Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is the fourth installment to the massively successful and equally varied Mission: Impossible franchise.
The films up until now have ranged from a Brian De Palma directed cold war styled spy thriller; a financially successful, if critically panned combination of John Woo’s Face/Off and Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious; and a two hour episode of J.J Abrams’ Alias.
Whilst Mission: Impossible dealt with loyalty and betrayal, M:I II dealt with duality and identity, Abrams’ film focused on relationships and trust. So, where to now for the unfortunately named agent Ethan Hunt?
Well, why not try a little from all the above? Ghost Protocol doesn’t seem to have an over-reaching theme in the way its predecessors have. Instead, it trades in its subtext cards for a set of set pieces that would be sure to trump any of its contenders for action and spectacle.
At the helm this time is director Brad Bird. Whilst Ghost Protocol is Bird’s first foray into live action filmmaking, he already has the likes of the fantastic The Incredibles under his belt, which means he is no stranger to the kind of grand-scale comic book adventure served up in here.
Bird also brings composer Michael Giacchino along for the ride. A long time collaborator with Bird at Pixar, Giacchino provided the bombastic score for The Incredibles and delivers a fabulous soundtrack here, too.
J.J. Abrams is also back on board, this time sharing the producing credit alongside Mr. Tom Cruise. Abrams’ fingerprints are all over Ghost Protocol. Not only has J.J. Abrams worked on several projects with Giacchino, but when it comes to the script, we get another pair of Abrams’ collaborators, too, in the shape of Andre Nemec and Josh Appelbaum – both previously writers on Alias.
What this basically boils down to is Cruise and Abrams hiring people they know, like and trust, but who also happen to be about the best at what they do. For instance, Nemec and Appelbaum may be fairly unknown when it comes to writing features, but when it comes to penning this sort of adventure rich spy fare, they certainly know what they’re doing.
So, what of the film itself? Does it live up to its predecessors or the huge, snowballing hype surrounding its launch? Well, before we say anything else, it has to be said that Ghost Protocol is a thoroughly enjoyable film and it does fit comfortably in amongst the earlier entries. However, for just a split second, as the camera soars in over the rooftops of Budapest to the strains of Michael Giacchino’s tense, building string score, you might mistakenly think film is supposed to be taken seriously. Fortunately, this notion is swiftly swept away as Josh Holloway’s Agent Hanaway bursts onto the screen and we momentarily blunder into what looks like the most expensive and disastrous Milk Tray advert ever made.
This just about sets the tone for everything that is to follow. From this point onwards, we are thrust headlong into a litany of ever more incredible and increasingly unbelievable set pieces that stretch our suspension of disbelief well past breaking point. However, the pace is so phenomenally fast that there is simply no time to wonder at the improbability of the events or the gaping holes in the narrative as you are picked up and swept along by Ghost Protocol’s tidal wave of absurdity.
All this may sound like thinly veiled criticism. It’s not. Ghost Protocol might be utterly unbelievable and make very little sense, but it isn’t supposed to. It is there to provide spectacle and to thrill us. Rarely has a film literally had us on the edges of our seats the way this film has. The stunning set piece in Dubai is a case in point. We know that the reason for Tom’s dizzying ascension of the Burj Khalifa is veneer thin, but that doesn’t stop us from literally biting our nails as he scales the glass, 120 or so floors above the ground. We know that those gloves are ridiculous, but that does not detract for one moment from the tension. It doesn’t even matter that the most ambitious set piece is used as the mid-point lock in and surpasses the film’s climax. All that matters is that this is Tom Cruise and he’s climbing a really, really tall building. Eek!
It might be easy to look at Ghost Protocol as nothing more than a Brosnan era Bond, full of ridiculous gadgetry and nonsensical plot devices. However, whilst a film like Die Another Day might have had the absurdly invisible Aston, it also felt tired and Brosnan looked bored, four movies in. The same can’t be said about Ghost Protocol and its star. This film feels virtually electrically charged and Cruise, himself four films in and almost the same age as Brosnan in his last Bond, couldn’t look more energized. What Ghost Protocol has that so many silly spy movies has is a sense of vigor and, perhaps more importantly, a sense of humour. It straddles the line between serious spy film and genre parody, a feat that, after scaling the Burj Khalifa, should be child’s play for Cruise.
Ghost Protocol takes a good look at itself, recognizes its shortcomings and decides to ignore them in favour of style, pacing and a good dose of humour. In most action films you can’t wait for a bit of air, for the down beats and the emotional drama to add a bit of weight to the otherwise rather dry narrative. That’s not really the case here. The moments of calm where a character reveals their motivations, or when we get a resolution to their arcs, generally feel rather flat. You’d be forgiven if, as Jeremy Renner’s conflicted and mysterious Brandt reveals the truth about his past, you stole a look at your watch or began drumming your fingers. Not that this isn’t all wonderfully played by the cast. Renner can do this sort of thing in his sleep, and probably is here. Paula Patton, the least known of the cast, strides in with gusto and knocks the ball out of the stadium. But you can’t help feel that these are characters that don’t really need any extra layers and these are actors that given such flimsy back-stories simply don’t have to try too hard with what they’ve got. Simon Pegg is given really nothing in the way of back-story and it doesn’t seem to matter for his character in the slightest. He still manages to steal scenes, even when there’s World’s Biggest Movie Star™ Tom Cruise and Best Actor Oscar winner Renner in the room. In fact, the only one of the cast that really seems to suffer from being under-written is Michael Nyqvist’s Hendricks, a Swedish but somehow Russian nuclear strategist who spends the film turning up in various locations with a briefcase. Clearly, his is the only character that could use a little more depth and a genuine motivation. He’s the bad guy intent on blowing up the world in nuclear holocaust, determined to achieve his goals at any cost. Except we never really buy into why. His whole motivation is apparently to destroy the world so that the strong might rebuild society from the ashes. Even Bond villains stopped with that malarkey back in the seventies because they realized it didn’t make any bloody sense. (Nowadays they concern themselves with hiking water rates.)
However, these are all just niggles, because as we mentioned before, none of this needs to make any sense. It just has to make us gasp, move quickly and look beautiful and, thanks to cinematography from Robert Elswit and editing from Paul Hirsch, as well as airtight direction from Bird, that’s what we get.
So, overall, Ghost Protocol is a ridiculous piece of confection, but it is also one of the most vigorously enjoyable films to have been released in a long time. It’s not going to change your life, but it might just put a big, fat, shit-eating grin on your face. No wonder Tom’s always smiling.
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is full of spirit
Ghost Protocol is a ridiculous piece of confection, but it is also one of the most vigorously enjoyable films to have been released in a long time. It’s not going to change your life, but it might just put a big, fat, shit-eating grin on your face.
Ben is our resident screenwriter, that’s right, a real-life movie screenwriter. If we hadn’t captured him, drugged him and locked him in the basement here at Prodigal Towers, right now he’d be living the Hollywood dream that should rightfully be his, ensconced in a John Lautner house in Malibu. But don’t feel sorry for him. More fool him for drinking that spiked Martini in the first place.
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