Against All Odds: On Why Brad Bird’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol Works

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The new IMF team, from left to right: William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), and Jane Carter (Paula Patton).

In the course of his career, Thomas Cruise Mapother IV, or simply Tom Cruise in Hollywood circles, has had his fair share of memorable roles. Some of those coming to mind are Jerry Maguire, Vincent Lauria from The Color Of Money, Charlie Babbitt from Rain Man, Daniel Kaffee from Born On The 4th Of July, Bill Harford from Eyes Wide Shut, Frank Mackey from Magnolia, or David Aames from Vanilla Sky.

He has also been the hero of several action blockbusters. His more adrenaline-laden characters include Top Gun’s Maverick, Days Of Thunder’s Cole Trickle, Minority Report’s John Anderton, The Last Samurai Nathan Algren, and Ray Ferrier from Steven Spielberg’s War Of The Worlds remake. None of them, however, has had the longevity of secret agent Ethan Hunt from the cinematic version of the Mission: Impossible series.

At almost 50, Cruise returns as the super spy in Ghost Protocol, the fourth entry into what was previously a mixed bag of movies centered on the same star and protagonist. Veteran filmmaker Brian De Palma kick-started the series with relatively slow-paced first part in 1996, before Hong Kong action master John Woo and TV whizzkid J.J. Abrams were given a try for the second and third installments. Now it’s Brad Bird’s turn in the director’s chair.

Other than Cruise and British comedian Simon Pegg (of Shaun Of The Dead, Hot Fuzz, Star Trek, and Paul fame), the two-time Oscar winner (The Incredibles and Ratatouille) gets a whole new cast for his Mission: Impossible debut. With his longtime wingman Luther Stickells (Ving Rhames) all but gone, Hunt’s new four-man team is now completed by Benji Dunn (Pegg) plus William Brandt (Jeremy Renner, the new star of the Bourne series), and Jane Carter (Paula Patton).

While the third part was more of a domestic drama about Ethan’s marriage to Julia (Michelle Monagham), the fourth entry raises the stakes. The film wastes no time in letting us know. It begins with the killing of a secret agent – and the subsequent rescue of Hunt from a Russian prison. From there, Ghost Protocol takes its audience to a failed mission in the Kremlin, the disbanding of the IMF, and to the world of the rich and famous in Dubai and India.

Let’s not kid ourselves. Hollywood blockbusters haven’t been too kind on their viewers in recent years, especially with all the sequels and reboots that seem to spring up like mushrooms. Cruise’s track record hasn’t exactly been great as of late, either. Yet the new Mission: Impossible somehow manages to defy the odds and fulfills everything you expect from a blockbuster – in a good sense.

Bird has assembled a fine cast that pits internationals Michael Nyquist (known from the Swedish version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) and Vladimir Mashkov (from Enemy At The Gates and The Edge) against Hunt and company for different reasons. Add a breakneck pace, great stunts, excellent camerawork and editing, and a good sense of humor to the mix – and the result is Ghost Protocol.

Granted, the jokes may not be as sophisticated as those in arthouse flicks, but that’s not to be expected from a film designed for a wide range of audiences. Still, the humor works in the context of the movie. To give one example – when the crew members give themselves planet names during a covert mission at an Indian multibillionaire’s house, Dunn asks on the radio, ‘Why am I Pluto? It’s not even a planet anymore.’ To which Brandt merely replies, ‘Well, I think Uranus is available.’

Overall, Ghost Protocol is one of the more pleasant surprises in an otherwise deteriorating world of Hollywood blockbusters. The new cast and crew have done wonders for the Mission: Impossible franchise, and it may even be argued that the fourth entry is the strongest in the series. Bird’s direction proves to be every bit as masterful with real actors as with the animated characters from his earlier projects.

As for the cast, Patton makes a charming leading lady, Pegg shines in delivering his dry and quirky British humor, and one can see why the producers chose Renner to be the new face of the Bourne films. Nyquist and Mashkov are convincing antagonists for the IMF spies. At the conclusion, Ghost Protocol hints at another movie to follow with the same team of agents. If it reaches the same level, there shouldn’t even be a debate.