How Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol’s humor helped save the franchise 10 years ago

In a cinematic landscape where superheroes dominate the box office, the genre of high-flying action/spy franchises that once numbered a dozen in the 90s and early 2000s have slowly begun to fade from view. public consciousness. Sure, Hollywood keeps churning out one-off action star vehicles and sci-fi epics, but true spy-action franchises are dying out: except for Impossible mission. Where so many of the franchise’s contemporaries, like Fast and furious‘ endless parade of sequels increasingly tied to the Ludacris heist, or lackluster Pierce Brosnan Bond movies – have struggled to stay fresh and engaging as audience expectations for visual effects soar and film interest in non-superhero action movies continues to decline, Impossible mission is one of the few spy franchises to thrive. Although most look to Christopher McQuarrie Mission entries as the best the franchise has to offer was Brad Bird Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol– which celebrates its 10th anniversary this week – which paved the way for continued success and the reinvention of the franchise: a light-hearted, self-aware fourth installment that infuses comedy with character to create a fresh and memorable film.

When most people think “Impossible missionthere are a few trademarks that come to mind: Tom Cruise and his notorious commitment to stunt work, self-destructing mission briefs, the iconic Lalo Schifrin theme. But even with the recognizable and beloved elements of the franchise, when the Impossible mission the films were arriving on their fourth installment, it was clear that something had to give: the tried-and-tested formula that had helped the franchise find early success was becoming obsolete.

Despite box office success and a compelling lead, the franchise’s cinematic approach to numbers and less-than-dazzling supporting characters made for a first trilogy that, while certainly watchable, lacked the necessary spark to ensure the longevity of the franchise. Although each first entry in the franchise was helmed by a different director, none really managed to forge a memorable new identity for the franchise: De Palma’s first outing certainly had charm, but was more like an adaptation of the series only an attempt to establish a new cinematic universe that could stand on its own two feet. John Woo mission: impossible 2 (save for Thandie Newton’s femme fatale) serves as an utterly unremarkable entry – from the cliched plot to its empty stunts. Impossible mission changed hands again with JJ Abrams’ feature debut Mission: Impossible 3, which emphasized plot twists and Ethan’s backstory, but still lacked the thrilling sparkle and cheerful magic that made the first film’s heist so beloved.

The Twist Filled Impossible mission movies were becoming ironically and sadly predictable, their old-school flair being abandoned in favor of darker blockbusters like The black Knight, Creation and the Thick headed franchise. Even the Bond films had recognized the need to evolve, unleashing the grittier, wittiest Casino Royale massively critically acclaimed. Compared to their sharp, dark scripts and inventive action sequences, Impossible mission felt like a reliable but outdated remnant in need of an upgrade – but with roots in a cheesy 60s TV show trying to catch up and transform Impossible mission in an equally serious action franchise would be a wild ride. So, against the tide, Impossible mission took the opposite route – choosing to take himself less seriously, infusing his films with humor and enlisting a secret weapon to help bring Ghost protocol to life: director Brad Bird.

At the time, Bird wasn’t the obvious choice to lead one of Hollywood’s most celebrated action/spy franchises. He had only made animated films…The Incredibles, The Iron Giant and Ratatouille, to name a few. In the end, though, an unorthodox director choice was exactly what the franchise needed. JJ Abrams, whose aforementioned entry was his first film after finding success on shows like Lost and A.k.a was the franchise’s first attempt to fill that void, but while its penchant for narrative twists and the choice to introduce Ethan’s wife, Julia, would prove fitting, its lack of blockbuster experience meant the sequences. action – the one thing moviegoers always wanted from a Impossible mission movie – fell flat. With Bird, however, his unorthodox background in comedic animated films helped bring some much-needed levity to Impossible mission, which distinguishes him from his serious contemporaries.

On paper, Ghost protocol don’t stray too far from the norm Impossible mission rate. Ethan Hunt, now on the run after the shutdown of the entire IMF and the launch of the “shadow protocol”, must race against time (with the help of a ragtag group of fugitive IMF operatives) to clear the name of the agency and stop an impending nuclear disaster. Nothing in the premise is radically different from that of Ghost protocolpredecessors of – the film remains fundamentally feels Like Impossible mission— but what Bird brought to the table, the things that helped breathe new life into the franchise, was self-awareness, a sense of humor, and a willingness to have fun.

With a background in children’s media, Bird was able to fire Ghost protocol away from self-important direction Impossible mission was heading towards – ditching the grittier, grassy aspects of Bourne (like the backstory of Julia from M:i III) and relishing in the ridiculousness of high-flying stunts. He allowed the franchise to poke fun at itself. That doesn’t mean that Ghost protocol is a complete comedy, but where the franchise’s past scripts were all business, Ghost protocol is peppered with jokes, sight gags, and moments where audiences can walk away, take a break, and enjoy the childlike wonder of watching Tom Cruise throw himself off the side of the world’s tallest building.

It is a testimony of Ghost protocolLevitation’s new engagement that the film’s central stunt sequence – the ascent of the Burj Khalifa – is filled to the brim with sight gags. During the nearly 10-minute sequence, which in previous films would have been played almost entirely directly, Bird takes every opportunity to underscore the sheer madness of the situation and bring it down to earth with comedic beats. Benji happily informs Ethan that “blue is glue, red is dead,” and when Cruise is clinging to the side of the building for dear life, we watch in simultaneous horror and amusement at the climbing glove he previously had on. lost. sticks to the side of the building before pathetically falling to the ground – a not-so-subtle reminder that Ethan could follow suit at any moment.

But Bird’s decision to infuse Ghost protocol with a wry sense of humor is perhaps most concretely conceptualized in Simon Pegg’s expanded role of Benji. He first appeared as a tech geek in Mission: Impossible 3, but returns here as a full-fledged IMF agent, ready and willing to risk everything for Ethan – and crack jokes along the way. Although Ethan Hunt has always been a recognizable character, he is not particularly memorable: he is a fearless and relentless badass, but outside of his passion for work, it is difficult to determine what type of person it is or why we should care. about him.

By making Benji a pillar of the franchise, Impossible mission not only gained a reliable source of comic relief in Pegg, but also an endearing, easy-to-love supporting character to help ground the franchise’s personal stakes (he’s endangered at the end of Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation and again in Fall), which is a refreshing change from the revolving door of the damsels in distress of the early films. Benji also functions as an audience surrogate and a walking and talking fourth wall – when your jaw is on the floor watching Ethan tackle his latest crazy stunt, Benji can be counted on to crack some sort of joke on how completely unbalanced the whole situation is. is.

From Dean Martin’s “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head” toe-tapping prison escape to Benji’s constant banter to the extent of compound stunts up to eleven (the ascent sequence of the Burj Khalifa remains one of the best in the franchise), Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol helped the franchise shed its more stuffy, stereotypical roots and embrace a new, airier attitude toward big-budget action and spy movies. While retaining the basic elements that all Impossible mission fans knew and loved, Bird’s drive to steer the franchise in a more lighthearted and unapologetically fun direction was the crucial adrenaline rush the franchise needed to not only stay culturally relevant, but also open the door to sequels. of McQuarrie, who have since established Impossible mission as one of the best action franchises in movie history.

Lauren Coates is a freelance entertainment writer with a passion for science fiction, an unhealthy obsession with bad reality TV, and a constant desire to be in Disney World. She has been contributing to Paste since 2020. You can follow her on Twitter @laurenjcoates, where she’s probably talking about Star Trek.