Published Dec 16, 2011For tasks like taking down dangerous terrorists, dismantling dirty bombs or infiltrating high security compounds, the Mission: Impossible franchise ― and its chief badass, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) ― has always generated reliable, if largely implausible, thrills. And, true to its origins as a James Bond knock-off, it's always contained a healthy dose of Q-inspired gadgetry to help the silliness go down. But the latest big-screen incarnation is so bogged down with problem solving tech, it's removed almost all the challenge inherent in said assignments. It's been reduced to Mission: There's An App For That.
The film moves quickly through the set-up ― a mission gone wrong results in Hunt's team being accused of being terrorists, leading to their "blacklisting" (aka "ghost protocol") from government support, involving the death of a former agent (Lost's Josh Hollaway, whose entire part in the movie appears to have ended up on the cutting room floor). Not only does the "rogue agency" aspect seem startlingly familiar (haven't they been disavowed in previous movies?), but it appears to impact the team in no way at all. They still have all the resources to fly to Dubai and crash fancy dress parties; they still have access to all the tech required for a high-security takedown; and they still get super-cool next-gen power gloves with which to hang off of skyscraper glass. The power gloves in particular lead to the most harrowing ― less vertigo-shy viewers might say thrilling ― sequence in the movie, in which Cruise dangles off the side of world's-tallest-building the Burj Khalifa. It's an unbelievable accomplishment ― blurring the lines of where Cruise's well known climbing and stunt abilities meet some terrific camera work and choreography. But then it's back to tech-dependent stunts, in which all the tension comes from toys breaking down, then rebooting at the last second. It effectively robs Ethan Hunt of all this Mission: Impossible-ness ― geek-turned-field agent Benji (Simon Pegg) is the MVP of the team because he's the one who runs tech support.
Mission: Impossible has always been a stunts and spectacle franchise; Ethan Hunt has never been a compelling character, and the support team (including burgeoning action hero Jeremy Renner and requisite forgettable female force Paula Patton) only get a couple of "motivation moments" as "character" stand-ins. It's all in the action ― and here the action is too much button-pushing and not enough skill-and-smarts showcasing.
Brad Bird, directing his first live action picture after animation successes like The Incredibles and The Iron Giant, does a perfectly functional job putting this together, but aside from the high-wire act that is the Burj Khalifa, there isn't a whole lot of Impossible in the mission that would a) require this specialized team nor b) justifies the whole "ghost protocol," on-the-lam story device.
It just goes to show that if you have seemingly unlimited resources and the best gear guy in the world, you too could be a terror-stopping super-agent. Just test the wall-climbing super-gloves at home first. (Paramount)