Mission:Impossible – Ghost Protocol
In this day and age of endless secret agents, dapper and dangerous alike, one wonders if there is still a place for Ethan Hunt; the man whose impossible missions inspired the films title. Bourne has brutal and realistic in the bag and while Bond was once different he now follows in that forgetful man’s footsteps, merging the grit he kicks up with an operatic (read: Arthouse) sense of beauty and sensibility. How then can the oldest of the bunch Bond is after all only two films old – remain relevant to us? By acting childish of course, and who better to teach him how than PIXAR’s Brad Bird?
Bird’s freedom to fly creatively is what makes this film a success; you can tell from the first few frames of the film that he’s having fun making this thing and that feeling is contagious. The first stunt that we see in the film’s cold open is just that, a stunt; Bird makes no attempt to hide the fact, though he does hide the props ingeniously in plain sight. A man leaps off a building onto a blow-up mattress, doesn’t sound too exciting when I say it but the way that Bird films it, showing us the man’s perspective and not the ground, makes it instantly gripping. We’re falling with him, we’re shooting the bad guys midway down and… dear god we’re about to hit the ground when poof, the reveal. Action cinema in a can ladies and gentleman, it doesn’t get much better than that; and yet you keep watching and it does. Hunt also uses a screen as a weapon later on in the film; meta much?
I’m getting ahead of myself though. The first thing that we see of Hunt is him choosing the hard, goon-filled, path over the empty one during an energetic prison escape sequence, a gleeful grin on his face and one on ours to match. From there we are flung through a series of stunning action sequences, each shot in an absolutely brilliant manner, each bleeding breathlessly into the next. By the time that we arrive at Dubai’s Khalifa tower our nerves are shot and our asses sore from sitting so close to the edge of the seat. All that and we’re not even halfway there yet.
Now, before I talk about the tower I first need to take a slight topical digression. See, I saw this film at IMAX and I did so only because of the attached Dark Knight Rises teaser as it appears did half the audience, who promptly walked out after it ended and the film proper began. Staying put was the best decision that I have made in quite some time. Not only is the film genuinely gorgeous on the big screen but it’s more immersive an experience there (even in 2D!): because Bird has followed his film in following in Nolan’s footsteps by filming with IMAX cameras when the action is going down on-screen it surrounds you, sucking you in entire.
Now normally this would be a good thing but come the tower sequence it was far from it. When you have one of the tensest, cleverest and outright scariest (for those of us who suffer from James Stewart’s syndrome) action scenes of the century going down you do not want to be a part of it. My hands were sweating, my stomach jumped , I felt dizzy and all but cheered when it was finally over. I won’t soon forget the time that I had to scale the outside of a skyscraper, that experience is a memory now.
I don’t normally do this in my reviews, just describe scenes and my subjective reactions to them but in the case of Ghost Protocol I just cannot help it. Bird brings something to this film that is just utterly joyous; the only comparison that I can make is to those better PIXAR pictures. It’s not a children’s movie but it is a childish one in the best possible sense. As PIXAR have taught us childish does not equate to simple, you see to make a really great kids movie you have to be very clever and similarly as Bird proves here, to make a really great action flick you have to be both clever and capable of making a great kid’s flick.
There are surely countless things that Brad learnt working in animation and many of these are what make his direction so good (Oscar good? No, but he better be in contention). As is traditional in the series none of the action sequences are simple and yet, despite their complexity they are easier to follow than most filmic fist-fights or shoot-outs. Each of his sequences would make perfect sense if seen with the sound off and the most distinctive – and thus the easiest to describe – of the reasons for this is his constant use of clear visual cues.
Each sequence contains a blunt visual signifier or two and these are usually based on colour: The tower sequence for example quite famously fulfills this with the “Blue is glue, red is dead” glove graphs seen in the trailer. While this may sound like it would oversimplify the film, visually speaking there is no such thing. When the scenes get chaotic and the complex intercutting begins it is these cues that act as our anchors and keep us caring.
There are downsides though: for one the film is a caper and a half too long, it tires you out too early but the final fight brings you back around with its inventiveness (and familiarity to Cars 2, how bout that?). The character stuff is also pretty weak, it hits the beats it needs too but none of that exuberance on screen appears to have seeped in from the script. (The size of this paragraph speaks volumes, no?)
In the end though that si not what stays with you; once you leave the objective drops away while the subjective, the feelings felt, stay. This was said to be Bird’s step-up from the world of animation into the big leagues but I disagree with the core premise of that statement; what he has actually done is raise the action genre to the level of childs-play. Bird has taken a tired, old franchise and reinvigorated it by staying stuck in the past: practical effects, pre-9/11 lightheartedness and even evil, accented Russians are the toys in his box and he plays with them like a prodigy. Ghost Protocol, like all children’s entertainment, has the mission not to be boring and that it more than accomplishes, achieving the impossible and finishing up as the most fun i’ve had with a film this year, bar none.