Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
So when I decided to see Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol in the brand spanking new IMAX in Edinburgh I was more than happy to have more of the same from the franchise, but secretly I was hoping for something more than we've been getting from the series, a bit more of an edge, more of the thriller feel from the first film, a little less of the unstoppable Cruise.
Of course I didn't expect it to change too much, and if it did I really couldn't see it going far from the mould that it has been set in and proven so well.
That's changed with Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, without a doubt. Due to a strange seating plan on the booking form where we ended up getting seats second row from the front instead of second row from the back we found ourselves staring right into the heart of the monstrosity, and we loved it.
Although we had to cower down in our seats and faces on the big screen seemed to have much larger chins than the tops of their heads, or bodies seemed to taper slightly as you looked upwards, I could manage to see the entire screen through my glasses without moving my head from side to side. That said there were scenes where I had to turn to the right and left to follow some action, but I never felt as though I lost anything from watching it on IMAX.
What I did gain was a real immersive experience, much more than I've had with 3D. Some of the camera moves and shots had me gasping or experiencing a slight "fight or flight" moment, the scope and detail of the shots affected my senses to the degree that it caused me to physically react, and that was a pretty amazing experience.
It is expensive, but I loved it. One tip for those heading to the Edinburgh IMAX, note that it is a different format of IMAX from the Glasgow and that's one reason why we didn't see The Dark Knight Rises Prologue in Edinburgh, and also why we didn't see the entire IMAX frame during the IMAX filmed scenes. Anyway, enough of this, let's skip over to the film.
Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol sees the IMF team blamed for a massive explosion at the Kremlin, an explosion that is being used by both those responsible and the authorities to cover up what has been taken from the building and what it could be used for.
In light of the events the American government is recalling the IMF organisation and is set on dismantling it, and so the secretary issues the Ghost Protocol order for the team blamed for the events at the Kremlin, and gives them a final mission on which rests the peace between Russia and America.
Ethan Hunt and his team gather together what they can before IMF is locked down and set out to complete the biggest mission they have faced without the backing and support they've previously relied on.
The film opens up with an action sequence that brings us back all the old elements of the Mission: Impossible franchise in the setting of a Russian high security prison. As Dean Martin plays the focus is turned to building tension very clearly from the beginning. It immediately grabs you, reminds you of everything you need to know about the franchise, and gets you going at quite a pace that really doesn't let up from there on.
However there are some differences with this new film and a few rather notable ones at that. With the team on their own there's a very different feel to the technology and the set-ups, they go wrong. Technology fails, resources aren't available, agents make mistakes in the heat of the moment, and they aren't all perfect.
Tom Cruise's hero Hunt is unstoppable and carries that killer arrogance with the character that we may have gotten used to in previous films, although it did slip very solidly in the last film where things became a lot more personal for him. Here we see things fail around him and not only for tech and other agents, but directly for him with things not always going to plan.
Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol carried a much stronger attempt to make Hunt feel more human, less of the unstoppable impossible agent, he's moved from unstoppable to infallible and it does give you a genuine uncertainty at times as to whether they are going to manage to pull one of their complex set-ups off.
These feelings, dare I say, gave the film a little bit more of a realistic feeling and a connection to the first film. Yes I know you're going to say how unbelievable and impossible these films are but there are degrees and some of the films have been more fantastical than others. Without destroying the central premise of the franchise, this film takes it a step back towards the audience somewhat.
It's not just with Cruise's character and the gadgets either, there were some really good scenes with Paula Patton's agent character where she can't seduce the playboy target because she has self-doubt, is carrying a lot of guilt and self-placed pressure, and isn't the atypical female agent in these films that can do anything with her main role being to seduce the male target.
There's also recognition of how daft the Mission: Impossible set-ups can become, and the train sequence is a great example of that where the two agents are trying to get through the security on a moving train and while it feels a little comical it also helps in that step back towards the audience, away from the more fanciful.
Speaking of comedy there's a lot more in this film than previous and I have to admit that I was worrying a little during the Kremlin scenes where we saw Simon Pegg starting to kick into high gear, I did think the story was in close danger of going too far towards the funny and would forget what it was really about. While I did feel like this at the start of the sequence by the end of it I wasn't, the action had returned as had the tension.
The comedy is throughout the film but it never takes it over, here the excellent set-ups, wonderfully improvised and executed set pieces and the all out action are in control, and one of the most important elements that I am not forgetting, the thriller.
Everything I've just mentioned help to make the film more than just the action event we'd been expecting, but the writing delivers the strongest connection with the first film. While the set pieces are huge and there are spectacle action sequences that better what we've seen before, there's still a strong concentration on building the tension and keeping the thriller aspects of the story going forward.
One of the scenes that demonstrated all of the elements of the film I've discussed is that of the Dubai hotel. First we have an amazing sequence with a series of stunts that are to be seen to be believed and where you really can't tell where the reality ends and the CG begins.
It's not just about the grand spectacle of the camera zooming out to show the terrifying fall to the ground that had me recoiling and gasping audibly in my seat, or the unbelievable feeling of watching Hunt move outside of the building and begin climbing the structure, but it's the layering of the pressures on the characters to get the job completed and the building up of the tension through the little twists in the story. Even before he reached his destination you are feeling rather uneasy and when he returns to his hotel room floor with an even more insane stunt you are struggling with a mild panic.
