Cocky, sexy, brilliant and incredibly fit young men don’t stay that way forever, right? Gets especially difficult past the age of 40, wouldn’t you say? But in the case of Ethan Hunt — the main man of the “Mission: Impossible” franchise and one of Tom Cruise’s most successful performances – the impossible is: nothing. When the series first kicked off in 1996, Tom Cruise was 34. He is now 49, which means Ethan is about the age when hints about a retirement package at a gated community in Florida wouldn’t be all that out of place. But as “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol” demonstrates, he’s not even thinking about it.
Ethan remains the same — his visibly jutting abs and biceps, that sleek, dark hair waving artistically over chiselled features. And he still sprints like some Jamaican Olympic star, albeit one short of stature. Ethan was created for the movie series and was not in the original TV show. He is one of Hollywood’s most successful inventions, which is wondrous, but the true wonder is this: He has never, ever let up being him. Hasn’t he ever wanted another job? Another haircut? Take up yoga for a change? Hell, no. There’s a reason why Ethan will always be the “best man on the team,” a phrase his respective bosses at the secret government agency IMF have repeated to him over the years. He’s the best because he’s Ethan.
This deep-seated, rather anachronistic me-ism hits an all-time high in this fourth installment in the “Mission: Impossible” movie series. That’s because early on in the story, Ethan is informed that the U.S. president has disavowed the IMF and he’s on his own, with no government support or funds or an office to call his own. For all intents and purposes, he and his rogue team doesn’t exist. They may as well be ghosts.
This way, however, Ethan gets to call all the shots, and four seconds into the opening sequence he lets the whole world know who’s in charge. In past installments he had been both emotional and friendly; in the latest, he doesn’t crack a smile and hardly speaks. When he meets up with his friend/colleague Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg, from “M:i:III”), he’s standoffish and reticent. Whenever he’s pressed to explain himself or give a reason for what he’s doing, he looks bored and utters two words: “A hunch.” No wonder the three members of his team (Pegg, Paula Patton and Jeremy Renner) cast doubtful looks in his direction, like they’re secretly vowing not to invite him to barbecue parties in the summer.
Which is OK, because Ethan doesn’t want to waste precious time on anything that doesn’t involve him being smack dab in the middle of some freakishly outlandish action feat that defies gravity and the gods all at the same time. Why do it? The question recurs with really alarming frequency to the sound of machine guns, shattering glass, tires screeching and one terrible wail from a woman as she falls headlong to her death from an open hotel window. Why do it? Apparently because he’s (ahem) Ethan Hunt, and Being Ethan is the only thing that will save the free world.
Having said so, this time Ethan’s quarry is a bit lacking in color and character. Going by the code name of Cobalt (Michael Nyqvist, from “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”), this terrorist has the fewest lines and least screen time of any “Mission: Impossible” villain and is such a nonentity you forget he’s around — or confuse him with his underling, who’s even more obscure.
Still, Cobalt is out to wage nuclear warfare on a global scale and only Ethan can stop him, or is even aware that such a plan is in the works. Ours is not to reason why (so what’s the CIA? Chopped liver?), only to wring our hands in agony as Ethan hurls himself off yet another building ledge onto a moving van with an awful, bone-smashing thwack.
That’s small potatoes compared to the hair-raising stunt of 2011 (performed by Cruise himself), which has been featured on ads and trailers and takes place on the 124th floor of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. The film premiered in that city a week before its official release, reflecting its choice of locations for Ethan and his team to strut their stuff: Dubai, Mumbai, Moscow — all cities in booming economies where the “M:I” franchise’s penchant for luxury cars, extravagant parties and clinging gowns with plunging necklines make perfect sense.
Whatever else you can say about him, Ethan has never looked less than amazing in a custom-tailored tux with a babe on his arm and a microphone hidden behind a lapel. He’s back, he’s good, and people, he’s 49. It can’t be easy being Ethan, but it sure has its perks.