Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)
Last December I talked about the changes to the IMAX screen in Birmingham, where I intended to watch Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. I saw the movie there shortly afterwards, but never got round to posting my comments on it. So, belatedly, here’s a brief review.
In that previous post, I said this about Mission: Impossible III:
As David Bordwell explained in detail in this excellent essay, the pace and rhythm of M:I-3‘s story beats is such that the movie provides an excellent example of the archetypal narrative structure of modern action movies. Fortunately, within that template, the specifics were tweaked in numerous flashy and memorable ways (opening the film with Philip Seymour Hoffman’s tense 1-to-10/gunshot-to-the-head count; keeping the true nature of the “Rabbit’s Foot” MacGuffin unexplained; coming into the Shanghai escape halfway though), and for the most part things were executed very well (that bridge action sequence is superb). M:I-3 wasn’t flawless, but is still one of my favourite action movies of the last few years.
As for its successor…
Not quite as good, unfortunately. This is mainly because the relative qualities of the two films are closely linked to the quality of their villains.
M:I-3 had the vaguest of vague McGuffins ever in the Rabbit’s Foot, but an extremely memorable and hissable villain in Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Owen Davian.
Conversely, Ghost Protocol had an extremely specific threat (nuclear war), but an entirely unremarkable bad guy. For example, the revelation that the Dubai operation had involved not the villain’s right-hand-man but the villain himself was probably supposed to be a big surprise twist: “They went to all that effort to get someone to lead them to him, but they were staring at him the whole time!” But it hardly had any impact on me because unlike Philip Seymour Hoffman (or even Dougray Scott in the godawful M:I-2), I didn’t feel like it mattered at all who the team was up against.
The very specific threat of nuclear war mattered, but who was causing it did not. Ghost Protocol also lacked M:I-3‘s heavy emphasis on the personal things at stake for Ethan Hunt (his wife).
The infiltration sequences were also a slight step backwards: despite the presence of that nifty invisibility gadget, the Kremlin infiltration wasn’t quite as tense as the CIA and Vatican operations in films 1 and 3 (nor was it, to make a comparison between two Brad Bird films, quite as good as Mr and Mrs Incredible’s separate methods of getting into Syndrome’s base).
So, those are the downsides. Fortunately most of the action scenes were very good, although like X-Men 2 it peaked early: the excellent, playful opening prison break was probably the film’s highlight. (However, even that couldn’t match M:I-3‘s outstanding bridge attack! OK, I’m sorry to keep going on about M:I-3; there’ll be just one more comparison to it in this post, honest.)
The Burj Khalifa segment was as spectacular as expected. (As I mentioned in my Fake IMAX post, I wish I could’ve seen it in a true IMAX cinema rather than just a “giant screen” auditorium – although I must stress that it was still much better than a normal multiplex screening.) In comparison, the subsequent sandstorm section couldn’t help but feel like a conclusion that fizzled out.
As for the final automated-car-park-set action scene, I liked the audaciousness of concluding by taking Jason Bourne’s intentional car crash in The Bourne Ultimatum a step further! The intercut half of the sequence involving the team’s fight to restore power was also exciting, and provided a satisfyingly heroic moment for Simon Pegg’s Benji Dunn. But Cruise’s fight was disappointing compared to the brain bomb climax of the previous film, mainly because I wasn’t convinced by its setting: it’s strange that I can accept Spider-Man gloves and contact lens cameras and levitation rovers, but not that an automated car park wouldn’t have a way to be powered down the instant someone spotted two people clambering around, beating each other up and smashing cars!
So, great fun, and a very good action film… but a tier below Incredibles/Ratatouille/Iron Giant/”Krusty Gets Busted”! It turned out that even the presence of Brad Bird as director couldn’t outweigh the lack of a noteworthy villain.
(I’ll finish by pointing out a cute little touch I liked: the subtitles gradually dissolving from Russian to English to represent Ethan shaking off his grogginess. I like films that play with subtitles and language in little ways like that!)