Like the original film in the Mission: Impossible franchise, part four focuses more on the group dynamic of the Impossible Missions Force agents rather than solely on the Ethan Hunt character, played once more by Tom Cruise. Hunt is joined by fellow agents Jane Carte (Paula Patton) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), who previously appeared in the third film, and analyst William Brandt (Jeremy Renner). Forced to operate without any official support, the team have to stop the codes for a nuclear device falling into the wrong hands while on the run after being falsely accused of committing an act of terrorism.
This time the director is Brad Bird, continuing the franchise’s tradition of bringing in new directors to give each film a unique look and feel. Bird is making his live action directorial début after an extremely impressive background in animation, having worked on The Simpsons and then directing films such as The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and Ratatouille. Bird knows how to handle cinematic space, making full use of the film’s impressive IMAX sequences during scenes set in Budapest, Moscow and Mumbai. The middle section of the film takes place in Dubai, where the film truly excels, culminating in an exhilarating foot and then car chase through a sand storm. As perhaps a nod to Bird’s animation background, there is an early scenario that utilises a high tech version of the fake wall gag that Wile E Coyote often used to try to trick Road Runner.
The use of elaborate technology in the series somewhat functions in the way that superpowers or magic functions in fantasy films. Characters can achieve the unbelievable with the use of a super computer or some other extraordinary device, which in the real world seems absurd, but in the world of the film is part of the internal logic. Bird successfully inhabits the film with such technology with the right amount of tech speak to make the audience accept what is being seen without getting bogged down in the details. It also helps that most of the devices do have some grounding in the real world.
Most interesting about this latest Mission: Impossible film is the frequency in which technology fails at the critical moment. Far from being a lazy plot device, there is a strong theme of fallibility and unreliability of technology throughout the film allowing the action sequences to be inventive and surprising. This extends to the human characters who all have moments of hesitation and nervousness, and occasionally allow emotions to get in the way of their work. Even Hunt is less than enthusiastic when he realises he is going to have to scale the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. This results in a high level of improvisation by the characters throughout the film, making a much more engaging narrative than in the previous films.
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is the best film in the franchise so far. The characters are likeable and developed, the scenarios are complex without feeling ridiculous and the action is engaging. This film will benefit from being seen in an IMAX cinema where some of the bigger set pieces will most effectively provoke gasps, especially during the Burj Khalifa scenes from anybody with even a mild degree of vertigo. The whole cast are excellent, especially Renner and also Pegg, who plays a character who has only recently begun fieldwork. Pegg effectively articulate the audiences’ wonder, excitement and delight over the film’s elaborate scenarios and gadgets. Cruise is still the star of the film, but much more part of an overall ensemble than previously, which may make him more palatable to non-fans. Regardless, he looks great running in a suit.