23 December 2011

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL (Dir. Brad Bird, 2011, US)

The Bourne films helped to change the perceptions of the spy film by complicating the ideological backdrop from the imaginary to real world politics. Additionally, Greengrass in particular brought a documentary style to the Bourne films and fundamentally rubbished the outlandish echelons of the espionage genre. Jason Bourne may have been an antique of the cold war but the events of September 11 certainly reinvigorated the genre and signalled a re interest in the workings of government institutions like the FBI, CIA and black operations. Both James Bond and the Mission Impossible franchise have desperately been playing catch up to the realistic precedents set by the Bourne films. Although the Bond franchise has been most commercially successful at responding to the new permutations in the spy film, the character of Bond stills looks cartoonish when compared to Jason Bourne’s ideological sensibilities. Mission Impossible has spawned a series of popular films to date and the franchise takes its direction from Tom Cruise. The latest instalment in the Mission films is titled ‘Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol’. In an attempt to suggest to audiences that this film is a re-boot rather than a continuation of the earlier films, the number four is deliberately absent from the title. A film franchise is usually made up of a series of films that pool together the same cast and crew. Most Hollywood film franchises are studio based and Mission Impossible is no different. A key property of Paramount, the Mission Impossible films like most franchises has over the years cultivated a formula for success at the box office. The implications of a franchise is that for a film maker they can be creatively restrictive and the expectation to live up to the formula becomes somewhat of a necessity given the sizable budget involved. Key to the longevity and appeal of the Mission films has been the constant star presence of Tom Cruise. In many ways, most of the major top earning film stars have all found time to lay claim to a franchise and the Mission films have certainly helped to maintain the box office of Tom Cruise. One of the criticisms regularly made with Tom Cruise is that his presence in a mainstream studio film usually turns it into a vanity project. This is probably true of a lot films with big stars, not just Tom Cruise film projects. If film stars have lost their relevance over the years and the concept has taken over then a franchise like Mission Impossible suggests that star power can still be central to the way in which a film is created and then marketed.

Tom Cruise is arguably the key ingredient to the success of these films and whether or not his creative presence has affected the shape of the films, what is conclusive is that with Ghost Protocol, he restates his claim to the franchise that has kept him in going him internationally. This fourth film in the franchise comes off quite well when measured up against the previous entries. Ghost Protocol is a late summer blockbuster but its appearance in the winter release schedule points to the declining box office of Tom Cruise. The previous film Mission Impossible 3 saw the involvement of producer J. J. Abrams who injected a much-needed realism into the politics of espionage by creating a villainous turn from Philip Seymour Hoffman. The first film, directed by Brian De Palma, is considered by many to the best in the franchise, but I’m not so sure if it is a film that stands up today. The second film, directed by John Woo, underwent extensive reshoots and while it was commercially successful, the film was merely a stylistic exercise. Ghost Protocol might in fact be the most entertaining entry in the franchise and this is undoubtedly down to director Brad Bird’s involvement. Bird reinvents the franchise by returning to the cold war origins of the TV series and reclaiming the Russians as the nuclear obsessed villains. Narrative wise the Mission films are structured around the action set pieces and Ghost Protocol certainly delivers in terms of such a convention by maintaining a relentless pace throughout the first half. However, the final third is somewhat disappointing as the finale is played out in absurdly bond like fashion, tipping the film into postmodern clique. The real star of this film is the extended sequence in Dubai, which sees Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) climb the Burj skyscraper with delightfully vertiginous effects. Dubai has the potential of becoming a future film location for a lot of Hollywood blockbusters as it provides a tantalising cinematic landscape that looks great on the big screen. Ghost Protocol seems to be the first major Hollywood film to tap into such a potential and it does so with some real excitement and energy. Thirty minutes of the film was shot using IMAX cameras and I would second the argument that IMAX should be the future of spectacle-based cinema, not the headache inducing 3D bandwagon. Ghost Protocol is being touted as the comeback for Cruise at the box office and the film certainly demonstrates the notion that star power can still draw in audiences.

2 comments:

  1. Cruise plays the perfect cool in incredible situations and hauling ass through sandstorms looking for bad guys. His team is a nice addition to the story- adding cool twists and of course the gadgets. A 2+ hour movie that will keep you on your toes and looking forward to the next installment. Go see it- its so good, I would jump on Oprah's couch over it.

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  2. Not sure about jumping over Oprah's couch - might hurt myself...

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