Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol Review: New Dog, Old Tricks

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL (12A): On General Release Monday 26th December

By the time the fourth movie in a series rolls around, the law of diminishing returns usually means that it’s time to call it a day.  That’s a trend that’s been bucked in 2011 with not the fourth but the fifth instalments from Final Destination and The Fast and Furious franchises actually being rather good.  Can Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol make it a 2011 hat trick?

The director this time around is Brad Bird, who brought not just spectacle but real heart to films like Ratatouille, The Iron Giant and The Incredibles.  So there are big hopes then that he could elevate MI4 to more than just whizz-bang special effects and jaw-dropping stunts.

Unfortunately that’s not the case as character and plot once again take a backseat to action and daredevil skyscraper climbing.  That’s not to say that MI4 is bad: far from it, in fact fans of the series will love its superlative stunts and refreshingly direct approach but it doesn’t have quite the depth that Bird’s presence might imply.

We catch up with IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) incarcerated in a Russian jail.  Before you can say “The Great Escape”, Hunt breaks out of prison, teams up with his associates – technical genius Simon Pegg, gruffly spoken Jeremy Renner and newbie Paula Patton – and is hot on the trail of rogue Russian nuclear strategist (Michael Nyquist) who dreams of causing the apocalypse.

MI4’s weakest link is its plot which could have been cribbed from cheap spy thriller from the 90s – Russians, launch codes, the threat of nuclear annihilation – it’s so far so familiar.   It’s also not clear what the big bad hopes to achieve by nuking America; his reasoning is muddy and not explained. But that’s a hall mark of the series – don’t ask questions, just go with the flow.

But while the plot feels stale and perfunctory, everything else has been polished to a high sheen and Bird proves his ability to direct a good live action as well as animated action scene.

The film’s big showcase comes at the halfway point, in which Tom Cruise scales the dizzying heights of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, which is nothing short of jaw-dropping.  It’s easily one of the best action set pieces of 2011 and is enhanced further by IMAX presentation which for once is worth the extra money. Brilliantly, they’ve taken no CGI shortcuts; everything’s done the old fashioned way, rendered doubly impressive by Cruise’s insistence that he perform the climb himself – no mean feat for a guy pushing 50.

But why is Cruise climbing the Burj in the first place?  Because it’s the biggest.  But why?  Because it’s the biggest, stop asking inconvenient questions!  Oh right.

Sadly after that spectacle, it starts to go a bit wonky, and throws in an unnecessary dalliance with an Indian playboy, a plot-timed sandstorm and a rather weak final confrontation in a futuristic car park.  It might not deliver quite what we expected from Brad Bird, but its high-octane action never lets up and for all its faults it’s never dull.   Definitely worth a look over the Xmas period.

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