Review: Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol (12A) / Directed by: Brad Bird / Starring: Tom Cruise, Paula Patton, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner / Release date: December 26th
Ethan Hunt is in a trap: a thoroughly cinematic one. When the Mission: Impossible series launched in 1996 007 had just made a stunning comeback the year earlier in GoldenEye and the likes of Arnie and Stallone’s brand of blockbuster was dying out. Jason Bourne, Robert Ludlum’s amnesiac assassin, was yet to get the film treatment and effectively force the re-calibration of the whole action/spy genre. IMF Agent Ethan Hunt, never really the strongest or compelling figure, has been wedged somewhere in between these mighty pillars and suffered a little bit. Bond is Bond, Bourne is a highly paranoid man on a mission and Hunt is incredibly bland.
Brian De Palma’s audacious opener had its action-packed moments, but deep down it was a high-tech spy thriller. By Mission: Impossible II the series, essentially, became bang-for-your-buck actioners without much thought gone into characterisation. These films are perhaps more about Tom Cruise’s ego and desire to have his action-man cake and eat it. He’s always been a great character actor wanting to play superstar. We’ve only encouraged him by providing our hard earned money at the box office. The return, we might say, has been mixed.
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, the fourth instalment in the franchise, received a major shot in the arm thanks to J.J. Abrams’ crazy third entry, which thankfully banished all memories of John Woo’s dud sequel. Hunt was back in the spying game proper with a new team and some superb action sequences. More importantly it felt, at least in spirit, like what we expect from something called Mission: Impossible.
Tom Cruise and returning producer Abrams hired award-winning animation filmmaker Brad Bird to oversee Ghost Protocol and it has proved a smart move. Bird opted out of using 3D and chose to shoot over thirty minutes worth of scenes in the IMAX format.
The opening helicopter shot over Budapest may well induce nausea and the whole Dubai tower sequence is easily one of the best examples of stunt work for ages. That Cruise actually did a lot of hair-raising stunts himself is commendable. It’s a sequence that manages to be tense and funny.
The story kicks off with IMF point man Ethan Hunt languishing in a Moscow jailhouse. He’s rescued by fellow agents Jane Carter (Paula Patton) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg). Hunt refuses to leave the prison until he’s rescued a guy named Sergei, who turns out to be used in the third act as an awfully convenient plot device. The opening scene however paves the way for an ace ‘light the fuse’ moment which then bursts into a thunderous credit sequence accompanied by the iconic theme tune. It is things like this that really deliver those movie thrills.
The major problem with Ghost Protocol, apart from the egregious product placement, is the sub-Bondean narrative. Michael Nyvist plays a nuclear scientist who truly believes the world needs to experience nuclear annihilation in order to realise what a danger it is. That’s all the story there is bar a poorly realised subplot involving Hunt and new boy William Brandt (Jeremy Renner).
What saves the entire film is Brad Bird’s assured direction and Jeremy Renner’s mystery man character. Who is Brandt and can he be trusted? Renner plays him as an initially scared corporate suit but gets to join in the fun and unleash his deadly skills in the third act. He’s also funny and plays well off Simon Pegg’s geeky tech man.
The use of handheld camera work in early scenes gives the movie an immediacy and quite unexpected frisson given the glossy sheen of the Hollywood action flick. Mixed in with this are sleek tracking shots, IMAX sequences, gorgeously framed compositions, massive special effects and taut editing. Given his background in animation there is a rather sly cartoon-like feel which serves rather than deters from the overall hugely enjoyable experience that is Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.
Hunt, however, is a colossal bore and one of the least thought out characters in any action series. The attempt to give the man a back story and introduce a wife in the third film was at least an attempt to address this, but there’s a very clunky coda here which feels little more than a poor attempt to add depth to a pretty soulless sort.
Expected rating: 7 out of 10