If there ever was a challenge for the Impossible Mission Force, once led by field agent Jim Phelps and under the care of Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt for the last fifteen years, it was to forge a major studio franchise that bucks the downward trend of such movies by actually improving creatively and dramatically with each instalment.
While Brian de Palma’s original was financially successful, the complicated plot was delivered in a manner that belied the essential fun of Bruce Geller’s source material; John Woo’s follow up was undoubtedly an improvement, but at times strayed too far into being a pastiche of the director’s own earlier work. Six long years passed before JJ Abrams made his feature film debut, and for the first time captured what made the original show successful. With a daring pre-credit scene in which a captive Hunt sees his wife tortured and executed before him rapidly followed by a helicopter chase through a wind farm, Abrams seemed determined to show the audience something they had never seen before at every step.
Once again changing director, Ghost Protocol retreads familiar ground with the IMF once again under threat rather than engaged in an external mission, but Brad Bird’s first live action film moves in bold new directions. Owing more to his background in animation than any previous M:I film, the end result is more akin to The Incredibles. Bird stages the action with no consideration of the conventional limitations of filming, blowing up the Kremlin, flipping cars into rivers with cast and camera inside, or providing an aerial view of an approaching sandstorm, but his input is not limited to dazzling visuals, as the characters are more fully realised and likeable than on previous occasions, the key factor that elevates this mission.
The globetrotting locations, from Moscow to Dubai to Mumbai, bring to mind James Bond rather than Mission: Impossible, and the increased usage of far fetched gadgetry emphasises that connection. While gadgets were certainly present in the show, they were used to create an illusion which was sold by the skill of the operatives; here credulity is stretched by a Ipad generated back projected movable wall that stays in perfect focus, just one of the examples of how the film itself is apparently powered by Apple. More realistic is the stuntwork, much of it performed by the actors themselves, with the crucial factor that while they were no doubt well protected, the characters are progressively more battered and worn out as the film progresses, with the audience wincing as the fights unfold.
As in the original show, the movie team has rotated depending on the needs of the story, and as Ving Rhames steps back to a cameo, Simon Pegg’s Benji Dunn moves from background technical support to key player. While his early scenes indicate that Pegg will be repeating little more than light relief of MI3, he later gives such a convincing dramatic performance that it seems astonishing he has never been asked to do so before, something that will hopefully be noted by the producers of Star Trek. New operatives include the reliable Jeremy Renner as analyst William Brandt and Paula Patton as field agent Jane Carter, both of whom we will hopefully see again.
One aspect of the show that is recreated, with a modern spin, is the opening titles, a montage of images of forthcoming action against the Lalo Schifrin theme as rendered by Michael Giacchino, generating the burning fuse excitement that continues to burn the whole film through.
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is now on general release