Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

You probably know Brad Bird as the writer/director of Pixar films The Incredibles and Ratatouille, right? It’s a fact worth bearing in mind as there is, indeed, almost a kids film feel to the playful fourth instalment in the Mission: Impossible series. But while it’s a real joy to watch an action film that doesn’t take itself too seriously in an age of gritty reboots and an innuendo-free Bond, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol tends to push the joke a bit too far. In place of slick set-pieces, tight plotting and a genuine air of threat are silly masks, one-liners poking fun at the genre and Simon Pegg’s face. I’m sorry Simon, I enjoy your work, but what are you doing here?

The film opens with Ethan Hunt (Cruise) – protagonist of the first three films – being broken out of a Russian prison by old pal Benji (Pegg) and newcomer to the Impossible Missions Force Jane (Patton). A bunch of Russian nuclear codes have been stolen and the team are tasked with breaking into the Kremlin for fairly unimportant, Mission-Impossible-films type reasons. Hunt disguises himself as a Russian general (obviously) and sneaks in, escaping just as the Kremlin explodes – unfortunately making it look like the IMF are responsible. Following this, the IMF are forced to secretly clear their names by finding the real bomber and uncovering his plans (probably something to do with those nuclear codes, eh?). Hunt, Benji, Jane and tag-along-with-a-dark-secret Brandt (Renner) join forces to defeat the baddies, with their mission taking them around the globe.

You get the idea. It’s a mission! And it’s impossible! In fact, there really are quite a lot of impossible things going on, such as the breathtaking sequence taking place on/in the tallest building in the world, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa. Here, Hunt is forced to make his way around the exterior of the building using only some special extra sticky gloves, one of which promptly fails leaving him swinging one-handed from a glass pane (just writing that sentence is making my palms sweaty). Stylishly-executed and head-spinningly slick, this sequence is something of a rarity in this day and age (an action scene that actually holds your attention), making it most definitely – and also quite literally – the highpoint of the whole film.

Cruise is on top movie star form, alongside a very likeable Jeremy Renner. The real surprise, though, is Paula Patton as Jane, who brings a sophisticated edge to her character, particularly during a sequence where she struggles to seduce a target. It’s these subtly subversive moments that work well within the film, challenging the preconceptions we might bring to the genre. Jane’s awkward attempts at seduction are believable and interesting, although the scene is let down by a quick, simplistic resolution, telling of a film that lacks finesse. Elsewhere, there are repeated gags poking fun at the familiar tropes, such as a self-destructing message failing to self-destruct. And although some of these are genuinely funny, there’s something a little disingenuous about consistently sending up the genre that you’re simultaneously asking your viewer to buy into.

It’s also a shame that the slick, stylish sequences which underpinned the first Mission: Impossible film are largely absent in favour of the team’s well-laid plans coming unstuck – the thing is, and I’m sure most would agree, we want to see these people doing cool things and succeeding. Isn’t that kind of the point? Bird might be trying to do something fresh with the format, but it smacks somewhat of laziness, the excruciating beers-and-jokes-on-a-waterside-terrace ending in particular. Having said that, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is still a hell of a lot of fun. And it’s almost worth watching solely for the sequence in Dubai – as long as you can handle the dizzying heights.

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