which is what the movie's title refers to. It's a nice story twist that adds a fresh, challenging aspect to the agents' normal way of working...not that much of what they do could be considered normal. The bulk of the story focuses on some severely reheated Cold War tensions that find Hunt and his team scrambling to avoid World War III. And the high tech gadgets return, naturally - one of the neater ones involves an eye-defying projection device that helps Hunt and Benji sneak around The Kremlin.
Cruise reminds us of why he's the gold standard when it comes to anchoring well-crafted movies that aim to be nothing more than escapist fun. His Hunt is a compelling mix of smarts, charm, and badass toughness, which are on full display in a number of lively scenes that Bird executes expertly. The most showy and impressive involves Hunt scaling the side of the Burj Khalifa building, located in Dubai and famed as the tallest building in the world. The action sequence is stunning to watch and the fact that Hunt's aerial acrobatics completely defy the laws of physics doesn't diminish the acute rush the scene packs. There's also a couple of tremendously enjoyable and deftly orchestrated scenes that involve a prison riot and a chase that occurs in an intense sandstorm.