With its trailer blaring Eminem and hyper-cutting explosions, falls, car crashes and punches, Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol (hereafter M:I IV, because, come on) felt like an implicit promise to the viewer: Come out to the theater, we’ll spend a little time, have a few laughs. What’s interesting about Brad Bird’s live-action debut — coming as it does in the 4th installment of a 15-year-old franchise that’s cherry-picked great, or at the very least intriguing, directing talent from the past 5 decades — is the seeming modesty of it all. At no point do our heroes (Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Paula Patton and Jeremy Renner) wind up assaulting a hollowed-out volcano full of jumpsuit-clad minions; the final battle between Cruise’s Ethan Hunt and under-written bad guy Hendricks (Michael Nykvist) occurs not in a gleaming white room with shark tanks and lasers but instead a parking garage.
It’s hard to say what part of that is from the post-Bond spy action school of thought; historically, 9/11 is a real tragedy, but on a cultural level, it’s not untrue or unkind to suggest that Osama Bin Laden killed Blofeld more thoroughly than James Bond ever could. At the same time, so much of M:I IV is taken from that Bond-era playbook — like, for example, the “Let me provoke a war between the superpowers” plot, which creates an air of Cold War-era menace that has a bracing nip of nostalgic joy to it.