The words Tom Cruise and action blockbuster in the same sentence have long ceased to carry any significance with fare like “Knight and Day” failing to ignite any spark. The “Mission: Impossible” franchise may be the last bastion for the one-time poster-boy though many might argue that it too has passed its use-by date, particularly after the rather slow third entry directed by J.J. Abrams. Nevertheless, Hollywood will never say die to a cash cow and significantly, this fourth film marks the live-action debut of “The Incredibles” helmsman Brad Bird. After all the Pixar movie was a rip-roaring ride of a spy-film tribute, often more accomplished than its inspiration. If Bird could carry this style over from animation, the potential for a very dynamic and entertaining action flick would be strong indeed.
While continuing a broad story arc over the series, number four can safely stand as an independent plot. After a thrilling prison break, Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his team of IMF agents set about infiltrating the Kremlin but are foiled by a terrorist plot that would see nuclear war end civilisation. As a result, the U.S. government initiates the “Ghost Protocol” that sees the entire intelligence agency disbanded. Aided by agent Jane (Paula Patton), technician Benji (Simon Pegg) and analyst-with-a-past Brandt (Jeremy Renner), acting against orders, Hunt travels to Dubai to retrieve the stolen nuclear codes and save the world once more. Striking is the lightness in tone that Bird adopts from the off, casting Simon Pegg purely as a device for comic relief where both action sequences and respite have their tongue firmly in cheek. And although the film rarely returns to the all-out hilarity of the pre-credits sequence, the Bondian atmosphere is secured for the following two hours: break-neck chases, exotic locales (Mumbai in addition to Moscow and the Emirates) and more cool gadgets than you could shake a Q at. In other words the best ingredients for the best “Mission: Impossible” spirit are correct and present with Bird keeping a cool handle on things and Cruise more than able to hold his own while approaching 50.
And yet, “Ghost Protocol” never quite clicks with the viewer. With the emphasis placed so much on fun, what little plot there is is never given the opportunity to breathe. The imminent threat of an atomic apocalypse seems distant even when a missile is hurtling towards Los Angeles. The villains and their motives are horribly two-dimensional but then, they simply aren’t given any screen time; they exist only on the film’s peripheries which is a bit of a waste considering the presence of actors like Michael Nyqvist or Léa Seydoux. And while jaw-dropping hijinks atop the Burj-Khalifa (that’s the world’s tallest building to you) really are amazingly put together, the disregard for interesting plot and characters are the film’s downfall. Jeremy Renner in particular is in desperate need of fleshing out, ultimately has very little to work with and come the post-climatic scenes, seems extraordinarily throwaway. Whether anyone will care about things like this is doubtful but even the hyperbolic action becomes tired and predictable after a while: Cruise is hit by cars on several occasions and miraculously escapes unharmed for example. Realism surely isn’t the goal here but it’s also possible to over-egg in certain situations. Naturally, this almost slapstick aspect was much better suited to “The Incredibles.”
Michael Giacchino’s score to the third chapter was characterised by ballsy action music that lacked thematic development, save the odd statement of Lalo Schifrin’s classic theme. The composer’s approach to “Ghost Protocol” continues in this muscular, percussive and brass-driven vein with one important difference: Due to the location-hopping, Giacchino is able to provide each third of the film it’s own unique identity in all their stereotypical glory: Male choirs reminiscent of Basil Poledouris define Russia while appropriate ethnic flavours are added for Dubai and India. And while not much is done to connect the separate identities, there are enough explorations of the famous theme tune to act as binding material for Ethan Hunt and his team. It’s exciting stuff reflected on an album characterised by Ghiacchino’s obsession with horrible cue-name puns such as “Kremlin with Anticipation” or “Mumbai’s the Word.” Make of these what you will but there’s no denying the entertainment value of the score in its lengthy presentation. Not as heartfelt as “Super 8” perhaps but one for the action nuts.
Entertaining sure, but very little substance behind it. It’s refreshing to sit back and lose oneself in the ridiculous world of “Mission:Impossible – Ghost Protocol” but if only Bird could have combined plot and wit with the action more fluidly, this could have rivalled De Palma.
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