Friday 23 December 2011

The ups and downs: "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol"

The universe of the blockbuster rotates dizzingly quickly, and the Mission: Impossible brand name - which originated in the 1960s, after all - risked falling out of currency with its target audience in the five years that have passed since 2006's brisk, efficient third instalment; it's what the studios bring on themselves, in issuing new and ever more expensive toys for us to coo at every summer and Christmas. (You fear for Sony's 2012 release Men in Black 3, emerging a decade after MiB2.) Paramount have very wisely hired Brad Bird, the man behind Pixar's dynamic, expansive animated action movie The Incredibles, for MI4, and he's more or less delivered what the franchise required at this moment in time: Ghost Protocol is, in effect, a live-action cartoon that doubles its scale exponentially with each passing set-piece.

No sooner has Tom Cruise's superspy Ethan Hunt busted his shower buddy out of a Russian jail (very "Jailhouse Rock", this), then he and his team are busting into the Kremlin; once the Soviet centre of administration has been mined for the necessary thrills, the film simply blows it up and moves on with scant regard for any casualties, instead dispatching its star to climb the world's tallest structure (the Burj Khalifa in Dubai) first one-handed (after one of his adhesive gloves blows away), then with no hands at all. This becomes, in every sense, the film's highpoint, from the crane over Cruise's shoulder as he first stands on his windowledge (recent cinema's foremost "rather you than me, mate" moment) to the high-suspense pay-off as our man cuts his rope and attempts to jump back into his hotel room from 2,500 feet up.

Bird's prodigious narrative skill is barely exercised - it's Cruise and cohorts (makeweight glamourpuss Paula Patton, geekily funny Simon Pegg) going after another Euro baddie with nuclear capabilities (Michael Nyquist, Blomkvist in the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) - but the director knows how to keep things moving, which is important in a film such as this, and he excels in flinging them across the frame. The whole film has a rubbery, amorphous quality, and so only upon exiting the cinema do we come to wonder why an intelligence organisation given to such secrecy (eyeball scanners, self-destructing messages) unquestioningly allows Washington analyst Jeremy Renner to tagalong with them, or why the latter, notionally a desk jockey, demonstrates the same fighting style as Cruise's Hunt, or indeed Bruce Lee circa 1972.

These vehicles are no longer conceived as coherent wholes, of course, rather travelling circuses writing and rewriting themselves wherever they find themselves, so it's perhaps inevitable Ghost Protocol should zip up and down in the logic-scrambling fashion it does: the quality notably dips when it brings on the dancing girls - and the reliably awful Anil Kapoor as a white-tuxedoed playboy - during a layover in Mumbai. Still, by then, you may feel as though you've had your money's worth, even if the whole resembles less a film than a flickerbook of physically unfeasible, comically absurd images. Tom Cruise jogging around the outside of a building, like a horse in a training circle! Tom Cruise driving a car a hundred metres off a parking structure just to get to the ground floor a little quicker! A particular favourite: Tom Cruise - teeth gritted, arms pumping - trying to outrun a sandstorm! Is there really nothing this fellow cannot do?

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol opens in cinemas nationwide from Boxing Day.

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