The existence of genres and subgenres is a pretty fascinating thing.
Edgar Allen Poe basically invented the entire mystery genre! Without the dude who wrote The Raven, modern TV might not exist. We certainly wouldn't have any sexy sailor-cops solving the nation's unstoppable glut of navy-related crimes. Lately, Stephenie Meyer is wholly responsible for a brand-new sub-subgenre born right in front of our eyes: the tale of a love triangle between your average, everyday girl and two super-awesome paranormal hunks — each more handsome than the last.
This raises a number of academic questions — should Meyer be hanged for her crimes against humanity? Could vampires, werewolves, and mer-mummies be any more neutered? — but it's still really interesting that she birthed this whole new mode of storytelling through the sheer force of her work. We'll see if the subgenre lasts, but the "spies and their super-gadgets" genre is hardly less silly, and it's still kicking some half a century after the Bond franchise began — and is responsible for one of the year's best action movies in Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol.
Team members Simon Pegg and Paula Patton aren't busting superspy Tom Cruise out of Russian prison for a laugh. They need him to recover a stolen file. One that includes launch codes for Russian nuclear missiles.
But as they infiltrate the Kremlin, someone else blows half of it up. The crime is pinned on Cruise; the U.S. government disavows not just his team, but the entire agency he's working for. Yet his crew may be the only ones who can avert global nuclear war.
It's a good thing Earth is Earth-sized and not, like, Tri-Cities-sized, or movies such as Ghost Protocol would have a tough row to hoe. None of this hopping breathlessly from the Kremlin to Dubai's 2,723-foot skyscraper to a boisterous Indian party. I'm guessing it'd be just a little bit duller. Then again, maybe I'm underestimating the sheer thrill of the Mission: Impossible team's infiltration of the 395 Denny's followed by Cruise rappelling down the Pasco water towers before catching a train to the exotic lands of far-off West Richland. Then again, maybe not.
Yet as often as Ghost Protocol changes locales, for the most part, it has one single structure: the team devises a plan. The team explains the plan to each other/us. They then rush out to execute the plan, which immediately goes to hell faster than Fred Phelps.
But director Brad Bird directs this repetitive structure very, very well, at times building so much kineticism into his scenes it's almost like watching one of his animated features (The Incredibles, Ratatouille). On the other hand, most modern big-budget action movies are pretty much indistinguishable from cartoons. As is Cruise. Still, it's invigorating, much higher-energy than any fourth franchise entry has any right to be, and immediate proof Bird is every bit as adept with a camera as he is with a pencil.
Ghost Protocol gets a helping hand from the writers, too. While TV writers Andre Nemec and Josh Appelbaum aren't especially witty here, their plotting is dense yet eminently comprehensible, thanks in part to audience stand-in Jeremy Renner. Also, in traditional Mission: Impossible fashion, this is twistier than a bowl of dancing spaghetti.
Thus Ghost Protocol is a good-times machine, overflowing with exciting locations, Cruises hanging from skyscrapers, and so many gadgets the Sharper Image crew is frantically taking notes for their spring catalogue to fulfill all your handheld ground-dissolver needs. The last few years of action and superhero movies have been so good it's tough to truly stand out, but Ghost Protocol is a beast as mythical as the double-tiger: the fourth franchise entry that immediately justifies a fifth.