Blue is Glue, Red is Dead: Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
From a distance it can be easy to survey the Mission: Impossible franchise and conclude that the movies contain a lot of pomp and circumstance but not much in the way of substance. Yet from Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol onward there is a definitive break in the franchise in terms of quality because of the inventiveness the movies adopt. The plot is freed up from focusing on Ethan Hunt’s wife, Julia, and this allows for director Brad Bird to focus on delivering a film rife with both spectacle and tension. This was no easy task, especially since it was Bird’s first time directing live action, and this was within a franchise that could so easily get tangled in its own web. Although it’s not fun to admit, these movies can often be difficult to follow, but Ghost Protocol eliminates some of this by breaking the plot down into distinct action sequences: Ethan’s prison break, the Burj Khalifa climb and ruse, and the party in Mumbai. Though the overarching threat is nuclear war with Russia, the audience can clearly follow that Ethan Hunt and his team need the Russian nuclear codes back in the right hands.
The faint sound of a stone being thrown against a window grate sets the prison break scene and Bird uses this quiet moment to contrast the chaos that’s about to ensue. Hunt is calm and collected as Benji (Simon Pegg) and Jane Carter (Paula Patton) gain control of the prison doors, play Dean Martin over the speakers, and set the prisoners free. Instead of just leaving, Hunt insists on fighting through the melee so that he can help his informant escape as well. Punches fly, police intervene, and fuses are lit as we’re introduced to the fourth movie in the Mission: Impossible franchise. Right from the beginning, we’re set up to expect a movie that’s going to deliver on the action that we’ve come to expect.
It’s pretty easy to forget that nuclear war could be on the horizon once we get to the scene where Ethan Hunt climbs the Burj Khalifa. The ingeniousness of this lies in the fact that the tension here does not arise simply because Ethan is climbing a tall building, but because he’s using faulty climbing gloves. Once he gets to the point where the first glove gives out, we’re already holding our breath. Daring still is the descent where Ethan jumps down tied only to a strap that’s connected to the room he came from. This cuts seamlessly into the rest of the team’s efforts at impersonating the movie’s villains. The tension is drawn out when the initially-successful heist goes awry because the assassin Moreau (Lea Seydoux) notices that Jeremy Renner’s character is wearing suspicious contacts. From here everything spirals out of control and Ethan ends up chasing a terrorist out in a sandstorm.
The party at Mumbai has multiple things going on at once: Carter seduces a man to get the satellite override code (unfortunately playing into sexist stereotypes that often dominate action franchises) while the other members of the team try to stop the codes from being broadcast. It’s a scene with a lot of great color; the editing is especially sharp, often cutting back and forth between Hunt and Carter. Luckily Carter is able to obtain the code and at the climax of the scene Hunt stops a nuclear submarine from bombing San Francisco. This concludes the third and final large action sequence of the movie, neatly tying together a film with few unnecessary additions, but it’s worth mentioning that Jeremy Renner’s character falls into that category of unnecessary additions. His main purpose is to remind the audience that Ethan Hunt is married and that he potentially brought about Julia’s death (though we find out that that’s not the case).
Though Rogue Nation is undoubtedly the most sophisticated in terms of plot and how it subverts gender expectations in action, it’s worth noting how Ghost Protocol started the franchise on a path where the best of creativity and tension are found.