By Marty Mulrooney
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is the fourth instalment in the Mission: Impossible film series. Tom Cruise once again reprises his role as IMF (Impossible Mission Force) agent Ethan Hunt, in an action film that will see him escaping from a Moscow prison before teaming up with faces both familiar – Simon Pegg as IMF technical field agent Benji Dunn – and new – Jeremy Renner and Paula Patton as IMF team members William Brandt and Jane Carter – to tackle nuclear terrorist Kurt Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist). Ghost Protocol marks director Brad Bird’s (The Incredibles) first live-action film.
Mission: Impossible III, helmed by Lost co-creator J. J. Abrams, was a fantastic instalment in a spy series that desperately needed reinvigorating after a generic – and quite frankly ridiculous – second instalment. It would certainly have made a fitting end to the franchise, finishing everything on a high note… so it is understandable that some fans would approach this fourth effort with trepidation. Fear not. Although J. J. Abrams takes a backseat as co-producer this time round, Brad Bird’s live-action debut is a strong one, matching the production value Abrams’ is known for with the kinetic energy of Bird’s own The Incredibles and Ratatouille.
The opening of the film is a perfect example, with an IMF team extracting Ethan Hunt from a Moscow prison. This sequence is a masterful blend of timing, comedy, action and music. Cruise’s character is shown only from behind, lying on his back as he bounces a rock off the walls of his cell. He waits, calm, as all hell breaks loose. Adjacent cells pop open, spilling their violent occupants upon unsuspecting guards. He waits. Then he waits some more. The ensuing race through the prison complex, doors unlocking and locking just in time, is a ballet dance of expertly choreographed hand-to-hand combat that sets both the film and the pulse racing.
The story is unashamedly secondary to the action, involving the disbandment of IMF, and Kurt Hendricks, a deranged Russian intent on sparking a nuclear war. Michael Nyqvist, who will be recognisable to some viewers as Mikael Blomkvist in the Millennium film series, is entirely wasted here as a flat villain with zero personality and extremely flimsy motives. Thankfully, the action and gadgets pick up most of the slack – the excellent prison break opening is just the beginning. A scene where Cruise and Pegg stealthily advance down a corridor, using a gadget that projects a 3D image of an empty corridor to the unsuspecting eye, is refreshingly imaginative and conveyed believingly enough so as not to be daft.
That isn’t to say that the film can’t be enjoyably silly at times. Yet sadly, the comedic elements don’t always work and the tongue-in-cheek nature of the franchise (usually a direct nod to the TV show upon which it is based) can often drag the viewer out of the reality of the film. The Impossible Mission Force can seem pretty amateur for the best secret agents in the world – the film can somewhat be excused for this misstep due to the plot point of the IMF organisation being disbanded, but it’s still a constant nag nonetheless.
The film works best when it runs on pure adrenaline, as well as a sense of scale – when Ethan Hunt climbs the outside of the Burj Khalifa tower, the tallest building in the world, with only the use of some special gloves (“blue is glue… red is dead”) the sense of vertigo is almost overwhelming. It’s admittedly one of the better action sequences in recent memory; moments like this make any inefficiencies in the script simply fade away. It’s just a shame that the cast is lumbered with such clucky dialogue when the action dies down: Jeremy Renner is never allowed to realise his full potential and Léa Seydoux as French assassin Sabine Moreau is killed off far too soon – she would have undoubtedly made a far more effective antagonist than Michael Nyqvist. Perhaps most wasteful of all, Paula Patton is eye candy that never pans out as a love interest or a strong female character in her own right.
Some tenuous links to the previous films, including last-minute cameos from both Ving Rhames and Michelle Monaghan, are a nice touch, but the fact remains that the story doesn’t ever really cut it. The Mission Impossible franchise is still a few steps behind the Bond and Bourne franchises – hopefully the hugely talented Jeremy Renner will be given more to do in the latter than he is here. Ultimately, Ghost Protocol can be enjoyed as a series of great action sequences linked together by a middling, sub-par plot. It’s plenty of fun, just don’t attempt to find any depth to the story – that truly would be an impossible mission.
7.5 OUT OF 10