With a widely varying cast and tone, and completely different shifts in plot styles, the Mission Impossible films have always been about different directors trying to create the best possible action film out of a Tom Cruise starrer. This year, it is animation vet Brad Bird (The Incredibles
, and the phenomenal The Iron Giant) crafting his own blend of popcorn action around the Mission Impossible structure.
I can unequivocally say that Brad Bird is the best bet Tom Cruise and his co-producers have made in a long time - this is the best Mission Impossible film yet, and possibly the year's best Hollywood action film.
We see Cruise's Ethan Hunt escape a Moscow incarceration with a prison escape set to Dean Martin's "Ain't That A Kick In The Head", with the aid of Benji (Simon Pegg) and Jane (Paula Patton). They infiltrate and nearly destroy the Kremlin, and the plot gets weirder from there.
International terrorism and nuclear war are the stakes at play, and immediately, the ante is increasingly upped as the film relentlessly pursues visceral thrills after thrills, culminating in a bravura melee fight in a parking garage in India.
Along for the ride is a welcome Jeremy Renner, who acts as a foil both to Benji's neuroticism and Ethan's po-faced daredevilry. Good thing, too, as he brings a definition to his character that is far better than Ethan Hunt's. This is a cipher character that is brought to life with the sheer magnetism and charisma of Tom Cruise, and that is on full display here. He is every bit firing on full cylinders as he was in the first film 15 years ago.
Brad Bird likes to create strong female leads, and it is phenomenal in the way he builds Jane as a character. Using 3 extremely gifted actors (Josh Holloway, the inimitable Anil Kapoor, and French genius Lea Seydoux) to give her role heft, he creates a completely rounded character, who you root for more often than anyone else. Paula Patton adds a certain vulnerability to a straight-laced role, and the nuance elevates the film beyond the rote.
Possibly the best thing about the film, though, is the pacing. The relentless globe-trotting (Prague, Moscow, Dubai, Mumbai and a bit of Seattle) is punctuated with fun moments and great action sequences. The scenes shot in Dubai, especially, cannot be topped easily by any other film out there right now.
The action is always clean, crisp, and filled to the brim with visceral thrills - nary a shaky hand-held cam in sight. The geography of the action sequences is ably established as we sit on the edge of our seats watching a ride that is hard to top in pure fun. Little touches abound in every movie, and as light and fun as this film is, it will be hugely rewarding for multiple watches.
The relentless pursuit of action and great cinematic moments constructed around our crew means that there is hardly any time left to flesh out the bad guys. Elusive and shadowy as Michael Nyqvist makes his character, the final act shows a bit of weakness as there is no heft to his final fight.
That's it - that is one and only niggle against what is one of the best films I have seen this year. Fun, light, and made by a director at the top of his game, it only leaves one question: Can anyone now make a better action film than Brad Bird?