Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocolrecommended viewing

Plays fair.
Brad Bird
Tom Cruise, Paula Patton, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg
The Setup: 
Same old shit, executed with panache.

I was NOT interested in this, at all. The last one was so lugubrious and lame, it left a bad taste in my mouth. Then Tom Cruise's career imploded. I don't much care about that, but I just think its time for him to move on to other things--like expand on his serious turn in... that one with the rain of frogs? Which one was that? Just do something DIFFERENT, buddy. I guess he's going to do that with an expansion of his Lew Grossman role from... that Ben Stiller one where they're at war? Nevertheless, he's 50, and perhaps time to move away from the action before he turns to Stallone. And then this is the live-action debut of Brad Bird, of The Iron Giant (which I'm apparently alone in not loving) and The Incredibles, which was okay, if too frenetic. So I wasn't totally on his side to have a triumph. And not to mention that the trailer seemed to give away every twist, and the movie seemed to repeat several moments from the previous installments. And looked like it had 19 different endings.

Then the reviews came out, and were largely positive, including one that was in total awe of this movie's precision and mastery of action scene timing and execution. I kept getting more and more interested until I had a free afternoon over the holidays and, fuck it! I'm going to see Mission Impossible! And surprise, it turned out to be quite good, beautifully made and super fun!

We open with a sequence in which an agent we don't know is felled by an emotionless supermodel. Then we have a super-fun prison break that reintroduces Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt, Simon Peggy as Benji, an adorable terrier, and Paula Patton as agent Dunn, comely female badass of indeterminate race. At this moment (the next day) I can't remember quite what made this sequence so super-fun, I just remember it was super-fun. Then it leads to an equally fun credits sequence that gives full play to the awesomely cool Mission: Impossible theme, which I also appreciated, because you only lose goodwill by leaving out the cool theme music, which the last installment did pretty much entirely. I was also happy to learn that the score, which was quite good, uses the familiar theme music throughout. Excellent!

We then have Dunn explains who she is, which involves a flashback to the opening sequence, and establishes as emotional connection for her to the upcoming plot. They receive a mission to infiltrate the Kremlin, which they do in a VERY fun sequence full of humor, suspense and extremely clever gadgets. Now as you know, in action movies the women are often disposable, the wife or girlfriend of the hero usually never lives for long, because men must be free of personal encumbrance. The last installment was all about Hunt getting married, and she is notably absent in this one, so when you get a throwaway line like "He had a wife, but she died or something," you think that's all you're going to get. But, happily, the movie elaborates on it, then soon makes clear that it is not going to let this wife be thrown away like inconsequential trash at all, but make her an integral part of the story. Refreshing change!

So Hunt's team is framed for the bombing, in which nuclear launch codes are stolen by a guy who wants to destroy all of humanity, then start again. The whole IMF is disavowed and only Hunt and his team are left! It works because we can understand the villain's plan and what's at stake, as opposed to several Bond films where you can never really figure out what the villain really wants, you just know it's bad. Along the way they pick up Jeremy Renner as Brandt, who may or may not be what he seems.

It all leads to the showpiece on the world's tallest tower in Dubai. The movie is smart in first showing the tower from a distance, where we can see it towering over the entire skyline. There's this whole series of interlocking action sequences that have to be undergone in order to make two people think they are meeting each other when in fact they are meeting different people on different floors, which is kind of endearingly loopy. This necessitates Ethan climbing on the outside of the building, but first, we see the sandstorm that will be the gimmick of the NEXT big action sequence approaching in the distance. Now, you may have heard that one of the the schticks of this movie is that the high-tech gadgets that movies of this type usually rely on here fail at crucial moments, or just plain don't work--as gadgets often just plain don't work in real life. This is a good idea that is successful in generating many key suspense moments, although after awhile you may be like "Gee, does EVERY gadget have to fail?" Anyway, the climbing on the outside of the building is genuinely exciting and suspenseful, and where most movies of this type have me watching sequences of this type with weary lack of response, this one actually had me with my hand over my mouth with jangled nerves. When it was over, the audience applauded.

After this whole massive sequence, Ethan runs outside just as the sandstorm hits, and we have our NEXT big action sequence. However, this is where the film should have given us a little break, because fatigue is starting to set in. It's also at the point where our heroes are starting to seem a touch insane for mindlessly going and going and going without just breaking down and giving up. We have a little breather and some character moments before the LAST big action sequences(s) and if I had any suggestion, it might be to pare down some of the action and derring-do so that the ones remaining can have more impact, and the overall film a more graceful shape. The end sequence is a real knock-down, drag-out fight in which Ethan is badly injured, and we see him limping along with a lame leg, which is a refreshing change from the indestructible heroes of yore, although you do have to reflect that he has previously jumped through a window with flying shards of glass and received nary a cut, and leapt from a speeding car without so much as a bruise, so his suddenly becoming injured comes off as a touch gimmicky. The movie ends with a low-key scene that, well, just goes on too long and causes the excitement of the movie to deflate. This is a mistake, because one walks out scoring the movie about ten points lower than one would have if it had just rushed right to the end and let you go out on a high.

These are minor quibbles, and one makes them only because the whole of the film is so successful. It is fun and intelligent, and remains focused on showing the audience a good time, which earns a great deal of goodwill. The action scenes are completely comprehensible, and if the movie hasn't told us something, it's not an oversight, it's because it is saving it to give us a surprise later. It tweaks conventions of the genre in a way that is smart and shows it respects your intelligence. It plays fair. I went into it annoyed that it was being foisted on an unwanting public, now I'm happy to see it doing well at the box office. They realized they had a flagging franchise on their hands and came up with a clever gimmick to turn it around; make a good movie.

Should you watch it: 

If you like spy/action thrillers, this one will do of right.