Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol

Don\'t agree with our official review of the latest Mission Impossible flick?! (Check the website) One of our bloggers gives us his take on the latest entry in the franchise.

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Brad Bird’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol opens with a bang, or – more accurately – a bang then a whisper. The opening scene features a terse, elegantly staged foot-chase between an IMF agent (Josh Holloway) and several terrorist hoods, a sequence given the extra oomph and large-scale grandeur of the IMAX format. Later, Bird cuts to the more familiar figure of Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) in a Russian jail, and his elegant escape with the help of tech-wiz Benji (Simon Pegg), and fellow agent Jane (Paula Patton). The chase is intensely edited and framed, with emphasis on sustained tension and eventual release: the jailbreak is a loose and laidback affair (scored with Dean Martin’s ‘Ain\'t that a Kick in the Head?’), highlighting Ethan’s grace and sophistication under pressure. The juxtaposition between these two sequences is clear, however: although this remains a Cruise vehicle, Ghost Protocol is a more team-based film than the others in the series.

Bird and his collaborators deserve praise for the remarkable elegance and surprising restraint of Ghost Protocol. Whereas Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull suffered from narrative bloat, Ghost Protocol is easily the tightest film in the series, with a strong focus on Hunt’s ambiguity and the team’s pro-activeness. Bird – an animation director (Ratatouille, The Incredibles) – may not have aimed particularly high with his debut live-action film, but he succeeds in stylish and satisfying entertainment, which is more than can be said for other entries in the series.  

True, the filmmakers have not solved the problem of Ethan Hunt’s identity. Is he a Bond-type patriot? Well, he spends much of the films attempting to prove his innocence, so his motivations are not entirely altruistic. How about a Bourne-style crusader, attacking the corruption of bloated, indulgent agencies and Governments? Well, no, as he often attacks rogue and self-interested individuals with plans towards global destruction (interestingly, in original Mission: Impossible 3 helmer Joe Carnahan’s incarnation, the film was to feature a British soldier taking over an African state, but the real-world concept was nixed by the production). Politically, the guy seems to be aloof, never drawn into debates about the rights or wrongs of Government action. Ideologically, he seems equally problematic, as he prostituted his girlfriend to a deranged maniac in Mission: Impossible 2. Then again, can anyone explain what John Woo was doing with the series’ first sequel, a spy film-cum-techno opera? Woo’s approach was big on dove-motifs, motorcycling jousts and Dougray Scott screaming, but small on little things like character motivation or narrative coherence.

However, Bird has done an excellent job in stripping back the bloat of previous incarnations and establishing Hunt as a convincing human being. In the film’s action sequences, he seems unexpectedly fallible and insecure. Sure, no one wants to see a Mission: Impossible in which the lead is a wimp. Nevertheless, Hunt seems to abide by the laws of physics this time around. In this vein, Bird brilliantly stages a sequence in which Hunt attempts to scale the Burj Khalifa skyscraper, the largest building in the world. Despite the vertigo-inspiring IMAX photography, the scene recalls the tense intimacy of the CIA sequence in the first Mission: Impossible film, with emphasis on the dangers of even the slightest stumble. In the previous films, Hunt jumped from buildings with ease. In this instalment, Hunt holds onto the building for dear life. The inevitability of age, huh?  

The film also returns the material to the heist-like structure of the series. Sure, producer J.J. Abrams talked about the team-orientated environment of the third film, but – ultimately – the film remained Hunt’s story, with no arcs for the other characters on the team. In this film, each character (including Jeremy Renner’s spy analyst Brandt) has a specific motivation and arc beyond helping Hunt: Jane is looking for revenge, the enigmatic Brandt has his own reasons for joining the crew and Pegg’s character just wants to be badass. Such an approach inevitably ensures that the villain is lacking in dimension, but – by developing these characters beyond the bland ciphers of previous instalments – Bird places less emphasis on Hunt’s near-superhuman abilities and more on his need for others.

Stylishly filmed and narratively satisfying, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is the most successful entry in this long-winded series.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is in cinemas now.

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