I've never been very interested in the Mission: Impossible film franchise, as I never watched the '60s TV series on which it is based and don't think much of Tom Cruise. I did check out the John Woo-directed second installment, which was okay, but essentially forgettable. So why did I see Ghost Protocol? One reason: Brad Bird.
After knocking out three animated classics in a row – The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille – Bird has established himself as a guy who can really tell a good story. So the big question is whether the director, making his live action debut, fares as well when dealing with flesh and blood actors. The answer, happily, is yes. Bird simply knows how to pace a film, and he has an inherent understanding of the mechanics of suspense.
Ghost Protocol's mostly well-oiled plot follows Cruise's character Ethan Hunt, a top member of the famed IMF (Impossible Missions Force, not the International Monetary Fund), America's cleverest spies, as he tries to track down a crazed Swede(!) who plans to launch global nuclear war. That's all well and good, except that Hunt, after being unjustly fingered in a terrorist attack on the Kremlin, is officially disavowed by the force and only has the support of three colleagues: the expertly chosen Paula Patton, Jeremy Renner, and Simon Pegg (adding just the right amount of comic relief without becoming annoying). This ragtag team is on its own.
One nifty plot twist that doesn't actually have anything to do with this disavowal is that all the hi-tech gadgets that the gang depends on become rather faulty, which adds a delicious amount of tension to the proceedings as the IMF agents are constantly forced to think on their feet. Among several of Bird's relentless set pieces is the already legendary scene with Cruise trying to scale the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, with intermittently functional magneto-gloves. It's so tense that it literally made my palms sweat.
The rest of the film doesn't quite match those scenes in Dubai, and the epilogue is a little flat, but the final battle still delivers the goods.
Cruise is tolerable – even quite likable; perhaps Bird understands that the more physical work the star is given, the better he is – and the supporting cast is flawless. Of course there's nothing remotely believable about this story or its characters, but that's kind of the point, no? Ghost Protocol may not be high art, but it's great fun.