27 December 2011


Ethan Hunt, as played by Tom Cruise, is effectively the closest thing that Americans have to a James Bond figure. 15 years on from his first run at the role, Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol takes more of a lead from the superior sequel, 2006's Mission: Impossible 3, by making the action even more ensemble-centric than before. With JJ Abrams working as a producer, and the handing of the directorial reins to animation legend Brad Bird, the series is no longer a vehicle for Cruise, but the Bond series equivalent it always had the potential to be.

We reunite with Ethan Hunt as he languishes in a Russian prison, charged with an unsanctioned hit on a group of Serbian nationals. In short order, the IMF breaks him out and assigns him a new mission, and a new team, comprising the vengeful Agent Carter and tech geek Benji Dunn. During their mission, Ethan's team then becomes the scapegoat for a terrorist attack against the Kremlin, and are concordantly disavowed by the US government. Together with Brandt, a prickly field analyst, they are all that remains of the IMF, and their mission is to clear their names and prevent a global nuclear war.

I didn't take to Brian DePalma's sleek reboot, and I outright loathed John Woo's embarrassing sequel, so it took quite a lot for Abrams to turn me around with the third instalment. While Mission: Impossible 3 put more focus on the team, it also continued in the line of some of the series' most repetitive tropes, more on which later. But what really makes Ghost Protocol so superb is the addition of Bird, directing live-action for the first time. You need only watch The Incredibles to see his credentials in spy movies, and his general fanboy approach to the genre. This is a Brad Bird film, not a Tom Cruise film.

That's not to say that Cruise is sidelined, having taken a paycut in order to get this film made with himself at the forefront, because he totally benefits from the more collaborative atmosphere about this instalment. With someone as talented and assured as Bird at the helm, Cruise cuts loose with the charisma. You can say that his constant running, and insistence on doing all of his own stunts, is the ultimate expression of short man syndrome, but I think that's somewhat unfair, to a man who is still probably the most compulsively watchable action hero in modern cinema.

While the previous instalments sometimes seemed like vanity projects, the real revelation of the new film is just how well he works with the characters in his team. Jeremy Renner's Brandt provides a good counter to Hunt, as a more anxious breed of badass, asking any questions the audience might be asking about our hero's adrenalised mayhem, out loud. Paula Patton is terrific in the role of Carter, and after multitudes of worthless comic relief characters in recent action films, Simon Pegg's inflated role as Q-surrogate Benji seems rapturous. In 132 minutes, we get to know many of the team members, who are usually eminently replaceable between films, better than we've known Ethan across four whole films.

Having done BlogalongaBond since January, the plot of Ghost Protocol seemed more than a little familiar, and that is probably its biggest failure. It uses the fallback plot of the James Bond franchise, in which an international criminal steals weapons from one side of a conflict, to attack the other, and hopes to incite a global conflict. This plot has thus far appeared in You Only Live Twice, The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, with different villains in each. The villain in question usually does this for poorly drawn reasons, or just for shits and giggles, and it's unfortunate that Michael Nyqvist's character is no exception. He is so poorly developed that the film threatens to come undone, every time he's on screen.

Up until Ghost Protocol, there's hardly been a single antagonist who wasn't some kind of traitor within the IMF. Hunt never seemed to stop having to bring down his own people in order to save the day. This new instalment is more outward-looking, and at first seems to set up Hendricks with a motivation similar to Jared Harris' Moriarty in the recent Sherlock Holmes sequel. We don't see enough of him to properly flesh that out, and so when he turns out to have great fighting skills towards the end of the film we don't have much choice but to take his word for it. Every blow struck, throughout the film, has consequences, so it's a shame to forsake context at that last hurdle.

But make no mistake, the weight of the action is one of the best parts about the film. Ethan Hunt might still be somewhat superpowered, but he's not quite as invulnerable as he has seemed previously. He makes mistakes, sometimes even played for comedy value, and those mistakes always serve to increase the stakes. In one half hour sequence during the second act, clearly the most outstanding sequence put onto the big screen this year, the stakes increase in this manner to a point that is almost unbearable, but absolutely riveting at the same time. The film is so unpredictable in moments likes these, the missions actually seem impossible, for the first time in the series.

Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol is comfortably the best film of the series, as Brad Bird injects new life into Ethan Hunt with his paradoxically retro take on the franchise. Its unfortunate likeness to a much overused James Bond plot just happens to coincide with the series becoming a true American counterpart to the Bond series itself. In the traditional sense, it's actually doing Bond films better than Casino Royale or Quantum of Solace. While this has previously come at the expense of character development for Hunt, the team dynamic picks up the slack, and the overall effect is superb. You should see it, even if you haven't liked any of the previous instalments, because even with its minor flaws, it's one of the year's standout blockbusters.

Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol is now showing in cinemas, and on IMAX screens, nationwide.
If you've seen Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol, why not share your comments below? I'm especially eager to see this one again, on an IMAX screen, so if you have already seen it there, let me know what it's like.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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