Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

Or, as we mortals call it, Mission Impossible 4. 15 years after the first installment in the franchise, Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt has – once again – accepted an impossible challenge, this time to stop a Swedish madman from creating nuclear war between the US and Russia. That this hoary old plotline, familiar from countless Bond films, has been revived comes as little surprise, as the series has thrived on implausibility and absurdity from the start, sometimes knowingly and at other times with the straightest of straight faces. Even if those faces are sometimes – in a ta dah! moment – revealed to be someone else’s, concealed under an all too accurate mask.

The storyline here is really wafer-thin, frequently incomprehensible and apparently there as an excuse for Cruise and his team (Jeremy Renner as mysterious ‘analyst’ Brandt; Simon Pegg as tech-nerd and comic relief Benjie; Paula Patton as the obligatory woman) to travel between exotic locations including Moscow, Mumbai and Dubai on the trail of Michael Nyqvist’s vaguely camp villain. But you’re not watching a film like this for Chekhovian insights into unexpected quirks of character. Instead, you’re watching it for the action scenes. And these certainly don’t disappoint.

In the live-action directorial debut of Pixar whizz Brad Bird, there’s a vim and energy to the scenes of derring-do that is pretty much absent from most modern thriller filmmaking. Three set-pieces in particular – an opening jail-break scored in part to Dean Martin’ s ‘Ain’t That A Kick In The Head’; a climatic fight in a stunningly futuristic car park; and, best of all, a terrifyingly vertiginous external heist at Dubai’s Burj Khalifa – are pretty much the best things that I’ve seen of this ilk since Inception, and in some respects they top even that, because there’s a wit and playfulness to much of the action that is a world apart from the CGI-heavy ‘robot fighting robot’ sturm und drang that is synonymous with so much blockbuster product.

I’d hesitate to call this a great film, or even a particularly good one. It drags between action scenes, there are presumably remnants of an excised twist that never quite comes and Cruise, while still athletic and limber at 49, is beginning to seem faintly ridiculous in his desire to remain an action hero forever. (As a random example, Gregory Peck was 46 when he played Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird, a role that seems associated with a vastly more mature actor than that of Ethan Hunt.) But, if seen in full jaw-dropping excess at an IMAX cinema, this is pretty much a must-see, at least once.

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