Tuesday, 27 December 2011
'Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol' review:
Within twenty minutes of Brian De Palma's original 1996 'Mission: Impossible' it is clear that any relationship with the original 60s TV show doesn't extend too far beyond the title, the theme music and those improbable latex masks that enable our hero to convincingly pose as other people. De Palma almost immediately kills off every member of his initial team bar producer-star Tom Cruise, whose IMF agent Ethan Hunt then carries a pretty routine espionage thriller.
John Woo's follow-up, 2000's 'Mission: Impossible II', was just as individualistic if tonally entirely different - ditching any pretence of subtlety or teamwork during a brainless orgy of slow-mo gunfire, bright orange explosions and even oranger fake tan. Whilst the third entry, directed by J. J. Abrams in 2006, is pitched somewhere between the two: a straight action picture, with some vague, convoluted secret agent stuff (that makes almost no sense) amid the shooting. It did however feature, at last, a clearly defined team working with Cruise.
The fourth entry, 'Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol', is closest to the third in the balance between action and espionage, with Abrams remaining involved as a producer. Unlike the first three, it also enjoys some degree of continuity, with Ethan's wife from the last film (Michelle Monaghan) referenced throughout and Simon Pegg's nebbish computer expert promoted to the field team, which now includes Paula Patton and Hollywood's new favourite everyman Jeremy Renner.
Under animation legend Brad Bird's direction, each of the four players (including Pegg's comedy sidekick) are allowed to get in on the action meaningfully, receiving ample screentime and combing together well. Though Cruise is undoubtedly still the star and steals all the most heroic moments, this is the most egalitarian of the series by far and also (not coincidentally) the most fun.
Though 'Ghost Protocol' is tighter and more coherent than either Woo or Abram's efforts, it manages to move at an even faster pace, rarely pausing between consistently inventive and exciting action. But even if the excitement never stops, there is far less emphasis on guns than in previous entries, with much more scope and imagination.
Most of the thrills come courtesy of superb choreography rather than carnage. For instance, there are plenty of remarkable stunts - the highlight of which sees Cruise scaling one of the world's tallest buildings - set against an impressive number of backdrops (sand storms, lavish parties, the Kremlin), involving gadgets which provide the coolest vision of the future since 'Minority Report'. Lost amongst all of this is a wafer thin plot (Mikael Nyqvist's extremist wants to start a nuclear war and is in possession of several MacGuffins that must be pursued around the globe) but it honestly doesn't matter.
The pleasures of 'Ghost Protocol' are right up there on the screen and easy to explain. It's a film where ultra attractive people (this time even the villains look like Léa Seydoux) travel effortlessly between varied exotic locations (Budapest, Moscow, Dubai, Mumbai and San Francisco) and take part in thrilling escapades, as captured with great dynamism by Bird.
The team are, together and individually, the best in the world, utilising the coolest gadgets (even if they don't always work) and with access to the most glamorous vehicles (I didn't realise it was still possible for a car to look "futuristic" in 2011). What's more, the characters are easy to get along with. They seem to genuinely enjoy each other's company in a film that - save a creaky concluding ten minutes - takes itself exactly the right amount of seriously.
'Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol' is out now, rated '12A' by the BBFC.