Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011) – cinema review
Still in cinemas. Should you choose to accept, you’re in for a treat. Cheers to Showcase Cinema De Lux for the screening.
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
(Brad Bird, US, 2011)
In which animator Bird takes one look at M:I’s live-action jazz standard and wonders what it would be like to draw all over it
The Mission: Impossible films have developed into the spy action equivalent of the Alien franchise, in the way that each new mission has been assigned to a different director. Yet, star/producer Tom Cruise – always a man whose career has been founded on steely control and self-assurance – has played far safer in his recruitment policy, opting for proven A-list talent (De Palma, Woo) over the young turks (Scott, Cameron, Fincher) who made their names fighting xenomorphs.
Yet Mission: Impossible 3 found a new way of approaching things: find somebody who, while an expert in one field, was untried in live-action features. It’s the best of both possible worlds, combining trusted experience with a novice’s hunger – it worked with J. J. Abrams (kickstarting Hollywood’s premier TV-to-movie auteur) and it works double for Brad Bird’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.
The obvious question: what’s in it for animation giant Bird, a veteran of both The Simpsons and Pixar and a two-time Oscar winner to boot? The answer becomes obvious half an hour into his live-action debut, as Cruise’s Ethan Hunt and Simon Pegg’s Benji Dunn rig up a nifty device that allows them to sneak around while the guard at the end sees only an empty corridor. On one level, it’s the old spy movie stand-by of the CCTV camera on a loop. But look again. Isn’t it exactly the kind of ACME gadget that Wily E. Coyote would pull out of his bag when trying to catch Road Runner?
De Palma, Woo and Abrams all treated the Mission: Impossible template as a kind of jazz standard, a set of notes on which to riff in their own idiosyncratic style. Brad Bird is used to being able to do whatever he can in a movie, so here his mission is to render reality as a live-action cartoon. Borrowing the elastic camera moves of Paul Thomas Anderson’s cinematographer Robert Elswit, and buoyed by the rhythms of Michael Giacchino’s score, Bird dares to treat sets and props and actors no differently from pen-and-ink or CGI.
Nowhere is this more apparent than the central sequence in Dubai, in which Cruise climbs and falls and rises and runs across the Burj Khalifa as if he’s jealous that Bird’s previous stars included Mr Incredible. It’s a marvel of modern filmmaking, which uses its star’s craziness to ignore stuntman conventions and get on with smashing your jaw on the floor in disbelief. Bird’s sense of narrative logic sets up a sandstorm like a spinning plate, and then crams as much intrigue and tension and set-pieces into the half-hour or so before it arrives, in breathless near-real time, until the sand whips in to change the mise en scene from sun and steel and glass to an eerie visual standstill through which Cruise runs like a line drawing.
That’s why the film’s final act has been seen, in some quarters, as a (minor) disappointment. It’s still thrilling, classic Mission: Impossible stuff, with a countdown, a bonkers fight in a robotic car park, and the team – sexy Paula Patton, sardonic Jeremy Renner, wisecracking Simon Pegg, and Cruise doing his trademark running thang – all on top form. Trouble is, any half-decent filmmaker can make that stuff work. What Bird had reminded us is that, like his avian namesake, a director can fly if he has the imagination to grow wings.