Bird takes the series up a notch with enjoyable performances and character dynamics.

Nearly fifteen years after the original Mission: Impossible film debuted (and 45 years after the network TV show), audiences are once again presented with another franchise offering – this time in the form of the Brad Bird-directed installment, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.

With a long-standing pedigree of experienced live-action directors helming the Mission: Impossible series (Brian De Palma, John Woo, and J.J. Abrams), Bird might have initially seemed at a disadvantage, given a resume chock-full of animated films (The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and The Iron Giant). As a result, has the director succeeded in his “mission” to bring a fresh and stylish M:I installment to the big screen, more than six years after the lukewarm reception of Mission Impossible III?

Fortunately, the answer is yes. While Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (aka Mission Impossible 4) doesn’t hit the mark in every scene or character interaction, the majority of the film is an in-your-face action adventure with a number of enjoyable performances and exciting set pieces. Bird successfully captures the team dynamic of Mission: Impossible, while also making sure that the movie clips along at a quick pace and is filled with stylishly fun moments and the requisite character drama,.

Unlike prior entries (especially Mission: Impossible III), the story in Ghost Protocol is pretty straightforward with a linear race against time to stop a nuclear war. Tom Cruise once again returns as series lead, Ethan Hunt, who is incarcerated in a Russian prison at the opening of the film. When Hunt is sprung from jail, it’s only a matter of time before he’s caught in a shadowy conspiracy – one that doesn’t just result in the decimation of the Moscow Kremlin, but also the dissolution of the entire Impossible Missions Force (aka IMF); that is, with the exception of Hunt and his newly-formed team, which includes Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), and Jane Carter (Paula Patton). Using limited resources and fleeing for their lives, the trimmed-down IMF squad sets their sites on a mysterious person of interest, “Cobalt,” who is convinced that nuclear war is a necessary evil on the road to peace.

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) in ‘Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol’

While some franchise fans might wish for a Mission: Impossible film with more twists and turns, Bird’s installment in the series works largely because it keeps the focus grounded in the moment on a number of eye-popping action set-pieces, as well as tense, and interesting, character interactions. As mentioned, prior films in the series have been weighed down by overly-complicated storylines that actually distract from some of the cooler action beats. The trimmed-down plot in M:I4 is by no means thin, and successfully provides a sharp and believable globe-trotting James Bond-like adventure, leaving room for plenty of Bird’s style and sense of humor. Despite the high stakes, the film manages to find an enjoyable balance between the tongue-in-cheek absurdity in the onscreen hijinks, and a tense and relatively realistic tone.

While Cruise has always carried the Mission: Impossible movies, his performance this round is particularly in sync with Bird’s tone and style. Ethan Hunt’s personality, despite being a badass character on principle, has been somewhat amorphous from film to film (definitely hinging on the director’s interpretation), but in Ghost Protocol Cruise finds a great balance between humor and kick-ass action hero. It’s the first time (with the possible exception of the original film) that Ethan doesn’t come across as a hollow tour de force. While some character moments are a little melodramatic, and aren’t as successful as the film’s various action sequences, the story humanizes Hunt: we’re privy to moments of him struggling with loss, frustration, and even his sense of humor.

Some Mission: Impossible fans might have been frustrated by the absence of fan-favorite IMF agent Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), who sits this Mission out. However, the Ghost Protocol team offers a great blend of personalities (and, subsequently, in-the-field talents). Simon Pegg returns as tech-guru Benji Dunn, and much like Cruise, is at home with Bird’s direction, providing a number of memorable comedic moments without compromising the tone or believability of his character’s competency. New to the franchise this round are Renner’s Brandt and Patton’s Carter who, in addition to providing some kick-ass action, offer serious dramatic chops that make the film’s more sentimental moments worthwhile – instead of boring lulls in the action.

The ‘Ghost Protocol’ Team of Paula Patton, Simon Pegg, and Jeremy Renner.

That said, there are some character elements in the movie – especially Brandt’s backstory and how it fits into the larger Ghost Protocol story – that aren’t as deftly handled as the action. As mentioned, the Ghost Protocol plot is tighter than previous entries, so these character moments don’t ultimately detract from the large-scale action set pieces; however, some moviegoers will consider the thematic implications and character revelations to be pretty flat or even bizarre (such as a conversation about seduction between Carter and Hunt).

Similarly, the Ghost Protocol villain, Kurt Hendricks/”Cobalt” (Michael Nyqvist), is provided with a shocking lack of screen time or ongoing development. Audiences are introduced to the character early on, and everything worth mentioning about Cobalt is dumped out in one minute of IMF team-briefing exposition. The character is presented in the film as a shadowy and complex genius, but unfortunately, Bird never really gives Cobalt a voice. As a result, the character is little more than a flat go-between for the larger plot device of possible nuclear war. Ultimately, Cobalt successfully serves the narrative, but it’s a missed opportunity to craft an engaging villain, and the character is no doubt the least interesting antagonist in the Mission: Impossible film series.

While Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol managed to dodge the current 3D trend in Hollywood, it is still offered as a premium IMAX experience – with roughly 30 minutes shot with IMAX cameras to fill the entire screen. There’s no doubt that the increased scope (not to mention heavy-hitting sound) adds to the experience, especially during the sequence at Dubai’s Burj Khalifa. However, while cinephiles (or Bat-fans with a 70 mm IMAX theater nearby) may want to spring for the extra ticket, casual film fans who are merely looking for a hard-hitting action experience aren’t likely to miss much by seeing the film in a conventional theater.

Regardless of which director is at the helm, the Mission: Impossible series has always been about action and cool spy/infiltration scenarios, and there’s no doubt that Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol delivers on those points. Bird takes the series up a notch with enjoyable performances and character dynamics (even if a few fall flat), as well as a straightforward but still intriguing story that keeps the action moving at a steady clip from point “A” to “Mission: Accomplished.”

If you’re still on the fence about Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, check out the trailer below:

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Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick – and let us know what you thought of the film below:

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is now in theaters.

Our Rating:

4 out of 5

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