IS THERE any spy series with a less interesting hero than Mission: Impossible’s Ethan Hunt? Four films on and his chief distinguishing feature is a running style modelled after Ivor the Engine.
Anything close to existential conflict is telegraphed by a grim jaw set, then carefully set aside until Tom has outrun a few more special effects.
The Impossible movies have always been crafted to showcase Tom Cruise’s commitment to physical daredevilry and there’s no let-up here although the star is close to 50. This lends an extra frisson to those of us who contemplate Zumba classes in terms of osteopath fees. Watching Tom leap from a hospital window on to a passing truck, I couldn’t help but worry: Tom, those knees won’t last forever.
Like previous directors, Brad Bird has built his story around elaborate chases, high-risk stunts and awesome gadgets, with a plot so perfunctory is feels as if it was released from a 1980s action time-capsule. Last time we saw him, Hunt was hitched to Michelle Monaghan, but at the start of Ghost Protocol she’s missing and he’s stuck in a Moscow jail. His Impossible Mission Force colleagues (Simon Pegg, Paula Patton) stage a jailbreak so he can foil a terrorist attack on the Kremlin. But the bomb goes off anyway, and the US government shuts down IMF, so that along with new agent Brandt (Jeremy Renner), Hunt and Co have to go it alone against a mad nuclear theorist (Dragon Tattoo’s Michael Nyqvist).
It’s never hard to distinguish between Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and a Mission: Impossible movie, yet one smart touch in Ghost Protocol is that the gadgets don’t always work to order this time; a face-mask-making machine fizzles at the colouring stage, and a message left for Ethan only self-destructs after an encouraging dunt. So when Ethan is obliged to scale the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, using high-tech suction gloves, the film makes full use of its aerial shots when Hunt’s sticky mitts start to lose their grip on the skyscraper’s glass exterior.
This set piece is the best part of the film: an amazingly well choreographed sequence which taunts those who only suspected they might have a bit of a problem with heights. Even more remarkably, during the whole Dubai adventure, not one Arab character has a speaking role.
At this point, we’re about halfway through the 133 minute film, but like Ethan’s gluey gloves, Mission: Impossible 4 is fritzing power. There’s more globe-trotting – to India to meet Anil Kapoor from Slumdog Millionaire – more limp wisecracking from sidekick Simon Pegg, more Bassett-hound looks from Jeremy Renner, who is hiding a secret from Hunt, and much more action, including a third act suitcase wrestle in an automated car park. Can’t we go home yet?
Despite Cruise’s enthusiasm for risky business, Ghost Protocol feels relentless, purposeless and awfully safe.