Ghost Protocol is the rarest type of film, one where I never once notice its length. It could have gone for three hours and I wouldn’t have noticed. It combines the best of a thriller and an action movie, where it entertains between all the big set pieces, and of course really shines during those big set pieces. Going in, I was a bit worried. Not only did I believe that movies are an inefficient medium for this type of entertainment, I remembered that I hated this type of film. It shares qualities of James Bond and Jason Bourne, but it’s actually a good-time movie, one with the imagination and light-heartedness to stand apart from its overly gritty contemporaries.

A few years ago, probably 2007 or whenever Casino Royale came out, I came to terms with my thoughts on the action movie, and the thriller movie. In trying to parse out just why I didn’t like Casino Royale, or any James Bond movie not starring Pierce Brosnan (although strangely I suppose I did enjoy The Man with the Golden Gun when I saw it), I happened upon a television, which had on display Jason Statham’s face. I decided that this was The Transporter, or one of its sequels, and thought hey I like Jason Statham. Something happened to me then that had never happened before: in ten seconds, I was overwhelmingly bored by a movie. It was just him expositing, talking about drugdealers or something. I recognized this scenario as one of obligatory exposition, and couldn’t handle it.

When two characters sit down and move forward the plot, sometimes that’s fine, if the story is interesting enough. The story in an action movie is rarely exciting, even if it isn’t formulaic: guy’s daughter is kidnapped, goes after those responsible to bring her back. Is that Commando, or Taken? If it’s girlfriend it could be The Marine and a number of side-scrolling beat-em-ups on the Nintendo. The Hollywood action movie is also typically a high-budget affair, so set-pieces are those invested in. You can’t pack ninety minutes of high-budget action into a movie — those in-between moments are a necessity. Some filmmakers are able to make the in-between just as entertaining, like Robert Rodriguez or Jonnie To. Others aren’t.

Now, when you say “thriller,” my mind goes right to Jason Bourne. When I saw The Bourne Ultimatum in theatres, I must have been fourteen. I wanted an action movie. But this thriller didn’t have enough action to compete with John Woo, and not enough drama to be anything else. I simply could not wrap my mind around what made those movies so popular. Nowadays I get it, though I still have yet to revisit that particular trilogy. Maybe when Jeremy Renner stars in The Bourne Legacy, I’ll check that one out. One series that this confusion still holds for is Bond, because none of those movies — with the exception of the nineties and early 2000s era — have over-the-top action (or Colin Salmon*). And of course, none of them have compelling stories or drama.

All that leaves is the character. James Bond is similar to Indiana Jones — he’s cocky and he’s a womanizer, but James Bond to me isn’t nearly as cool. Probably because being cool is the only thing he’s there to be. He drinks his drink and has PG to PG-13 sex with women, never once drinking from the Holy Grail or, I don’t know, tossing the idol. Where’s the draw? I’ll take Mission: Impossible over James Bond any day, although ironically Ghost Protocol is the only one I’ve seen in full.

Ghost Protocol does not deal in overwrought storytelling — its exposition is light on its feet, being delivered while other things are going on, and never the exact center of attention. While story is being processed, beautiful locales are on display and characters are interacting with their often witty back-and-forths. Here characters are actually intriguing despite being flat, such that I genuinely hope to see all four back in another movie, hopefully teamed up with Ving Rhames. Maggie Q I could go either way on. Simon Pegg is Simon Pegg — put him in a good movie and he’s great (in a bad one he’s good), Paula Patton is the attractive and very badass agent, and Jeremy Renner is the data analyst — with a secret. Each character gets his or her moment in the sun, so they don’t feel like dead-end red shirts or useless expendables here to make Tom Cruise look more like an action star. He does look an action star — I think the gratuitous rock-climbing sequence in Mission: Impossible II he demanded from director John Woo is evidence enough.

Beyond that, most of the time the actual exposition is, quite simply, compelling. As an operation is being laid out it’s pretty neat, but doesn’t of course match up to the execution. The gadgets and even the ingenuity these characters utilize make for very tense, very creative near-future espionage situations. It’s like Metal Gear Solid, but just a movie, not a movie with quick-time events. In one instance, a massive image screen is used to fool a guard into believing nobody is in the hallway, when in fact Simon Pegg and Tom Cruise are there, and in another, the team fools two people into believing they are meeting in one room, while in reality, two meetings are taking place, and they’re intercepting information. In the latter example, disguises and contact lens cameras are required, and when things go wrong, fast-thinking and briefcases that print paper inside get thrown into the mix.

While the ending maybe isn’t as climactic as one would imagine it should be, and the denouement feels a pint cheesy, I enjoyed it all. In fact, the former helped me along with the whole time thing. When the climax hit, I hardly realized. Tom Cruise was fighting the villain, and I thought to myself: Oh, this movie must be over soon. That’s kind of sad.

I really don’t have much to say here: it’s a very good time at the movies, a true blockbuster that doesn’t push genre boundaries, but revels in its form. I don’t know why this movie wasn’t called Mission: Impossible IV (who am I kidding, of course I do) but hopefully it isn’t the last sequel, and there’s much more to come. And although I did mention earlier that movies are an inefficient medium for this kind of thing (something I’ll try to expand on later), TV or video-games can’t always have Tom Cruise scaling the largest skyscraper in the world.

Man, when he said “mission accomplished,” and pushed the button, I died in laughter.

*Colin Salmon is a totally cool guy. Anybody who likes Paul WS Anderson movies should recognize him, and he was going to be the next Bond on the recommendation of Pierce Brosnan. But the studios went with Craig. Nothing against Daniel Craig, of course. He was great in the Dragon Tattoo, another movie out right now worth seeing. Make it a double feature.

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