Director: Brad Bird
Starring: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Paula Patton
In terms of malleability, the Mission: Impossible series may be second only to the Fast & Furious series (which has transitioned from being undercover cop movies, to heist movies, to movies about a bizarre, non-sanctioned special forces team, with what is essentially a stand alone movie about teenagers and street racing in the middle) in terms of its ability to hit the reset button with each new entry. Every film, none of which share a director or a writing team and where the only real constant is Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt, strikes its own particular tone and presents its own particular take on the spy movie. It's the sort of series that you can watch entirely out of order without missing a step because there's not a lot of carryover from the previous films (in this respect, Ghost Protocol is an exception, albeit very, very slightly) and the series is defined by its action set pieces, rather than any overarching narrative. If you rank the films according to the skill and audacity of their set pieces, Ghost Protocol would arguably end up on top as, even though the dangling off a plane as it takes off sequence of Rogue Nation is nothing short of impressive, I'm not sure that anything will ever be more go for broke than the sequence where Cruise climbs up and then runs down the Burj Khalifa.
Ghost Protocol begins with Hunt in a Moscow prison, about to be extracted by Benji (Simon Pegg) and Jane Carter (Paula Patton) so that he can lead a mission to infiltrate the Kremlin and locate information leading to the identity of the man code-named "Cobalt" and recover the nuclear launch codes that have been stolen and are in the possession of assassin Sabine Moreau (Lea Seydoux). The mission ends up being sabotaged by Cobalt, who exposes the team and then blows up the Kremlin, making it look like an act of war and leaving Hunt looking like he was in on it. After Hunt escapes arrest by Russian Intelligence, he's informed by the Secretary of the IMF (Tom Wilkinson) that the President has initiated "Ghost Protocol," disbanding the IMF and making all actions taken by IMF agents from there out unsanctioned. The Secretary is then assassinated and Hunt and analyst Peter Brandt (Jeremy Renner) barely escape to rendezvous with Benji and Jane to stop Cobalt, whom Brandt has identified as Kurt Hendricks, a crazy Swede who believes that the destruction of the world's population through nuclear war is the next necessary phase in Earth's history.
The team heads to Dubai, where Hendricks' right-hand man is set to meet Moreau and buy the launch codes, and comes up with a plan for Hunt to pose as Winstrom and trick Moreau, while Jane poses as Moreau to trick Winstrom. However, in order to pull this off, they need to infiltrate the building's servers, which they can only do from the outside due to all of the security inside the building and which leads to Hunt's breathtaking journey scaling up the building and then running back down. Despite pulling that off, Hendricks still ends up with the launch codes and, despite Hunt's emphasis on the need for Moreau to be taken alive because she's an asset, Jane ends up killing the assassin, maybe accidentally, but then again maybe not as she's looking to avenge the IMF agent that Moreau killed when she got the codes in the first place. With the fate of the world now in Hendricks' hand, Hunt and the team have to race to Mumbai, where a satellite is being sold to a telecommunications company that will then be used to transmit the launch codes, and avert nuclear war.
Directed by Brad Bird, who is best known for his work on animated films (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille), Ghost Protocol has an almost defiant sense of anything being physically possible, from the Burj Khalifa sequence, to a scene in which Brandt is left hovering above some nasty looking blades with the assistance of magnets, to the climactic fight between Hunt and Hendricks, Ghost Protocol pushes against the bounds of reality, doing so in a way that takes the stunts seriously even as it lightheartedly acknowledges their improbability. For example, Hunt's malfunctioning glove that he tosses away and which reappears while he's climbing the Burj Khalifa, followed a little later the near-disaster of his having to swing back into the hotel room where Jane and Brandt are waiting (given how often movie spies are shown pulling off death-defying feats with absolute ease, the slapsticky resolution to this stunt is oddly refreshing); or Brandt's own joking-but-not-joking pre-stunt conversation with Benji about his misgivings followed by the exaggerated stretching/stalling before going through with it. Mission: Impossible films aren't exactly known for their humor, but Ghost Protocol has a few moments that are laugh out loud funny without in any way detracting from the overall serious tone of the film.
Per usual, Cruise is very much at home in his role as Hunt, even as Ghost Protocol makes a point (even more so than the other films) of having him feel the effects of all his running, fighting, jumping off of things, etc. The team around him can be fairly interchangeable from film to film (Ving Rhames, the only actor other than Cruise to appear in all the Mission: Impossible films, only appears in a cameo here), but they always seem to work together like the parts of a well-oiled machine, and this film is no different. Pegg, as the tech expert and overt comic relief (and the member of the team who really, really wants to get to wear a mask at some point) introduced in Mission: Impossible III and having carried over to the most recent Rogue Nation, seems to be a mainstay now and brings something essential to the proceedings, while Renner's Brandt, who seemed a touch superfluous in Rogue Nation, is used to good effect here to bring out a different side of Hunt (such as a scene in which Brandt questions Hunt about the whys and hows of his split-second decisions). Patton's Jane, while appropriately tough and dependable in a pinch, isn't really afforded much in terms of personality, but Patton does what she can with the role. The Mission: Impossible series can be a little uneven (hello, II and III), but Ghost Protocol is definitely one of the series' highlights.