Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible franchise has always worked better as a director’s demo reel, in which diverse filmmakers take turns showing off all the various and sundry ways they can photograph their star/producer running very fast. There’s not much in the way of continuity connecting the films, and, dare I say, no series has ever had a leading character quite as blank as Cruise’s Ethan Hunt. Four flicks in, and I still don’t know a damn thing about him.
What we’re looking at here is basically a delivery system for action set-pieces, and boy howdy Brad Bird’s Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol has several doozies, including the greatest stunt sequence I’ve seen in years. The brilliant animator behind The Iron Giant and The Incredibles, Bird is making his live-action debut, and displays an astonishing facility for conveying information in bold, purely visual flourishes. He’s also got a snarky sense of humor, as a pre-credit prison riot set to Dean Martin’s “Aint That A Kick In The Head” assures us straight away that we’re in very good hands, indeed.
The plot is boiler-plate M:I stuff, if this time around a bit less convoluted than usual. After being framed for a terrorist attack on the Kremlin, Cruise’s Hunt is stranded in Russia with a ragtag crew (Simon Pegg, Paula Patton and Jeremy Renner) plus a truckload of malfunctioning gadgets, attempting to catch a whack-job nuclear terrorist (the original Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’s Michael Nyqvist) toting a suitcase full of launch codes.
What makes Ghost Protocol so special is Bird’s vertiginous knack for propulsion, spinning our bickering crew from one absurdly dangerous situation into another with a spatial cause and effect logic worthy of Looney Tunes. A portion of the globe-trotting film was shot with IMAX cameras, and for once it’s worth your extra bucks at the ticket booth to just gaze upon how Bird and cinematographer Robert Elswit work the vertical patterns of these expansive vistas and massive skyscrapers.
Especially during the film’s instantly classic centerpiece, which finds Cruise struggling with faulty equipment while dangling from Dubai’s Burj Khalifa tower, some 130-odd stories in the air. Bless his crazy heart, the 49-year-old Cruise was actually hanging out there doing some of this insane shit himself. My acrophobia is so bad, I watched the scene through splayed fingers, temporarily unable to breathe. And yet for some sick reason, I can’t wait to see it again.