Dir. Brad Bird
In director Brad Bird's version of the IMF -- the ultra-secret, covert division of the government that run a non-ending series of near-unimaginable capers -- things go horribly wrong time and again. And it's not just the human element: unplanned for acts of nature intervene at inopportune moments, meticulously planned operations get gummed up by unforeseen technicalities and gadgets go haywire at the worst possible times. As a near direct result of all these foibles, this blockbuster sequel to a once-proud franchise is without a doubt the best action flick of the season, if not the year.
Bird, whose biggest previous efforts were with Pixar making the redoubtable Ratatouille and The Incredibles, brings a much-needed element of inventiveness and humor to the previously ice-cold world of Ethan Hunt and co., while still commanding over a full-fledged action showcase. The sharp screenplay by Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec finds Hunt (Tom Cruise) hot on the trail of a brilliant Swedish madman (Michael Nyqvist) intent on starting a nuclear war to cleanse the earth of all the horrible people on its surface. Without the support of his organization, which is forcibly "ghosted" after a catastrophic operation in Russia, Hunt and a small team of agents, including strong arm operative Jane (Paula Patton), computer expert Benji (Simon Pegg) and former field agent Brandt (Jeremy Renner), have to go it alone.
Cruise, who produced the film along with J.J. Abrams among others, takes the film by the throat. It moves at a blistering pace, jumping from country to country and ever-more complicated operation after operation, but rather than just blending into a blurring mess of CGI-enhanced stunts and explosions (see Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows for that dubious experience), each mission gets its full due, stacking the deck so far against the small team that you can't help but thrill to their narrow victories.
Bird understands the only way in which an action film can truly be stirring is to put its protagonists into such a deep hole the audience can't see the way out for themselves. As such, the extravagant middle of the film, which finds the team leading an extremely difficult operation in Dubai amidst a roaring sandstorm, stands out as the tactical high point -- one the ending, as rousing as it may be, can't hope to match -- with obstacle after obstacle thrown in the way of a successful completion. We are to understand that an enormous part of Hunt's success is his formidable will, his refusal to accept the failure of a given plan, despite absolutely everything going wrong all around him. Naturally, there are some significant plot holes and gaps in logic (a fully-armed nuclear warhead is launched at the U.S. and our government does nothing in retaliation?), but, frankly, you'll be having too much fun to care much about such trivialities. By not allowing his heroes to hide behind a trove of high-tech gadgetry to get them out of trouble, Bird has allowed the flawed surviving members of the IMF to flourish on their own guts and guile, which is exactly as it should be.