The Mission Impossible franchise has never been able to go beyond the averageness of the first in the series, directed by Brian De Palma back in 1996. John Woo’s sequel in 2000 was simply a travesty that stuck far too near to Woo’s own action directing traits and quirks rather than producing a genuine espionage film. Meanwhile JJ Abrams’ directorial debut Mission Impossible III attempted and mildly succeeded in reinvigorating the mediocre series. Where these films have unanimously triumphed is financially and that evidently justified Paramount’s demands for another sequel. However, the appointment of Brad Bird as director seemed a misguided choice after his success in the animated genre and lack of live-action experience. However, Bird’s “debut” is slick, action-packed and highly entertaining, but one that is superficial and lacks depth.

The plot follows Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) as he escapes from a Russian prison. Joined by agents Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and Jane Carter (Paula Patton), they are soon framed for a tiny explosion in the Kremlin. The real culprit, a nuclear terrorist named Kurt Hendricks wants war between Russia and America for an undefined reason. As a result, the IMF (Impossible Mission Force) are disavowed and Ethan and his team, now joined by analyst William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), are labelled ‘international terrorists’. The rest of the film sees the team attempt to clear their names and stop the bad guys. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol simply boils down to exotic locations, explosions, guns and Tom Cruise. It doesn’t help that we’ve seen the ‘rogue agent’ storyline twice already in the series, making the narrative rather stale and tired. Subsequently there’s nothing complex nor original about MI: GP, but there isn’t anything offensive either. Brad Bird’s first live-action film is a massive departure from his usual animated opuses (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles), staying clear of any major semblance of emotion or sympathetic characters. This is a straight-up action film that has flashy production values, cool individuals and intense sequences. The entire section in Dubai is ludicrously over-the-top, but fantastic. From Cruise dangling from the Burj Khalifa to a frantic chase in the middle of a sandstorm, its constantly thrilling and engaging.

However it’s when the film tries to add elements of poignant backstory and light-hearted comedy that the cracks start to show. Ironically the sheer fast-paced nature consequently means that these attempts to slow things down end in frivolous nonsense or boring exposition. The main issue lies with its overly simplified and one-track script. There is substance, but nothing engaging or dramatic. A forced backstory between Cruise and Renner’s characters lingers on until the end when its merely resolved in a sentence. Meanwhile Patton’s poorly developed “relationship” with a murdered agent seems like a justification for a minor revenge sub-plot, and a cat-fight. The whole rationale behind Pegg’s character is primarily for comedic relief, but is one flawed by a distinct lack of amusing dialogue. Repetition of gadgety breaking down and quirky reactions from Pegg don’t constitute humour.

Unfortunately this mediocrity persist into the performances. Cruise is his usual self; cool, determined and robust, but nothing more than the part entails. There’s no emotional element that drives his character, which Abrams wisely introduced in the third film. And therefore there’s no complexity or substantial depth to him. Simon Pegg’s “comedic” role seems out of place in amongst the serious tone that his fellow actors and actresses are aspiring to create, to which Paula Patton is competent as the lead actress but forgettable. However, Jeremy Renner gives strong ground towards his lead role in the upcoming Bourne Legacy, offering a sharp and solid performance that has an interesting edge.

Cinematography-wise, Bird and Robert Elswit do a great job in framing and filming the car chases, shootouts and high octane action. The use of CGI looks slightly awkward, but an array of spectacular stuntwork, to which Cruise himself frequently took part in, help keep the film fresh and captivating. Annoyingly Apple’s phones and tablets, BMW’s cars and Dell product placement aren’t subtly instituted and become all too obvious and crude with frequent closeup shots. And as much as we complain about film trailers increasingly showing too much, an opening credits scene that shows glimpses of the film we’re about to see is a horrendous decision by the filmmakers. Meanwhile the sound design, while punchy in action-scenes, is somewhat lacking richness and scope. A race to save the world doesn’t sound so exciting when Cruise is driving a hybrid car. Michael Giacchino’s soundtrack is capable, however funnily Lalo Schifrin’s iconic Mission Impossible theme isn’t played enough.

Overall, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol is a fast-paced, explosive load of drivel. But it is pretty entertaining. Generic plot and lukewarm dialogue aside, Brad Bird has made an enjoyable action film that, while paling in comparison to his animated work, is a fun blockbuster to end 2011.

Jack Singleton

 

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