Quick! Name a spy series. If this question was asked in the street and not under an emboldened title and a socking great picture from Ghost Protocol, you’d probably name the Bond films. After that? Probably Bourne. Chances are the Mission: Impossible franchise would be pretty low down the list, despite having three previous films, each helmed by prolific directors and all starring perpetual A-lister Tom Cruise.
After being framed for a bombing of the Kremlin, IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team of Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), Jane Carter (Paula Patton) and the mysterious Brandt (Jeremy Renner) are disavowed and IMF are shut down. However, the team learn of some stolen nuclear weapons codes by a man named Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist) and so have to race to stop him causing nuclear war, all without the safety net of backup. Whilst I liked the fact that the IMF team had to work without creature comforts like the masks etc (although they do still have rather a lot of impossibly cool spy shit) the plot was as hackneyed as they come. Countless films, books and games have covered the Russian nuclear war angle and I wish they’d have had a stronger, more original story to pad out the fun team dynamic and the action set pieces. Tom Cruise is Tom Cruise, Paula Patton was pretty good , thankfully avoiding the pitfalls of being the only female in a boys’ club action romp. Simon Pegg is the comic relief, expanding on his part in the third film, but is nowhere near as funny as the film thinks he is. Jeremy Renner gives a a set jaw, Daniel Craig type performance that seems to be his standard for anything that isn’t The Hurt Locker. It was also weird to see Michael Nyqvist, famed for his likeable Blomkvist in the Swedish Millennium trilogy playing a bad guy.
Plot isn’t exactly the M:I series’ strength, but I liked the ambiguity of the Rabbit’s Foot MacGuffin in the third film. In the case of Ghost Protocol, everything is too laid out from the beginning, with no real intrigue. Plus, Hendricks’ motivation is fuzzy. There’s a video of him giving a speech explaining that nuclear war would level the playing field for the human race, but it seems a hell of a step to go from pie-in-the-sky, philosophical musing to actually stealing nuclear codes. I found myself only really paying attention when the team travelled to a location I’d seen in the trailers, and therefore knowing some shit was about to go down. The film opens strongly with a prison breakout that manages to kick things off nicely. The Kremlin infiltration scene is very well done and reminded me why I liked this series in the first place. It’s slicker than your average spy fest. There’s a great bit involving Pegg, Cruise, a massive screen, a camera and an iPad to watch out for too.
Of the numerous money scenes, the clear stand out is Ethan’s scaling of the Burj Kalifa tower in Dubai aka the tallest building in the world. This is undeniably the film’s most impressive scene and there’s a reason why it’s proudly displayed on the cover. It’s one of 2011’s best action sequences and manages to be both amazingly tense and sickeningly vertigo-inducing. The film also scores some originality points for being the first film (to my knowledge) to have a scrap in one of those futuristic automated car parks.
As for my famous nit-picking, I only have one real complaint. This film might as well have been called iMission: Impossible. I haven’t seen this many Apple logos since last September’s Pretentious Wanker convention. The mucky fingerprints of product placement are all over this one. The entire range of Apple products are on display, with the aforementioned iPad, everyone having iPhones (although Ethan can apparently answer a call on one without needing to touch the screen at all), Benji having a Macbook and the film even ending with Ethan plugging in his iPod. This isn’t the worst offender for product placement by a long shot, but as I stared at the prominent glowing apple on the back on Benji’s Macbook I caught myself wondering exactly how much money changed hands for it to be there, rather than how our loveable team of rogues were going to avert nuclear disaster. According to Brad Bird, this was all “without a cent” from them, but with the frequency of Apple logos popping up, you have to wonder.
Anyway, Ghost Protocol is a perfectly fine popcorn flick. It hasn’t got as much heart as the third one, but it’s got a fun team dynamic and some genuinely imaginative action scenes. It’s reinvigorated the franchise and if rumours are to be believed, Paramount are already fast-tracking a Mission: Impossible V. I’m glad too, because they’ve injected some real fun into the series. Recommended.