If the third Mission: Impossible movie was an instance of the series suddenly pulling its shit together by making its protagonist Ethan Hunt out to be a real human being, the fourth film takes that cohesion a step further by helping define the team behind Ethan’s success. There have been so many face-removing, duplicitous double crossings in the series’ past that it’s been difficult to trust anyone at all, but Ghost Protocol finally eliminates that sense of distrust by shrinking Ethan’s team into a core group of murderous super spies with hearts of gold. Unfortunately, Ving Rhames is missing from this team almost completely (he at least drops in for a last second cameo), but picking up the wisecracking slack are Simon Pegg & Jeremy Renner, who both deliver some great tension-relieving one-liners, sometimes in unison. Besides these two sarcastic goofs, Cruise’s also backed by Paula Patton, the badass lady antidote to the franchise’s serious damsel-in-distress problem of the past. Once Rhames (hopefully) rejoins this ragtag crew in future installments, the series will almost certainly hit its pinnacle. Honestly, it’s kind of exciting to think that the best is still yet to come.
Besides honing in on the perfect small crew to back up Ethan’s world-saving espionage, Ghost Protocol also tightens up the series’ action. After the grossly excessive shoot-em-ups of the Limp Bizkit-soundtracked second film, the series has been moving more towards the large-scale, remote warfare that makes a lot more sense for international super spies to be wrapped up in. The attacks of violence in Ghost Protocol are unexpected bursts of terror that serve as shocks to the system, with or without Renner & Pegg’s nervous joking to break up the tension. There are some ridiculously over-the-top sequences that feature Cruise running down the side of a skyscraper in Dubai or somehow outrunning a sandstorm or Renner physically hacking into a gigantic supercomputer, but those more fanciful tangents are mixed in the real life dangers like car crashes & embassy bombings.
One element that got way less real (but very much appropriate for a throwback espionage franchise) was the film’s supervillains, which shifted from Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s nightmarish turn in Mission: Impossible 3 to a stunningly beautiful super model assassin & a “nuclear extremist” who wants to achieve peace on Earth by obliterating the human race. These cartoonish elements, along with more overreaching gadgetry (like a real-life invisibility cloak), clash very well with the movie’s more gritty, violent sequences and leave the impression of a well-rounded, but highly ridiculous action flick in their wake.
Cruise continued his hiring of disparate, auteur directors here by giving the project to Brad Bird (who is typically associated with children’s media like Ratatouille, The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and Tomorrowland). The list of directors who’ve worked on the Mission: Impossible films so far (Bird, Abrams, Woo, De Palma) have all brought unique (and varyingly successful) takes on the series to the table, which is highly unusual for this type of popcorn action flick. It’ll certainly be interesting to see where the director of the fifth installment, Christopher McQuarrie, will take the direction of the franchise when Rogue Nation hits the theaters. McQuarrie is a relatively unknown director, but he has worked with Cruise before on two of his more interesting recent projects – the Werner Herzog as a fingerless villain Jack Reacher & the Groundhog’s Day meets Starship Troopers sci-fi action flick Edge of Tomorrow.
It’ll also be interesting to see what haircut Cruise brings to the next flick (I’m serious!), because it really makes a difference. He did slip back into his awful M:I 2 hair in Ghost Protocol, but since he begins the film in a Serbian prison & Bird did a much better job with the material than Woo (I’m serious!) I’ll let it slide for now. Adjusting some major problems in a relatively short amount of runtime, Mission: Impossible 3 & Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol have together unmistakably set the series up for future success. It has so much potential to reach new heights in the next installment that I’m hoping with the right amount of Ving Rhames, the perfect over-the-top villain, and a tasteful length for Cruise’s hair, Rogue Nation just might be the best in the series so far. We’ll see.