December 22, 2011


Poster by Matt Owen
There are three spy/espionage franchises currently top of the heap in our current age: the continuing Bond films, the Bourne trilogy and Tom Cruise's Mission: Impossible series. Which is interesting if you compare and contrast the lead character from those three franchises. Everyone knows Bond - he may change from actor to actor (most radically, of course, with the recent Daniel Craig outings) but he has the identifiable tics; the gadgets, the women, the catch-phrases and the Britishness. And - those recognisable things aside - the role is open to interpretation. Matt Damon's Jason Bourne is a more tortured, ground-level character and his story was (in my opinion) definitively completed with The Bourne Ultimatum. Damon and Paul Greengrass had finished the story they had begun with Mr. Bourne and those three films stand on their own; it will be interesting to see how Tony Gilroy and Jeremy Renner's The Bourne Legacy fits in past the name recognition. Ethan Hunt, until recently, has been more of a cipher. This may have to do with Cruise's desire to have a new director for each Mission: Impossible film, each bringing something of their own style to the mix. But so far the defining characteristic of Ethan Hunt has been getting his ass disavowed/going rogue - he has no characteristic tics like Bond and is a role entirely owned by Cruise but without the journey of Damon's Bourne.

Thankfully, there's a little bit more meat added to the Ethan Hunt bones in Ghost Protocol, partly due to it being a sequel to M:I III rather than an entirely self-contained adventure. And, hey, what an adventure those crazy IMF kids get up to this time! What's the impossible mission this time? Why, stopping nothing less than nuclear Armageddon of course. Oh, and they have do it while on the run from the Russians, as the IMF have been blamed for the bombing of the Kremlin and the entire IMF have been disavowed. Which means the small surviving team have no backup, no IMF network and will be branded as rogue terrorists if caught. This isn't Mission: Slightly Difficult y'know.

The action begins with an IMF mission gone awry, as Josh Holloway's Agent Hanaway is on the run from some bad guys in Budapest. It's a fairly impressive cold open, with the audience having to play catch-up right away. From there we come to Ethan Hunt in a Russian prison, about to be broken out by fellow IMF agents Jane (Paula Patton) and Benji (the returning Simon Pegg). The breakout leads into the rather aces opening credits, flashing brief glimpses of the action to come with Michael Giacchino's riff on the classic Lalo Schifrin theme.

After the Kremlin mission ends up going all explodey with Hunt and the IMF being hung out to dry, Hunt has to go on the run and picks up IMF Chief Analyst Brandt along the way. Meeting up with Jane and Benji the team have to clear their name by tracking down the real culprits and stopping them. 
The emphasis is not on the awesomeness of Hunt (and, by extension, Cruise) but on the team working together. From there, it's a series of intricately constructed set-pieces each with their own ticking clock aspect. 

Director Brad Bird hardly gives you a moment to breathe the entire run-time. Right from the start, it's go, go, GO. The sheer momentum behind the plot manages to get you over a few holes, giving you barely any time to question story problems before whipping you off to the next encounter, the next crazy impossible task. And the craziest, most impossible of them is the much publicised centre-piece ascension of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Bird seems to take some perverse pleasure in amping up the danger and getting a bit "Vertical Limit" with it - basically, anything that can go wrong does go wrong. Which doesn't detract from it being a genuinely thrilling and tense set-piece. As if there was any doubt, Bird proves himself equally adept at constructing and shooting an action sequence with live actors.

The high energy chase of the bad guy becomes a little exhausting come the final wrap-up in Mumbai. The tense scenes of various countdowns, of the team barely scraping through, really start to wear you out. Ogtherwise, this is an incredibly solid entry into the franchise and action film in its own right. Ghost Protocol may be not be an outstanding and flawless film but it's the best Mission: Impossible move since the original. 
It feels like more of a sequel, more of a continuation of a connected story, than any previous entry and, as such, Hunt the intense, the cipher becomes a little bit friendlier. A little bit easier to relate to. It benefits from an engaging (and engaged) cast, tech and gadgets just beyond next gen and, overall and shared by everyone, a sense of fun. It will be interesting to see where the franchise goes from here.

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