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[Review] MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL

I was almost certain going into Ghost Protocol that I didn’t need another Mission: Impossible installment. The franchise has only produced one great film 15 years ago and Cruise hasn’t delivered a decent performance in several years. What attracted me was the great supporting cast, and the intriguing choice of director — not to the mention The Dark Knight Rises prologue. No doubt many folks are wondering whether or not it’s worth going to see Ghost Protocol on IMAX solely for the six minute prologue to The Dark Knight Rises. First of all, yes, the prologue is spectacular. Second of all, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol will take you by surprise, as it is not only the best film in the franchise but also the best blockbuster action film of 2011 (apologies X-Men: First Class, Rise of the Planet of the Apes).

Ghost Protocol is the fourth film in the Mission: Impossible series, which was spun off from the 1960s TV show of the same name – fondly remembered for its rubber masks and Lalo Schifrin’s iconic, pulsing theme music. Designed as a Bond-esque franchise for Tom Cruise 15 years ago, each entry has been given its own distinct flavour by a different director. None has come close to the excellent first entry by Brian De Palma. Until now, that is. In an inspired move, Cruise hired Brad Bird, the director of such animated classics as The Iron Giant and The Incredibles. In his live-action debut, Bird both reinvigorates the sagging franchise and Cruise’s career. Ghost Protocol opens with an intense chase sequence, but Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is nowhere to be seen, disavowed and wasting away in a Russian prison on unknown charges. Rather, it’s IMF Agent Hanaway (Josh Holloway of Lost) doing the super-spy moves on a mission in Budapest which goes awry, courtesy of icy blonde French assassin, Sabine Moreau (Lea Seydoux). The remainder of the new team, headed by tough babe Jane Carter (Paula Patton) and returning Mission Impossible III tech expert Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), are then sent to Russia to spring Hunt from prison, in the first of several tremendous action set pieces. Dunn orchestrates the escape electronically from the outside, and Hunt and his Russian comrade must outmaneuver guards and other prisoners as Dean Martin’s ‘Ain’t That a Kick in the Teeth’ plays. The entire sequence has impeccable timing, and is accomplished with little dialogue and unexpected humour.

Another tense but comparatively quiet sequence follows, as the team pick up their next assignment: they must break into a high-security archive inside the Kremlin and extract an important file before a rogue Russian nuclear strategist, codenamed Cobalt (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo‘s Michael Nyqvist), can get his hands on it and trigger a nuclear holocaust. Dunn sets up a neat visual reality illusion to fool a guard so Hunt can gain access to the records vault unnoticed. Unsurprisingly, Cobalt is one step ahead of them and as the team hastily abort their mission, a huge section of Kremlin is blown up, leaving Hunt in hospital with Russian intelligence agents after him. Hunt is extracted from Moscow and Tom Wilkinson makes a brief (uncredited) appearance as “The Secretary”, informing him that the Russians blame the IMF for the attack on the Kremlin and the US President has initiated “Ghost Protocol”, ordering the entire agency to shut down and have the team brought in for questioning. As The Secretary gives Hunt an unauthorised mission to track down Cobalt, their car comes under fire. Hunt manages to escape with analyst William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and rejoin the team, who discover that Cobalt plans to meet up with Moreau to acquire the nuclear launch codes she swiped in Budapest.

The team heads to Dubai with Brandt in tow, and they set up a complicated sting on Cobalt and Moreau which requires Hunt to climb the outside of the 2,700-foot Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, with only faulty “gecko gloves” to assist. Much has been made of madman-Cruise insisting on doing the majority of his own stunts, and whether or not additional stunt work or CGI was employed doesn’t really matter, because the sequence is absolutely dazzling in IMAX and will induce vertigo in even the most hardened of filmgoers. It is easily one of the most spectacular action sequences of recent years, and should alone qualify Bird for contention as the next Bond director. Naturally, the operation misfires and Carter is required to engage in hand-to-hand combat with Moreau, as Hunt gives chase to Cobalt through a sandstorm – first on foot, then by sports car, in another pulse-pounding sequence.

By now, the story is slipping into familiar territory and the action, although spectacular, is getting a little repetitious, as the team head to Mumbai to crash a high-class party held by a sleazy Indian tycoon (Slumdog Millionaire‘s Anil Kapoor). Brandt gets to try his hand at some action as he dons a full-body magnetic suit, Carter gets to look stunning and seduce the party’s host for information, while Hunt attempts to track down Cobalt before it’s too late. Just as the film seems to be getting too predictable and formulaic, Bird has one more magnificently choreographed action sequence up his sleeve, as Hunt and Cobalt battle over a crucial briefcase in a futuristic high-rise parking garage, with elevators and vehicles constantly moving to create new difficulties and opportunities.

Bird has imbued Cruise’s charismatic Agent Hunt with occasional signs of ageing in this film, and the new maturity suits him surprisingly well (Cruise will be 50 next year). Formerly, Hunt had an air of manic invincibility; now, when he falls down or gets his leg stomped on, he hurts. When he struggles to ascend the Burj Khalifa, it makes the sequence all the more tense. Bird and his writers, Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec of Alias, also allow for much more humour in this installment, effectively using Pegg to lighten the mood throughout. They also wisely chose to write out Hunt’s wife (Michelle Monaghan), who featured heavily in the bummer third film directed by J.J. Abrams (who serves as Producer this time).

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is a rare sequel that not only reinvigorates a sagging franchise, but exceeds every film that has come before it. Brad Bird has proven himself an inspired directorial choice, delivering not one-or-two, but four-or-five of the most spectacular action sequences in recent memory. Tom Cruise embraces his age and adds a new maturity to his performance that suits him well, while Simon Pegg brings much-needed comic relief. The film suffers from repetitious set-ups and action scenes at times and runs a bit long at 133 minutes, but is otherwise excellent entertainment and undoubtedly the best blockbuster action film of 2011.

RATING: A-

Watch the trailer for Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol below.

The Dark Knight Rises Prologue

Fans have been wondering how Christopher Nolan could possibly top the thrilling bank heist sequence which opened The Dark Knight and introduced us to Heath Ledger’s Joker [Also screened as a prologue on IMAX ahead of I Am Legend]. Well, by taking the action to the sky is how. The Dark Knight Rises opens with another meticulously executed heist, only this one takes place on a plane. The five-minute sequence is an incredibly tense and grand introduction to Tom Hardy’s Bane, and his performance seems spot-on. He radiates sheer will and power, despite having most of his face obscured by a mask. Although, as reported by many on Twitter following early screenings, Bane’s audio is problematic. His dialogue is key to the plot, and it is incomprehensible at times due to the mask. This is obviously worrisome, but I have faith that Nolan will remedy it by the film’s July 20 release. Following the heist sequence is a quick tease of what’s to come in the film, with glimpses of Batman himself, Anne Hathaway as Catwoman and more Bane. As a whole, the prologue promises the epic scope and spectacle fans are hoping for from the conclusion to Nolan’s Batman trilogy, and once again the footage looks absolutely stunning in IMAX.

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