I thought I’d had enough of Ethan Hunt. The last time I saw him he was flashing his hollow grin at his smug team of IMF backslappers as he walked off into the sunset with his gorgeous new wife, all in excruciatingly beautifying slow motion, and I thought ‘What a prize c*nt’ – he lies to her about his identity, almost gets her killed by psychopaths, and then has the gall to think a token scene of empty camaraderie with his surrogate family of professional killers will paper over the cracks. Twat.
But ‘Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol’ opens with Ethan doing time in a Russian prison. The wife’s gone Christ knows where and Hunt’s suddenly a man driven, more than ever, by a nerve-shredding series of repetitive thoughts: this is bloody impossible but if I don’t do it who will? Who is better than me at this shit? No-one. So, God, it’s a bastard but I am willing to put my life on the line to crack some nutjob skulls and save the world from Nuclear war. Again.
Ethan Hunt, when you think about him, is pretty pathological, and no-one delivers pathological better than Tom Cruise. Think Frank Mackey in ‘Magnolia’, Vincent in ‘Collateral’, or even Les Grossman in ‘Tropic Thunder’. These are outsized individuals with only the flimsiest grasp of normality. They exist in their own hermetically sealed worlds and Tom Cruise’s ultra-focussed hyperkinectic style is the perfect actorly carrier for their crazy characters. Ethan Hunt has always been the most mainstream manifestation of these malignant personalities, but he’s never looked more ragged than he does in ‘Ghost Protocol’.
Tom Cruise is on the cusp of fifty. He may still be pretty buff, but now there’s a sallowness to the cheekbone, a certainty of shadow beneath the slighty dulled eye, that lends Ethan a quiet, desperate dignity. He’s fighting the odds in every regard, but he just will not quit. And something awful has obviously happened to his wife, so there’s a trace of tragedy about him that’s all the more endearing for his refusal to acknowledge it.
The ‘Mission’ itself is pretty much by-the-numbers: coldwar headcase blows up the Kremlin to steal nuclear launch codes and pins it on Cruise & Co, who go on the run to stop him obliterating San Francisco and starting WWIII to prove some apeshit Darwinian Theory. In the process, cars get trashed, limbs smashed, and agents float through impossibly secure locations with the help of remote controlled supermagnets.
The only exceptional scene is the one everybody’s been talking about: Tom Cruise – and it actually seems to be Tom Cruise – clinging to the skin of the tallest building in the world with only some dodgy gloves between him and 2500ft express ride to street pizzaville. It’s real heart-in-the-mouth stuff that easily makes up for some of the blander espionage bullshit, of which there’s quite a bit. If this were anyone but Cruise I wouldn’t buy it, but Tom’s sheer intensity carries it off. That, and Pixar genius Brad Bird’s brilliance at throwing the camera round the cruiser.
But I’m not really complaining. I paid for a night of pure popcorn and walked away well satisfied. Roll on MI:5.