Available this coming week on DVD, “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” is the fourth in the movie versions of the popular TV series of yesteryear. For my money, it’s the best so far, mainly because it contains what its forerunners notably lacked: humor. Director Brad Bird and screenwriters Josh Applebaum and Andre Nemec mix just enough laughs into the standard IM mixture of action and espionage to keep us engaged. Add in cinematographer Robert Elswit’s imaginative work in a variety of spectacular settings and you have a dilly of a Big Holiday Movie.
Aside from series star (and co-producer) Tom Cruise, the film features a nice performance by two-time Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner and an understated turn by Brit comic Simon Pegg, who delivers most of the laugh lines. Aside from a couple of vignettes, Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is the only returning character, and starting from almost scratch turns out to have a been a good move, perhaps a franchise-saving one. In particular, Pegg, playing a techno-nerd whose wish to become a field operative comes true, deserves even more screen time should we have yet more sequels.
This one starts off with a literal bang, as the Kremlin blows up while the IMF crew is attempting to steal a file out of the Russian archives. When it turns out that they have been set up to take the fall for this potentially war-starting catastrophe, the Secretary (Tom Wilkinson) informs them he is activating “Ghost Protocol,” under which the department will disavow them—thus realizing the nightmare scenario envisioned at the beginning of each TV episode. As they struggle in isolation to regain their good rep—and not incidentally save the world from nuclear annihilation—Cruise and Co. tear off around the world. The mandatory chase sequences get some twists, one taking place in a sandstorm in Dubai and another in a traffic jam in Mumbai. There are the equally obligatory masks (the dream of Pegg’s character), hi-tech gadgetry, and nefarious villains, of course. And Michael Giacchino’s clever renditions of Lalo Schiffrin’s familiar theme song will please long-time fans who listen carefully.
There’s not a whole lot of point in detailing the plot because, well, that’s not the point, is it? The character that Remmer plays—a desk-bound analyst—provides some helpful internal summaries at several points: these insertions help us to figure out where we are and what might be coming. (Remmer seems at first to be cast against type, but he later reveals himself to be the same tough guy he was in “The Hurt Locker” and “The Town.”) Paula Patton provides the female eye candy in this Bondesque story, and Nyquist makes a satisfactory, if somewhat incredible, arch villain, a mad scientist bent on the destruction of Life As We Know It.
“MI: IV” is rated “PG-13” for “intense action and violence”; it feels pretty tame in this video-game culture that surrounds us. The pace never lets up from the opening frames, in which a prison break occurs to the accompaniment of Dean Martin singing “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head?” The stunts are as breathtaking as ever, including some that wryly allude to the previous numbers in the series, and Bird has inserted humor into these cliffhanger moments, providing necessary comic relief. In short, young and old should enjoy this latest iteration of a venerable franchise.