Review: Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)

Director: Brad Bird

****

The Mission: Impossible franchise was never more than a pretender to James Bond’s position as the leading purveyor of sexy espionage punctuated by girls, stunts and exotic locales. The first and third films were solid if functional entertainments, while the second one is best forgotten. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol feels like the M:I film we’ve been waiting for. There are the girls, the stunts and the globetrotting, but there’s also an intriguing plot and enough risk to make this Mission worth accepting.

Brad Bird is a fine director of animation, having brought us The Incredibles and Ratatouille. Thus, it was quite a surprise when he came on as director of Ghost Protocol. Sure, action scenes can seem quite slapstick, and most characters get less development than those comedy anvils that tend to squash the like of Wile E .Coyote into a pancake, but could this really justify his taking the helms of a major franchise as his live action debut. From the opening jailbreak scene, the answer is a resounding “Hell yeah!” Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise, the world’s favourite punchline) is in a Russian prison, but is helped flee by IMF teammate Carter (Paula Patton, the resident curves) and Benji (Simon Pegg, your comic relief for the evening). Hunt’s behind bars for reasons that are not immediately clear, but then again this is a Mission: Impossible film; are we really concerned about the plot? Only if it gets us into interesting places for stunts and general mayhem. For example, after the jailbreak we see Hunt and Benji impersonating Russian generals and entering the Kremlin. On the surface, they’re there to stop Michael Nyqvist’s renegade Russian warmonger stealing nuclear missile launch codes, but really they’re there to perform ridiculous crowd-pleasing stunts. Ghost Protocol delivers the thrills and spills in spades. A central confrontation occurs in the world’s tallest free-standing building, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa. Of course, both audience and filmmakers know that it happens that way just so we can see Cruise climb up and abseil down the building in a vertigo-inducing piece of bravado that will elicit whoops and cheers from audiences. The tension of such scenes is increased when we know the IMF team are without backup after the US government pins the botched Kremlin mission and subsequent explosion on them (the ‘Ghost Protocol’ of the title); there’s also a new arrival to the team, Jeremy Renner’s defence analyst/covert agent. Renner’s star is on the rise, but Cruise is still the leading man here, performing his own stunts with a smirk and aplomb. It’s that superstar quality that is so rare in Hollywood today.

The script by Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec throws in a few nods at character and empathy (where’s Hunt’s wife from the last movie? What’s the real deal with Renner’s agent?), but for the most part they keep our protagonists jetting from place to place, rarely stopping for breath (the final act in Mumbai will frequently send you to the edge of your seat!). Cruise may be struggling to keep his leading man status in place, but if he learns to keep his mouth shut and keep making the likes of Ghost Protocol, he’ll do just fine. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is a supreme cut of ‘switch-brain-to neutral’ flavoured entertainment.

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