Eschewing the more serious-minded nature—and even the occasional fits of grittiness— of the first three Mission: Impossible films, this latest entry is easily the most purely entertaining film of the series. This should come as no surprise coming from director Brad Bird — who is perhaps best known for The Iron Giant and Pixar hits Ratatouille and The Incredibles. brings a decidedly more carefree approach to the plot’s driving force of saving the world from a nuclear holocaust caused by the mysterious destruction of the Kremlin during a covert mission.
Several of the film’s action setpieces—the film’s real raison d’etre—could probably count as borderline slapstick, assuming one applied liberal use of “Yakety Sax,” that is. And there’s also the sense that Bird’s influenced by Robert Rodriguez’s Spy Kids movies, not just in the idea that no one’s hi-tech gadgets want to work, but in wonky sense of family and togetherness that’s woven throughout the entire movie, even if the end result is considerably less charming.
Some of the reason the charm doesn’t quite work for me may have to do with my general dislike of Tom Cruise’s (returning here as über-awesome secret agent Ethan Hunt) screen persona. Cruise’s Hunt is less a fully formed character than he is an excuse for sequences of wirework and pyrotechnics. But to continue with the Spy Kids comparison, the problem is the worlds the films inhabit. Rodriguez’s film exists in a completely fantasticated universe, while Bird’s film is so ensconced in the real world that its more fanciful trappings become distracting. While the action scenes are top-notch and often clever—and thankfully never take themseles too seriously—there’s still the matter of Hunt and company being the least discreet spies in the history of spydom. Every time they’re in public and get texted some secret message via iPhone (the movie’s also obnoxiously heavy in Apple and BMW placement) or commit some act of espionage that’s none too covert any sense of reality is gone. You mean no one’s going to notice the spandex-clad man climbing around the outside of the world’s tallest building (Dubai’s Burj Khalifa tower)? Of course, nothing in this movie is supposed to be taken seriously. It’s straight popcorn filmmaking, which is what makes it entertaining. Just don’t expect anything else from it. Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action and violence.