3 / 5 stars
Amidst a wave of unexpected critical acclaim, there’s not much to ‘get’ with the fourth M:I film, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol: America’s answer to James Bond, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), and a small select team (Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Paula Patton) must go it alone to stop a rogue Russian from inciting a worldwide nuclear apocalypse. That’s about it.
For a film of this kind to stand out (and there are countless efforts which all fall solidly into the Mediocre category), the movie needs to possess a lot of things. There must be some interesting chemistry between the characters to stave off the boredom. There’s got to be action, but not so much that it all blends into one incoherent dull mess (known as Michael Bay Syndrome). Most important, there needs to be the presence of fresh ideas. I’m pleased to say that Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol has all of these things; if not quite in abundance, then enough to lift above the average spy thriller.
Aside from the villains, who are the same cardboard cutout Russians seen in every other Hollywood secret agent caper, the cast is extremely strong. It may be five years since Cruise’s last outing as Hunt (and 15 since the first) but the star still has the charisma and ability to pull off the role of action hero. Renner and Patton are both fine in their roles, but the real standout is Pegg.
Playing the ‘Q’ role of the Bond films, the difference here is that Pegg’s Benji gets his hands dirty, and forms a surprisingly effective foil for Cruise’s deadly serious Hunt.
The action is extremely well paced, a testament to the strength of the writing and the direction of Brad Bird (a bold choice on the part of the producers, and a personal favorite of series re-invigorator J.J. Abrams). Rather than just laying out two hours of explosions and guns, Ghost Protocol is structured around a small number of extremely impressive action setpieces. Each has time dedicated to a build-up, which is used to flesh out the characters and ratchet up the tension. A particular highlight is Hunt scaling the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, as a sandstorm approaches and his equipment malfunctions.
With so many action films being pumped out of Hollywood, it’s extremely difficult for any film to offer anything truly original and fresh, and Ghost Protocol is not really an real exception. There’s nothing to make the audience really sit up and take note, but there are some nice touches. Seeing Hunt getting physically battered throughout the film is a change of pace from many action film protagonists who may as well be The Terminator. And the chemistry between the team members is also a welcome dynamic compared to the standard one hero-one expendable partner system. Some of the gadgets, too, are fantastic and show real invention whilst also not appearing to be far from the realms of possibility for modern science.
Despite having so much going for it, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol falls at the final hurdle thanks to an inexplicably poor plot. Obviously, suspension of disbelief is crucial for action films such as the Mission: Impossible series, but there are parts of the film where this is simply impossible. To avoid spoilers, all I’ll say is car companies must have made some pretty groundbreaking advances in airbag technology over the last year or two, among many, many more things.
The the tired Americans vs. Russians plot, reeks of something left over from the 50s, and actually bears a striking resemblance to Stanley Kubrick’s classic farce, Dr. Strangelove, particularly when the Russian terrorist in question starts talking about planning for a world following nuclear annihilation. By the end, as agents sit around a table having a good laugh about the countless number of people slain along the way, the only way it could get any more clichéd is if Hunt had said ‘Wow, that really was an impossible mission!’ The plot is an unsightly, unfortunate blot on the copybook of an otherwise promising film.