Thoughtful reviews, the Boulder film scene

" I’ll be monitoring your frequency "
— Zoe Saldana, Star Trek

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Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol is escapist entertainment. It’s competently made and very enjoyable.

I confess I was hoping for more, somehow. Director Brad Bird has always entertained audiences, but his films have always had deeper layers that enrich the story. The Incredibles wasn’t only about a superhero coming out of retirement to defeat a new nemesis; it was about what it means to be a hero. Ratatouille and Iron Giant similarly offered more than just entertainment. I’m not sure what sort of thematic resonance you can really add to a Mission: Impossible movie. I was hoping Brad Bird knew.

Renner and Cruise hang out together
Renner and Cruise hang out together

Tom Cruise returns as Ethan Hunt. This time he’s up against Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist, from the original 2009 The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), a Swiss citizen who is anything but neutral. He speaks of equality, of leveling the playing field — a discussion we’re having in my country. Unfortunately, Hendricks is crazy. He’s an overeducated European social Darwinist — that is, a genius supervillain who wants to nuke the world and let evolution work its magic on whatever remains of the human species.

To achieve his goal, he’ll need Russian nuclear launch codes, some gadget from the Kremlin archives whose function I forgot to note, and access to a satellite — the acquisition of each of which gives the movie one or two set pieces. Throw in Ethan’s initial escape from a Moscow prison and the ticking-clock, Donkey-Kong parking garage finale, and you have a movie.

I was glad to see Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol in a real IMAX theater. As with Christopher Nolan’s recent films, the action sequences in Ghost Protocol jump to the full IMAX format. Most of the dialogue and plot development scenes are presented in a standard widescreen format. Where the IMAX works best isn’t actually the action sequences, which whiz by too fast to take in, but in the gorgeously photographed establishing shots of Budapest, Dubai, and the Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world).

One new wrinkle in this fourth M:I film is a sense of collaboration. I remember the opening scene of the first Mission: Impossible movie (15 years ago!) with a team of charismatic young agents including Emilio Estevez and Kristin Scott-Thomas. I remember the disappointment I felt when they were all killed within 20 minutes; M:I wasn’t going to be a team sport after all, but rather a one-man show. Granted, Ving Rhames has been there throughout as Luther Stickell, running his magic computer. But Ghost Protocol finally delivers on the promise of a team effort. Simon Pegg returns from III, and Paula Patton ( Precious) and Jeremy Renner ( The Hurt Locker) join as IMF agents with something to contribute.

Patton’s Jane Carter was a newly minted IMF team leader in her own right, while Renner’s Brandt is a former field agent who opted to become a desk jockey. Ironically, in the scene at the Burj Khalifa, Ethan Hunt is sent out to climb the plate glass because he’s the most expendable team member.

You should know Simon Pegg by now — he led the cast in Shaun of the Dead and stood in for James Doohan as young Scotty in the Star Trek reboot. Pegg has a comic presence that indelibly alters any movie he’s in. He makes the movie not only funnier, but less serious. You just can’t take spy games seriously when Pegg is one of the players.

Then again, you’re not supposed to take Mission: Impossible too seriously. This series is the grandchild of Ian Fleming’s adventure-seeking James Bond. If you want serious, you should check out Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which is a cerebral game played by old bureaucrats in tweed. It’s based on a book by John LeCarre, who is the anti-Fleming.

Luckily, American movie theaters can make room for both the cerebral and the visceral. Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol is definitely the latter. If that’s what you’re looking for this Christmas, find a big IMAX screen and, yes, check your brain at the door.