Director Brad Bird’s live action debut is a refreshingly lightweight action caper that proves the end is in sight for the impatient, scattergun approach to shooting and editing action movies. As Mark has whinged about before, the Bourne movies have a lot to answer for. Whilst the handheld fetish was initially an exhilarating breath of fresh air, it soon became annoying and began to pop up in other places such as the Bond franchise.
In this sense, Ghost Protocol is refreshingly old school. The film is expertly shot and edited, clearly with the knowledge that action cinema needs to be dynamic. Regularly opting for the tense, slow build up of tension, this is probably the Mission: Impossible sequel that most resembles Brian de Palma’s initial 1996 flick. The tension on show is palpable, and one of the film’s best features. The Incredibles could be seen as an audition of sorts for Brad Bird, and the animator’s keen eye for detail is ever-present. All the shots are perfectly framed and so many moments flawlessly captured. It really feels like a film that was storyboarded to the nth degree.
There was much made of Tom Cruise doing his own stunts on the Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai, but the problem is when you’re shooting the world’s tallest building, there’s nothing but sky in the background. Thus, these scenes simply look like they were shot in front of a green screen in a studio. If they hadn’t publicised it so much six months or so ago, I would have assumed some CGI trickery was going on. More generally, the visual effects are passable. There are certainly many occasions when the film is let down by some hokey effects. The stunt work is extraordinary, however, which is a positive.
The major let down is that the plot isn’t very emotionally involving. I seem to remember being more invested in Ethan Hunt’s escapades in Mission: Impossible III, a film I enjoyed increasingly on repeat viewings. The villain in this film, played by Michael Nyqvist (of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Män som hatar kvinnor) fame), only gets a good thirty seconds or so to outline his Master Plan, and his aims aren’t all that interesting. This means he simply can’t compete against Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s character from the last instalment.
Ethan’s surrounded by a mixed bunch this time around. Benji (Simon Pegg) gets more screen time whilst Jane (Paul Patton) is, thankfully, quite the action star and not merely eye candy. The presence of Jeremy Renner as Brandt is fine, however the rumours concerning his recruitment by the studio make the plan seem a bit more sinister. As it stands, I can’t really imagine Brandt headlining any future sequels, however this may be because the characterisations in this film are rather shallow.
Overall, Ghost Protocol is a strong action film that eschews the recent trend of trying to be gritty, and pays particular attention to the building of tension. As such, it’s an invigorating instalment in the adventures of IMF (and while I’m on that point, it’s a welcome return ensemble-based narrative, rather than simply being the Ethan Hunt Show). That the standout scenes aren’t part of a particularly gripping plot, or populated with characters you truly care for, however, means that it isn’t much more than a great action film.Rating: