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Mission : Impossible Ghost Protocol

By Clint Morris

The ”Mission Impossible” franchise is a bit like the family Christmas tree. You pull it out of cobwebs, stick some pretty things on it, even add a star, but at the end of the day, it’s still the same old piece that’s on display.

In the case of ”Mission Impossible”, that same old piece isn’t so bad – as a trustworthy plumber will tell you, if it aint broke, don’t fix it.

Still, some new pretty things and bells & whistles added to the old thing do go down as well macadamia nuts on a vanilla cone. Tasty on its own, even better with the sprinkles.

Brian De Palma’s feature film adaptation of the iconic TV series came out a time when Tom Cruise could do no wrong (heck, in 1996 even Mel Gibson and John Travolta were making movies people actually wanted to see). This was before all the scientology sermonize, before he stole Joey from Dawson, an before he learnt couches had springs. Tom Cruise was a major movie star in 1996. And he picked a good one to flaunt his likeability in too with “Mission : Impossible”.

“M:I” was a slick, suspenseful ride with a couple of killer moments (the whole “dangling above the floor” sequence has become part of pop culture), an amazing ensemble cast (Jon Voight, Jean Reno, Ving Rhames, Emanuelle Beart, Kristin Scott Thomas, Emilio Estevez!) backing up the most popular name in popcorn cinema, and proficient direction from that old pro De Palma.

Even once word spread that this wasn’t exactly the ”Mission Impossible” we knew and loved from television (”They made Jim Phelps a traitor!?”), if even simply because this wasn’t so much a team doing impossible missions as it was one man with an audience of close friends and acquaintances, people came. Cruise had more pull than a Diesel-powered mini-rod. Though I suppose it’s only fair to say that some of the appeal also laid within the title – being that people were so curious what a feature film adaptation of the TV show would be like. But I can’t be sure. It could very well have been all Cruise that put bums on seats.

And they’ll go to this one, ”Mission : Impossible Ghost Protocol”, too. But no so much to see Cruise.

Though he’s unarguably more popular than he was when ”Mission Impossible III” came out a couple of years ago (still, enough people went to it to warrant a fourth, I guess) Cruise’s appeal has waned in recent years.

Be it age (he is getting older; his saggy boobs in ”Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol” are another reminder that ”Top Gun” was over 25 years ago), that always eye-opening private life, or the sheer fact that audiences aren’t so much into star-driven films these days as they are anything that goes ‘pop’, it’s feeling certain that the the brand “Mission Impossible” is what people are going to be drawn to, not the name above the title.

And you know, that’s a pity. For all his faults and flabby bits, Tom Cruise is still one of the most watchable actors in cinema. He’s a bonafide movie star. One of a few still in the biz. And leaving Cruise out of ”Mission Impossible 4” (which was discussed at one stage; remember the Brad Pitt rumours!?), would’ve been like leaving the TM from the end of a brand name.

But that’s not to say I don’t agree with the general public in that the appeal of the ”Mission Impossible” films isn’t so much the man doing the missions as the missions themselves. It’s those outlandish set pieces and super-expensive action sequences that drive these films home. But we all know, having lived through the dire ”Mission Impossible II” (‘G’day Ethan, roll up ya dacks, and help us yank out the barbie”), that those amazing action bits have to be padded with an intriguing storyline, otherwise it’ll be like watching a fireworks display through a vaporous side window.

”Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol”, like ”Mission Impossible III”, isn’t just a pretty package (All John Woo’s ”Mission Impossible II” had going for it was the fact it was ‘pretty’ to look at) it’s solid storytelling, compelling characters and swiftly-designed stunts.

TV alum come next-big-thing-in-film JJ Abrams, who breathed new life into the franchise with the third chapter, returns not as director but as producer, “M:I 3″ scribes Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemecon are back on writing duties, and the light humour and slick structure from the previous instalment make a return too. As good as De Palma’s original was, it’s ”MI:3” and now ”M1:4” that have give the unyielding series its footing.

With the last film, Abrams injected something lacking from the previous ”Mission : Impossible” movies – humour and episodic-esque fun; and the same audience pleasing rules were applied to ”MI4”.

As anyone that’s seen his “Star Trek” reboot, or a few episodes of his “Alias” series will tell you, J.J Abrams really knows how to keep an audience entertained.

