Brad Bird’s version of a “Mission Impossible” movie is the best of the four so far presented to the public. It is a James Bond movie, full of exotic settings, wild gadgets, and incredible villains, and Ethan Hunt and his Impossible Missions team zip through it almost without pausing. One would expect no less from the director who made “Iron Giant” and “The Incredibles.”
Yes, Bird had only directed animated films until he got ahold of “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.” His first live-action film doesn’t have the nifty characters that rewarded the viewers of his cartoon films. But then consider the relative coldness of the cast with which he had to work.
Tom Cruise makes a decent action hero, but rarely seems like a guy one would want to have a beer with. Paula Patton is a beauty, and she works really hard in this movie, but she doesn’t generate a lot of immediate sympathy. The likable Tom Wilkinson plays the “Secretary” responsible for offering Hunt’s “team” all sorts of adventurous missions, but this character is killed in his first and only scene in the film. Ving Rhames, who has provided most of the human warmth in the earlier series films, is only in this one for a look in.
So there isn’t much one can call “friendly” in the cast. Except Simon Pegg, that is. No one can see “Ghost Protocol” without recognizing that Pegg can be funny given the tiniest opportunity. And he gets several shots here, playing Hunt’s technical specialist.
In the film’s first complicated action sequence—of which there are three or four here, taking up the bulk of the film’s running time—Pegg’s Benji Dunn sits at a computer keyboard somewhere in Moscow and orchestrates a prison riot, opening doors along the way so that Ethan can escape. Then the two of them dress up as Russian army officers and sneak into the Kremlin, using a complicated and high tech, rolling screen to hide their safe breaking.
They are looking for information that will help them to identify a potential terrorist known as Cobalt. This rogue Swede has swiped the launch codes for Russian nukes and intends to use them to start a world war. The second step in his plan is to destroy the Kremlin, which he does while Ethan is there. In fact, Ethan is suspected of being responsible himself.
And because this causes tension between the Russians and our government, the Mission Impossible force is “disavowed,” Ethan discovers while on a limo ride during which he meets a mysteriously skilled “analyst” named Brandt (Jeremy Renner). Assisted by Benji and tight dress favoring Agent Carter (Patton), they escape to Dubai and try a complicated, glass climbing and diamond drowning scam to try to keep Cobalt from buying the launch codes we thought he already had. They fail.
Then it turns out he’ll need access to a “tactical satellite” to launch a missile at the U.S. An arms dealer tells Ethan that Cobalt will use a satellite controlled from Bombay, and off the team goes to another exotic location.
Everywhere they go there is a plan that goes slightly wrong, putting the “team” in danger. They manage to solve their problem, at least temporarily, but discover there are more hoops to jump through, and the film cuts back and forth between at least two lines of hoop jumping. So long as there are hoops to be jumped, the movie is a lot of fun to watch. When it slows down to discuss, we notice that the characters aren’t really the kind of guys we like to meet for lunch.
Bird’s “Ghost Protocol” manages to be active enough that it is another of the holiday movies that amuses, and even excites. Welcome to live action features, mister director.