Say what you will about Tom Cruise (and there’s an awful lot that could be said). For me, his name has always been synonymous with, “entertaining.” For all his shortcomings, including his inability/refusal to incorporate appropriate accents and his wackadoo personal life, he makes wholly entertaining movies. From Top Gun to Knight and Day, he has put together a three decade-long career that is chock full of thrilling excitement. You can’t always say that his films are good but very rarely can you deny the man his ability to enthrall the masses. Ghost Protocol, then, serves as a return to form and a pronouncement to the man’s detractors that Tom Cruise is still a force to be reckoned with.
At the outset, we find Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) locked away in a Russian prison. Within minutes (really seconds), however, his old pal Benji (Simon Pegg) and newcomer Jane (Paula Patton) have busted him out in order for Hunt to resume his duties at IMF. He and his team immediately take on a new assignment that unfortunately goes quite bad, resulting in their being framed for the bombing of the Kremlin. Having been disavowed by the US government, the trio, along with the help of William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), an analyst with a mysterious past, is forced to go on the run, one step ahead of Russian operatives who would see them brought to justice. In an effort to both clear their names and, you know, save the world and all, Hunt and his comrades pursue Alex Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist), a nuclear extremist bent on destroying civilization as we know it, using a variety of elaborate and frantic methods in a host of exotic locations.
As an action movie junkie, I have a healthy respect for two of the previous three Mission: Impossible films. The first M:I is the prototypical mid-‘90s action flick, smarter than what we were treated to in the ‘80s but not quite intelligent enough to fit our standards in a post-Inception world. M:I2 is a heap of rubbish, plain and simple. From a plot standpoint, M:I3 is the best of the group and it’s a movie I quite like though I believe I am in the minority. Even still, the Mission: Impossible franchise has long been just another set of action movies that blends together with a host of other acceptable-to-above-average entertaining exhibitions in special effects.
Ghost Protocol is different, however. MUCH different. This is the very rare sequel to a sequel to a sequel that is by far and without question, the best of the group (see also: Fast Five). No longer can this series be relegated to the overcrowded ranks of “fun-but-forgettable” action flicks. Ghost Protocol is a clever cross between Bourne and Bond with a touch of cool intelligence that is reminiscent of Ocean’s 11. This is a much smarter film than the average action movie, much of which should be attributed to director Brad Bird (Incredibles). “Smart” should not be confused with “complex” or “real”; Ghost Protocol has more than its fair share of plot points that could be blasted for inaccuracies and absurd stunts that could never, ever happen. But these potential issues are presented in such an overwhelmingly appealing way that it seems foolish to quibble when it’s so much easier to just get on board. The gadgets and technologies used by the team are better than anything James Bond ever had at his disposal and each item is used splendidly. In essence, this is a popcorn blockbuster with a Pixar brain, which turns out to be just as glorious as it sounds.
From the opening shot, Ghost Protocol moves a mile a minute and delivers some of the most ambitious action sequences of the year. The impact of this movie goes deeper than the outlandish stunts, however. It would be easy to film what will undoubtedly be an awesome scene and leave it at that. But Bird and his crew take these shots to a whole new level with impeccable technical work. The cinematography and shot selection are about as good as you can ask for in a blockbuster. Some of the camera work, especially the scenes in Dubai, is absolutely stunning. Likewise, the sound mix is perfect, adding to the impact of each gun shot, car crash, and punch to the jaw. These elements serve to put the audience into the heart of the action and give the impression that Bird cared about creating a great film not just a passable popcorn flick.
The supporting cast around Cruise rounds into form nicely, coming together to make up Hunt’s best team yet. Pegg’s brand of comedic relief is predictable but nonetheless enjoyable and he displays a little more grit than he has in the past. Patton is a welcome addition and she brings real value to her role, the rare female action hero who actually carries her weight. This is what I think Zoe Saldana is supposed to be and I look forward to seeing more of her in the future. And then, of course, there’s Renner who plays slightly against type and, while he’s certainly not reinventing the wheel, he displays enough quiet power behind his character’s lack of confidence to make his role work very well.
But Ghost Protocol goes nowhere without a strong lead and Cruise is more than up to the challenge. I have always been a serious fan of the man and I feel like he’s gotten an unfair shake over the last half-decade or so. What I have always appreciated about Cruise is his earnest desire to make his movies great (whether he succeeds or not). A buddy of mine hit the nail on the head regarding Cruise when he said that he always tries really hard. Every movie, every scene, every shot, Cruise strives to make it the best he’s ever done. I think he truly cares about his films in a way that most movie stars do not. Ghost Protocol is no exception as Cruise goes after every scene like it’s the one that will bring home an Oscar. For me, it is this commitment to the moment that sells Ghost Protocol as more than just a run-of-the-mill action movie and makes it one of the most deliciously appealing, wonderfully entertaining, and decidedly multi-dimensional films of the year.