Following a recent trend in sequel naming convention, the fourth in the Mission: Impossible action movie series decided to leave off the serial number and go with a subtitle instead. Ironically, the “Ghost protocol” has only a minor role in setting up the dire straits that IMF Agent Ethan Hunt (played again by the “he’s still got it” box office megastar, Tom Cruise) and his new team find themselves. After they free Hunt from a Russian prison, he quickly gets another mission from a grungy old pay-phone (Why they continue to leave IMF mission briefing devices in obscure places I don’t understand.) The team has to infiltrate The Kremlin, of all places, to steal a bunch of microfilm records. After the mission is botched, the Kremlin explodes, and they get the blame. To keep U.S.A. and Russia from going to war, the IMF is completely shut down and they are all disavowed (That’s the Ghost Protocol, BTW). The odd thing is that this plot development is intended to increase the dramatic stakes by having the team cut off from support and on their own to complete their mission (That’s right, if there’s one thing Tom Cruise characters never do, it’s give up). However, it hardly seems any different from their first Kremlin-exploding mission or their Ethan-Hunt-rescuing mission prior to that. They didn’t have any evident support then either, so except for late in the movie/mission when they want to know the identity of someone they see in a photo and can’t just task facial-recognition software to tell them, it doesn’t seem to matter that they’re under Ghost Protocol at all. That isn’t to say that the movie wasn’t good or that it was full of holes, I’m just not a big fan of weak premises.
Anyway, the purpose of an M:I film is of course the super-spy action, and this movie had plenty of it. If you’d seen the trailer, you will know about the sticky-hands wall-climbing scene, which is actually pretty stunt-tacular. When Tom Cruise takes a running leap off the side of the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai to fling himself into an open window more than 100 storeys up, I defy you not to move to the edge of your seats. Along with that scene, this movie is chock full of excellent spy-fi set pieces, including a foot chase through a sandstorm, identity-swapping fake negotiations with two sets of villains, and a swanky party where one of the team has to jump down a 25-foot high ventilation shaft (echoes of Cruise’s famous cable drop from the first Mission: Impossible movie). What supposedly adds to the impressiveness of these scenes is that the team is small and working with limited resources. Cruise seems to have no trouble at all playing the role of team leader Hunt, but along for the ride is the hilarious Simon Pegg as Benji, a technician promoted to field agent. Pegg is perfect as a guy who seems oblivious to the dangers around him as he cracks jokes and lightens the mood at any moment during the mission. Jeremy Renner is kind of the backup hero, but it’s great that he’s got a bit of a sarcastic edge to go with his lightning quick reflexes. Finally, the weakest link is Paula Patton, whose character is dealing with a lot of emotional baggage on the mission and it’s repeatedly mentioned how this is possibly compromising her skills. Frankly, they all have baggage (except for Benji) and it’s not really a big part of the story. (I know it’s typical J.J. Abrams — who was only the producer on this movie, Brad Bird directed this one — to add those scenes to reflect emotional depth in these characters, but this time it seemed like overkill.) Patton is no femme fatale, and her performance and her character’s performance both seemed a bit weak. Nevertheless, there are two other characters who failed this movie even more. One was a Russian cop/agent who doggedly chased Hunt from Russia, to Dubai, to Mumbai, and it not only seemed ridiculous that he would do this “Captain Ahab” routine, it also seemed contrived as a plot point because he would repeatedly prevent Hunt from catching the bad guy or accomplishing something important. The main villain was also pretty dull. He was supposed to be a former professor and lobbyist who’d become the ultimate super-villain anarchist. His endgame was to get Russian launch codes and start a nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia (Wasn’t that a popular plot like 30 years ago?). Short of pure evil, his motives seem kind of unbelievable. Plus, I kept wondering how he got all his villainous fighting and technical skills (not to mention his henchmen and underworld contacts) if he was just a professor and analyst? Did he attend a villainous correspondence course? Is there a social network for the diabolically evil? Suffice it to say there were numerous flaws in this diamond, but nevertheless, the action and the fun spy stuff (including 007-level gadgets, style, and cars) were so sparkly and polished that I easily forgot or ignored the nitpicks. (4.5 out of 5)