In “Ghost Protocol”, veteran IMF hotshot Ethan Hunt (Cruise) finds himself homeless when rogues take down an iconic landmark in Russia – which, unfortunately, Hunt and his team were posted doing a mission at the time.

“An hour ago, a bomb blew up the Kremlin,” Tom Wilkinson, playing the senator, tells Hunt as he’s lured into a limo. “The president has initiated Ghost Protocol, the entire IMF has been disavowed”.

“Now, I’ve been ordered to take you to Washington where they will hang the Kremlin bombing on you and your team, unless you were to escape after assaulting Brandt and me,” says Wilkinson, who is seated next to a suit named Brandt (Renner) in the car. “But if any of your team is caught, they’ll be branded as terrorists.”

Minutes later, Cruise enlists the help of IMF agents Jane Carter (Paula Patton) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg, reprising his role from “MI:3″), and soon enough the suit, Brandt, to help him prove his team’s innocence in the bombing and expose the real crook (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” star Michael Nyqvist).

Though a four-hander where all the main actors get their chance to shine, Cruise does do some amazing stuff here. That IMAX-friendly

skyscraper scale scene – where Hunt has to scale a building so he can get into the server room of a… well, you’ll see- has to be seen to be believed. It’s a classic.

The finale, which involves falling cars, is also a cracker.

But again, like ”MI : III”, the story is just as engaging as the imagery.

The script is imaginative, smart and offers everyone in the film (well, Michael Nyqvist’s villain could’ve been doused in a shade more depth) something interesting to do.

Personally, I think I enjoyed Abrams’ effort a ‘little’ more, and for numerous reasons (Philip Seymour Hoffman’s villain was more compelling than the one-note chap here; Hunt seemed a little less don’t flinch superhero and easier to root for with that fiancée and double-life subplot, and the action sequences were spread out more evenly), but ”Ghost Protocol” is a very decent sequel all the same. It’s extremely entertaining and is some of the most fun you’ll have at the movies this year. It’s actually worth the price of admission, and knowing how high cinema prices are these days, that’s saying something.

Just as the first film wasn’t the original series, this isn’t the ”Mission Impossible” of 1996. And it hasn’t been since Abrams came onboard. He rejigged it. And he’s rejigging it even further here.

If the lack of a number in the title didn’t already tip you off, and if in-demand hot shot Jeremy ‘The Hurt Locker’ Renner’s presence in the film as somewhat of a sidekick wasn’t a hint, ”Ghost Protocol” has been designed as sort of a “new beginning” for the series (Renner may take center stage in the next one).

The new ”Mission : Impossible” is, despite how much of him there is in the movie, an ensemble film (you’ll notice Cruise shares the poster with three other actors) not strictly a Cruise showcase. It’s also a chance to tie- up loose ends, forget the old faces (everyone from the previous films, excluding Simon Pegg, has essentially been written out), and meet some new ones.

Renner (also taking over the “Bourne” series from Matt Damon shortly), as you’ll see, has obviously been introduced as a takeover man. Cruise still hogs most of the good stuff, but Renner still gets a hell of a lot to do scene wise – in addition to getting a really cool character arc. And he’s just terrific in the film too, very likeable and oozing cool, and not at all an intrusion. The brand is bigger than any one of these actors but it’s all the more better for having such magnetic performers surround it.

I love Cruise as much as the next ”Color of Money” fan, and I’ll admit he is great in this role, but what JJ Abrams and now Brad Bird have done with this series is take the name closer back to its birth canal, where creator Bruce Gellar spat out tales of a close team taking on ridiculously dangerous missions, and always kept things as silly as they were suspenseful. And it’s refreshing. And nostalgic. And, thanks to IMAX, stomach-churningly amazing to watch.

This is good old Saturday matinee popcorn movie flashback fodder of the highest degree.

The ”MI3” and ”MI4” double header will be much a sought-after indy cinema bill for years to come.

Blu-ray details and Extras :

Looks and sounds great, plus there’s some excellent extra features on here : Loads and loads of documentaries and behind-the-scenes featurettes, plus deleted scenes and even a bit where Bird shows us some footage from his iPhone. No commentary, sadly.

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