Then we have the superb Brian De Palma-esque feeling of the split level story playing out in a mirror reflection of the events between floors. The scenes of the two groups negotiating the sale of the briefcase and all the added complications of trying to get the payment from one group to the other and the case back again piles on tension and plays superbly well to the thriller elements of the film. This takes me back to the strengths of the first film and delivers more than just another Mission: Impossible action film.
It's this excellent blend of spectacle action sequence and strong tension building writing that delivers such a powerful and enjoyable film.
The action sequences are spectacular and do provide a step up from the previous films with big scale sequences from start to finish capturing the frantic and fast changing story lines and scenarios that Mission: Impossible is synonymous with.
Many of these sequences provide new and cleverly thought through ideas such as the sandstorm chase sequence that follows the Dubai hotel. It's as thrilling as everything that has come before it and adds that new element to a seemingly well played out chase action sequence.
However the spectacular action sequences aren't the only key aspect of the Mission: Impossible films that are remembered and kept at the core of this film, the gadgets are all still here, when they work that is. Perhaps the most amazing is the projection wall that the team use in the Kremlin. It's a wonderful idea that shows you the level of thought put into these gadgets and sequences, not just as something to get the job done, but as a key aspect of the scene. The amount of detail and imagination that has been put into it to get it working is pretty amazing and it plays a pivotal role in the scene and manages to make you believe it could well be real.
There's another key for the franchise that can't be forgotten, the theme, and again this film captures it perfectly and makes more of it. I loved the use of this musical key theme throughout the film, disguised and adapted in so many different formats and styles throughout it really captures the mood and propels you forward into the film, lifting you to the point you need to be for the action sequence.
It had a superb affect on the entire group I was with watching the film, as soon as the music kicked in and we recognised the key in whatever form it was, smiles came to our faces and we were suddenly in the M:I moment.
How amazing is that, for a film to be able to deliver that kind of reaction on cue from a few short notes? We're talking films like Indiana Jones, Star Wars, James Bond, and Mission: Impossible. That will sound like heresy to some of you, but it's exactly what happens with that key signature.
This is where this Mission: Impossible film does so well, it doesn't forget what the core of the franchise is and for the rest of the film goes back and builds on its strengths. Actually it doesn't just build on them it elevates them to a new level and we end up with one of the best films in the franchise to date.
Okay, so there was a superb script, the film captures the best of the franchise, built the thriller elements to the strength of the first powerful film, creates even better effects and stunts before, makes the key character more human, is superbly filmed and edited, but...but, there are some flaws.
Considering the pace and the drive of the whole film the Mumbai party sequence felt a little drawn out, it was a rather slow section within a film that had been perfectly paced, to this point anyway. It might have passed by without really being noticed, perhaps allowing the pressure to ease off a little from the rest of the story, that is if the final act hadn't felt rushed.
For after the Mumbai party is over the pace does pick up, unfortunately it picks up a little too fast and we begin to feel that we're losing track of the high level of writing, directing and editing we've seen to this point. It's because of the pace of what happens next that the Mumbai sequence feels so damned slow and drawn out.
It begins with the satellite reprogramming, although perhaps to be honest its a little earlier, but it's here where the ripples of those dropped moments seem to collide and really have an impact on the audience. From the reprogramming scenes and the installation of a virus the writing and the slick delivery begin to slip and while you understand what's happening there is much that either has to be accepted as happening or that just seems overly convenient. It's here that I felt we were slipping back to the previous Mission: Impossible films.
This wasn't a huge flaw and it didn't spoil the ending for me, I think what tainted it more for me was the complete lack of detection and action from America during this final sequence, something which seems to verge on the incompetent and ridiculous. With any basic knowledge the audience knows what would happen at this point and the very fact that the ending plays out this way suggests that it was overly edited or perhaps just a little rushed through.
Apart from these two points though, there is little I can call into question about the film. It seemed an impossible mission, and yet they've gone and done it.
Post the exciting ending, the ultimate ending delivered a very nice moment that had me fooled rather well. It offers some closure on the story we've just seen and some of the past of the characters, as well as opening up a new beginning for them all. It began to tease what I thought was going to be a rather flat delivery of a typical Hollywood ending, and yet it delivered something keeping with the level of the rest of the film.
I rather enjoyed that it wasn't all nicely wrapped up and explained and that we had to make some of our own choices about why. It all felt much truer to the story and the characters.
It has to be said that Brad Bird has delivered a hell of a surprise with Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol considering his previous films have been animations such as Ratatouille, The Incredibles and The Iron Giant. He's been a breath of fresh air to the franchise.
While it was a shame not to see Ving Rhames return to the film as a main character, Jeremy Renner and Paula Patton have done a good job of stepping in and could so easily become a fixture of the team, something that I hope is true for Bird as well. Let's not forget the work that Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec have done writing the script.
After seeing Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol I really do hope that this team is reunited for one more, but the question then will be, how long can Tom Cruise keep playing Hunt?
Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol is undoubtedly the best in the Mission: Impossible series as it takes the key elements of the franchise that have worked to date, returns to a strong thriller base that the original delivered, and blends it all together in an excellently flavoured package offering more fun, excitement, bigger stunts and more amazing effects, stronger story, less impossible characters and a sprinkle of reality.
There are flaws, both in the story for the agents and in the film, unfortunately, for the audience, however the unintended flaws are forgivable considering the strength of the rest of the film.
It will have you excited, smiling with anticipation as that music kicks in, and gasping and squirming in your seat as some of the spectacular moments unfold in front of your eyes. This is an action thriller in every sense of the word and its mission is truly accomplished.