Tom Cruise reviving his Ethan Hunt, special agent role for the fourth time was bound to raise a few eyebrows, considering the hit-and-miss reception of the other three films, the continuity clangers, the formulaic plots and daft set-pieces. The other films also take themselves a little bit too seriously – like their star. But thanks to the dynamic directing from action aficionado Brad Bird (The Incredibles) and his first live-action foray, Ghost Protocol may still retread old ground in terms of plot, but it does it with intentional tongue-in-cheek mockery at the franchise, and on an IMAX screen, jaw-dropping stunts.
After the bombing of the Kremlin is blamed on the actions of special agent Hunt and team (Simon Pegg as Benji and Paula Patton as Jane), the powers-that-be decide to shut down his IMF unit for fear of damaging relations with Russia. However, they are still very much in action, incognito as Ghost Protocol, with access to all the high-tech weaponry they need, and employed to stop madman Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist) from destroying the world by causing a nuclear war.
Ghost Protocol is what IMAX viewing is all about, thrilling you with one iconic scene that defines this particular film: Hunt’s/Cruise’s spider-man scaling of the world’s tallest building in Dubai, the Burj Khalifa. Pardon the pun, but Cruise like his alter-ego Hunt is always on a mission to prove something and challenge our perceptions, and his daring stunt – however well harnessed and overseen by the production team – is utter daredevil stuff and quite spectacular. Those suffering from vertigo will melt with fear into the cinema seat at this, from when you (the camera) dive out of the missing window to some 2,000ft plus below. To coin a cliché: this is worth the IMAX entrance fee alone.
There are other action highlights that include witnessing the Kremlin collapse with in cloud of smoky rubble, which is a striking symbol, and also quite an eerie one, considering any nation’s main city is under constant threat from terrorism, and the post-Soviet threat is still very much alive today with the dangerous remnants the former era on sale in the global market. This part of the film also has a nostalgic, retro Bond-style thrill to it, enhanced by Hunt and comedic, geek sidekick Benji penetrating the halls of Russian power in disguise as Russian military. These crazy and somewhat unbelievable happenings are overridden by the fascination at what will happen next in the tech department, and there is a wonderful hide-and-seek scenario involving the latest computer wizardry and an unsuspecting Russian guard. Even the finale is a Jenga-style set-piece of brilliant domino precision that takes place in a car park.
Although the acting and plot are rudimentary formulaic – a madman threatens world stability and Hunt and co are the only ones in the know to stop the carnage, what this film offers is a wonderfully refreshing self-mockery, highlighted by the series of technical mishaps and the characters’ “hey-ho”, eyes-to-the-proverbial-ceiling reactions to them. Jeremy Renner, ever a solid action hero/fixer figure in his films, makes an enjoyable appearance as retired field agent Brandt. The only disappointment is the underdevelopment of Nyqvist’s two-dimensional baddie who never gets to grab our imagination and accumulate a few panto hisses as he’s forever disappearing into the mist/sandstorm. In this sense, the good-and-evil balance feels lopsided in the former respect, even with a couple of evil henchmen in the frame that act as stumbling blocks to the main target, such as the beautiful but deadly Sabine Moreau (Léa Seydoux).
Film number four has found its optimum screen display, its best director for the job and its sense of humour while increasing the gadgets and death-defying stunts. It really offers some of the best live-action entertainment this year, and is by far the best of the M:I bunch. Cruise’s determination not to put Hunt into retirement yet has paid off, and the ending could suggest more in store…