All four Mission: Impossible movies have carried their director’s distinct style to varying degrees of success. De Palma kicked off the movie franchise effectively then John Woo went so OTT on action that the brooding intelligence of the first was lost. JJ Abrams offered a solid reboot of sorts which played up teamwork rather than one-man-army Cruise. Abrams drew on his experience working on television series, but it looked like the A-list actor would struggle to find a mass audience again when the box office take of his recent films went downhill. For this fourth edition Pixar director Brad Bird has made his first foray into live action cinema following hits with The Incredibles, The Iron Giant and Ratatouille. To make a success of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Bird would have to strike a balance of the insatiable Cruise star power and giving screen time to more than just his elaborate stunts. That might be considered an impossible mission itself, but he’s performed admirably to ensure all of Ethan’s team get a chance to shine.
Bird’s Mission: Impossible kicks off without the focus on Cruise’s IMF (the Impossible Mission Force international espionage agency to the uninitiated) agent Ethan Hunt so readily embellished previously: instead we see another IMF agent (Josh Holloway – Sawyer from Lost) fight his way out of a sticky situation only to run into an assassin in an alley. The action quickly moves to a prison break masterminded by IMF tech whiz Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) who has exchanged HQ for field work. As fellow agent Jane Cater (Paula Patton) approaches the pick up point, it emerges their target is Hunt himself who puts his own escape at risk by fighting through brawling guards and prisoners to rescue another prisoner. After a breakneck action sequence that sees Hunt set free, he’s back in amongst it when he gets a trademark self-destructing message to go to the Kremlin to steal a file. However, despite the aid of old skool disguises and some next-gen gadgets, the IMF team is framed as a bomb goes off in the middle of their meddling. Soon after Hunt’s told the IMF has been shut down and he’s on his own solving this one – save for Benji, Jane and analyst William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) – hence the Ghost Protocol of the title.
The action is staged on a grand scale with the world’s tallest building, making for a fine centrepiece.
This Cruise franchise was in need of a change in tone, and Bird has done a fine job of ensuring the adjustment is a deft one that delivers action and a wry sense of humour that doesn’t feel hammy. This IMF team have flaws, make mistakes and actually joke with each other in a way that feels relatively natural for a quartet of international crime fighters. The tone is very much in-line with what might be seen in a television series as they get annoyed and poke fun at each other. Granted the majority of the funny lines come from Pegg but Cruise gets in on the act allowing his previously no-nonsense Hunt to be develop. Both Renner and Patton are effective at adding to the chemistry, though the baddies are forgetable.
Still, the lack of a villain as strong as Philip Seymour Hoffman in Mission: Impossible 3 is not a disaster as the action is staged on a grand scale with the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, making for a fine centrepiece. There’s tense meetings, a car chase in a desert storm and the money shots of Cruise scaling the outside of the Burj Khalifa keeping you hooked before a Mumbai showdown. Although Cruise is now pushing 50 and doubts had been raised as to whether he could take the lead of blockbuster of this scale anymore, there’s an understanding here that he knows it’s time to bring in the new faces and stop hogging the limelight. Well done Bird for ensuring it didn’t go to waste.