Scaling New Heights
Does Brad Bird, whose resume reads The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and Ratatouille have what it takes to deliver a Mission: Impossible film, especially after what J.J. Abrams had done with the third installment? You bet your last dollar Bird pulled it off with aplomb, giving us the flavours that makes M:I distinct and unique, while shaking things up a bit to prevent us from lulling into plot complacency. It's a worthy addition to the M:I cinematic mythos, and may I say the best M:I film yet, and coming off the trail left by Abrams, John Woo and Brian De Palma, does say something about the quality Bird brings to the table.
From the get go you know Bird had it down to a pat and all done right, mixing stylish, elaborate action sequences with a dash of deep drama, leaving room for characterization, as well as entertaining with comedy stemming from laughing at the impossible at times. Credit must go to scribes Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec for what I felt was a large combination of the right ingredients from the first two films - with the threat on a global scale (MI:2 on a pandemic, and here it's nuclear annihilation), while having the IMF agents very much crippled without a support network, although they do remember this time round that it's team effort, compared to M:I where Tom Cruise's Ethan Hunt was very much a one man He-Man.
And hey, we have new agents too, such as Paula Patton's hard kicking Jane who has to battle her own personal urges to avenge her partner and lover's death at the hands of an assassin (Lea Seydoux), and the shady Brandt (Jeremy Renner in one of many franchise roles - M:I, Avengers, Bourne) who comes off as a bookish analyst but harbours a deep dark secret that I thought played out really well when the pace had to take a logical pause in the eye of the storm before having the characters getting all bruised and battered again. And Simon Pegg returns as the affable tech whiz Benji, here given an expanded role since obtaining the go-ahead to operate as a field agent, and showing his rookie jitters.
There were many elements here that went right and aced it in the hole. There's the characters who were all properly built up in ways far better than the previous installments, and a real sense of camaraderie emerges amongst the players, having to emphasize on the importance of the team rather than the individual. And when it did have to do so since Cruise's Hunt brings about a certain degree of undisputed star power and character experience (after having to save the IMF/World thrice already), it did so in such perfect terms that it rolled into the narratively so subtly, that amped anticipation, and grows on you why Hunt is considered the best of the lot. That scene alone at Burj Khalifa was well worth the price of an admission ticket, leaving you breathless with that real sense of danger since it's widely publicized Cruise did the stuntwork himself, while yet also toning down on Hunt's super-human ability. I'd bet you won't see a particular moment coming, although it did leave one wondering if Hunt has bones made of adamantium.
And that's not all, from an action junkie perspective, Hunt and team have to battle natural phenomenon in sandstorms, explosions, car chases and stunts (oh Santa, I want that BMW), more chases on foot (you'll know by now Ethan Hunt runs, a lot, in the missions he chooses to accept), fisticuffs in some of the most amazing landscapes and structures, and plenty more death defying stunts in each of the exotic locales the team have to travel to. What made it more interesting rather than to rely on the same old formula, is that this mission left our operatives fairly on their own, with limited resources to work with. While the earlier missions may have them almost always on a tactical advantage, this time round they're more reactive than proactive, severely testing their street smarts and abilities to see the mission through, though at each milestone you may think they would have lost more than gained, with plans having to get altered on the fly.
Which suits the story just fine. There's no complacency here, with everything being fair game. If there's a gripe, it'll be how unremarkable the villain, a rogue Russian physicist Hendricks (Michael Nygvist) seemed to be after Philip Seymour Hoffman's excellent turn in M:I:III that it's a hard act to follow, but the trade off is of course having the focus put on the evocation of Ghost Protocol and how that would severely challenge the limits of Hunt's IMF team, with everyone else being disavowed. Anil Kapoor had a bit role here as a rich Mumbai playboy which was more comical than threatening, and Tom Wilkinson takes over the mantle as IMF chief from the likes of Laurence Fishburne and Anthony Hopkins in previous installments.
Signs will point to another Mission: Impossible, and whether or not Jeremy Renner will take over the helm from Tom Cruise will remain to be seen, especially since Cruise has yet again stamped his mark on this film and will be a tough act to follow. With each installment we see a different side of Hunt, and here is for once only with the slightest of a romantic subplot in the film, with emphasis on the team's race against time in one grippingly paced action adventure. Brad Bird brought about that sense of scale and danger fitting as a Mission: Impossible, and without a doubt the best in the franchise so far. A definite must watch!