“Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” pretty much starts with Tom Cruise uttering these words: “Light the fuse.” That’s when the famous and beloved Lalo Schifrin theme music kicks in. Prior to that, Cruise and his IMF team–the gorgeous and smart Paul Patton, the funny and cocky Simon Pegg–have just pulled off a clever prison break that shows this episode of “MI” is indeed a group effort. Director Brad Bird has wisely moved Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt into the team and away from being the preposterous hero. Of course, “MI” is preposterous by its very nature, but regrouping in this way has allowed Bird to make a big commercial hit that is better than all its predecessors, exhilarating, and a spectacular adventure. Then Jeremy Renner joins the team, and everything is ratcheted up a notch.
Don’t be fooled–Cruise is still the star. But his Ethan Hunt is better written, and a lot of more interesting to watch than in prior incarnations. His acts of derring do — like careening off the tallest building in the world, in Dubai–are pretty freakin’ cool. And a piece set in a modern day sand storm may wind up being clipped as a classic in film history. It’s sort of brilliant. But Cruise’s hubris has been scaled back to something resembling human by Bird. And Cruise approves–he’s a producer on the film. To make a transition into his 50s, and away from “Valkyrie” and couch jumping, Cruise had to readjust himself. He’s done it well, I think. This is the first time I can remember being interested in what Ethan Hunt was up to. That’s saying a lot.
This has been such a disappointing year for well executed big studio action films. And in Oscar season, all we see are arthouse and indie films. So I was actually happy to point out product placements–Dell, BMW, Canon cameras. It was like seeing old friends. Of course, “MI” does flag at one point, gets a little muddled and talky. But that’s to be expected in the second act. When the third act revs up, you’re guaranteed a good time, and a surprise ending with the return of a couple welcome franchise characters.
The IMF team is excellent. In this episode, they’re fingered for allowing the Kremlin to be blown up. They’re disavowed and must re-establish themselves. The team is well executed. Patton is just a huge hit. Pegg is solid as comic relief–and he gets his share of action. Renner looks like he’s being groomed to pick up where Ethan leaves off. Indeed, by the end, Renner’s secret agent gets the big set piece–floating in mid air in a tunnel– while Cruise’s hunt is supervising.
For once the hype matches the experience. Brad Bird makes a wonderful transition to live action from his highly successful animation career. Tom Cruise, whom I’ve criticized a lot in the past for crazy or bad behavior, returns triumphantly to what he does best. You can’t ask for more than that. Paramount’s Brad Grey wins big points for bringing Cruise back after Sumner Redstone fired him five years ago. “Ghost Protocol” may be what saves the box office from its current slump.