Spy films have grown serious of late. The Bourne films have boasted a handheld, shot-on-location hyper-realism whilst even the good old Bond franchise has toned down its hallmark gimmicks for the gritty Daniel Craig reboot. Thank goodness then for Mission Impossible.
The Tom Cruise spy capers have helped fill the void for those lamenting the loss of traditional Bond films. They keep alive many of the much-loved motifs: ridiculously attractive field agents, unfeasibly cool gadgets, over-the-top set pieces and a healthy dosage of one-liners. It is almost the American answer to the Roger Moore Bond era.
However, note the emphasis on almost. The Mission Impossible films are still suffering from the same mistakes, four films and four directors into the series. Ethan Hunt is as bland as ever, regardless of how much charm Tom Cruise injects into him. He is essentially a cardboard cut-out action man. This is great for film-makers and has allowed four completely different approaches to the Mission Impossible films but barely connects with the audience. Even Bond had martinis, cars and a catchphrase.
Also, the villains are lacking yet again. The evil mastermind (played by a miscast Michael Nyqvist) is forgettable and his henchmen even more so. They are merely an excuse for punches to be thrown and offer no memorable scenes or dialogue or trademarks between them. In short, this series is desperately lacking a Blofeld.
But nobody goes to see these films for the characters. The Mission Impossible films have always delivered on action and fans will not be disappointed. This time, cool set pieces include: a Moscow prison break, a Kremlin heist, a sandstorm chase scene, a car lift melee and the much-publicised climb up the Burj Khalifa. Each delivers, although clearly they were planned first and the story was loosely tailored around them. As such, the film feels like a sketch show. Even the unrivalled Burj Khalifa scene is tainted with lengthy scenes of exposition explaining the logistics of the plan again and again.
Nevertheless, director Brad Bird can walk away from this film with his head held high. Having previously helmed Pixar favourites The Incredibles and Ratatouille, Bird was an unusual choice for a live-action Tom Cruise vehicle. However, animated films are not without their action scenes and Bird’s experience clearly shows in his confidently-executed direction. Bird was also a writer for The Simpsons and knows exactly how to inject some humour into proceedings, mostly through Simon Pegg or just Tom Cruise banging his face in action scenes. Animation directors are finally being taken seriously and Bird has paved the way for Andrew ‘Finding Nemo’ Stanton’s live-action debut with John Carter due next year.
Ultimately, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol is a mixed bag like its three previous instalments. But the Mission Impossible films have always been an excuse to showcase a director at their best: Brian De Palma, John Woo, JJ Abrams and now Brad Bird. The latest instalment promises two hours of bonkers action, good-looking stars, Bond gadgets and fun. And on that, it delivers. Mission accomplished.★★★