Tuesday 15 May 2012


Tuesday 15 May 2012

Tom Cruise isn't getting any younger, but you'd be hard-pressed to find many Hollywood actors doing what he does shy of a 50th birthday. The fourth instalment of the durable Mission: Impossible franchise is another hit for its star/producer, thanks to another shrewd choice of director. Brad Bird steps behind the camera for this sequel (making his live-action debut after animations such as The Simpsons, Iron Giant, The Incredibles and Ratatouille), bringing his qualities as a slick storyteller and ringmaster of motion to proceedings. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (hereafter MI:4) is an expertly crafted and vigorously entertaining spy-jink adventure, with the only downside being a villain considerably less compelling than predecessor Philip Seymour Hoffman. Or even Dougray Scott from John Woo's overwrought misfire. Other movies may have found that an insurmountable flaw, but given the amount of action, humour, heart, and creativity that flows from MI:4's pores, it's merely an unfortunate stumble.

The story is retrospectively simple but spoon-fed with enough restraint and precision to appear more complicated in the moment. IMF super-agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is sprung from a Moscow prison by colleagues Carter (Paula Patton) and Benji (Simon Pegg), told to infiltrate the Kremlin to steal a file belonging to enemy nuclear strategist "Cobalt", but soon finds the IMF disavowed by the US government when they're implicated in the destruction of the Russian landmark. The fact Ethan and his close-knit team, which comes to include mysterious analyst Brandt (Jeremy Renner), are mainly on their own for this adventure gives MI:4 a back-to-basics grounding that works well. They may retain tech and gadgets to make Bond cream his tuxedo, but it proves mostly unreliable and backup's non-existent. It's simply fun watching Ethan try to save the day and prevent a global nuclear war, from a disadvantaged position.

Cruise himself, as I mentioned, goes beyond the call of duty to ensure moviegoers are thrilled—most notably doing his own stunt-work scaling the tallest building in the world: Dubai's impressive Burj Khalifa. The impact is undoubtedly reduced sans IMAX, or even a regular cinema screen, but simply knowing Cruise was genuinely abseiling up those vertiginous heights earns the man my utmost respect. Nothing in MI:4 manages to top that midway Dubai sequence, which neatly dovetails into a high-speed car chase during an ill-timed sandstorm, but you're rarely five minutes away from another entertaining set-piece. It's also a funnier movie than previous instalments, given more of an Ocean's Eleven vibe at times, mainly thanks to Pegg's increased presence as the IMF's "Q" with a puppy's enthusiasm for being a field agent.

I will catch me a mutant turtle...
Bird deserves most of the acclaim here, of course. His direction is sharp and his background with animation serves him well for a movie of this type; where so much relies on clockwork precision, fast-cutting imagery, and the need to let an audience process complex scenarios in the blink-of-an-eye. You have years to get everything perfect on a Pixar movie, but Bird's training holds him in good stead with the faster turnaround of live-action filmmaking. There's a punch, snap and confidence to MI:4 that makes the film a very pleasurable viewing experience. The opening title sequence alone, finally utilising the original TV show's iconic use of a lit fuse and snapshots of the forthcoming adventure, is a masterwork.

For my money MI:4's better than the previous sequels (although I do prefer the more personal stakes for Ethan in MI:III with his girlfriend in peril) but it's still a world away from the levelheaded approach taken by Brian De Palma in 1995's original. Since that first outing, the franchise has gotten progressively crazier and joyful, so it's down to personal taste which approach you prefer. But in a movie landscape where rivals Bourne and Bond are doggedly chasing realism now, I think it's clever for the Mission: Impossible's to embrace being rollicking good adventures to guzzle popcorn to in the dark.

directed by Brad Bird / written by Josh Applebaum & André Nemec (based on the TV series by Bruce Geller) / starring Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner & Paula Patton / Paramount Pictures / 135 mins.