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Another 2011 release I failed to catch before year’s end is this fourth entry in the successful Mission: Impossible series, the first to drop the numeric and adopt a subtitle and the first IMAX film I’ve seen since The Adventures of Tintin – The Secret of the Unicorn.

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is in jail in Russia and IMF’s agents Jane Carter (Paula Patton) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) are busting him out. They’ve been on tail of person-of-interest known as Cobalt and need Ethan’s help to liberate some files from the Kremlin to help track him down. Things go awry when a mystery party broadcasts across the team’s frequency alerting guards to their presence before a bomb blows the place up. Although Hunt manages to escape arrest he soon learns that the entire IMF has been disavowed, the bombing’s blame having been levelled at the organisation. It’s now up to Ethan’s team along with analyst William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) to operate under Ghost Protocol with limited resources and nail Cobalt thereby preventing nuclear disaster.

The Mission: Impossible films now share something in common with the Alien franchise. There are four of them and they’re all quite different. This breezy fourth instalment in the gadget-packed spy thriller series feels a world away from Brian de Palma’s complex and convoluted original and manages to maintain an enjoyably chipper tone despite a pretty tense plot involving the threat of nuclear war. There’s little doubt that this is thanks to Brad Bird’s position at the helm. The director of such animated fare as The Iron Giant and The Incredibles, two films that wrestled with similar stuff yet never became too heavy. Bird, in his first live-action feature brings his animation sensibilities to many of the action sequences, delivering a very visual show that more or less transcends the far-fetched to arrive at something easily likeable with pure entertainment on its agenda.

Tom Cruise slides back into what is, arguably, his most famous role, clearly entirely comfortable, handling both action and comedy with ease although he’s not looking as good with his shirt off these days. He leads the cast in a film dominated by its central team dynamic. Simon Pegg provides plenty of the laughs as you’d expect as geeky field techy Benji and manages not to look out of place by largely avoiding the more demanding action beats and thrives on his innate likeability. Jeremy Renner’s character is the one with a bit of mystery about him and he’s good value throughout while Paula Patton deals with the action stakes well but can’t quite elevate her underwritten character above token female status. Beyond these four hardly anyone gets a look in which doesn’t matter per se but not enough is done with Cobalt who seems a pretty faceless villain with undeveloped motivation.

But if the plot doesn’t hold together as a convincing intelligence tale it does a great job as a straight-up thriller. Divided into three clear acts the team’s missions play out as an infiltration job that goes wrong, a long-con interception that goes wrong and a last ditch recovery operation that goes wrong, all missions driven by gadgets in the grand old tradition. While Bond has recently started to distance itself from the gizmos, a relief after Die Another Day’s invisible car, Mission: Impossible is still very comfortable with its tech porn, the best of which strangely enough involves a similar concept to that car but plays out in a corridor with brilliant comic mileage. It works where Bond didn’t because the film knows its boy toys are far-fetched and that’s exactly the point. It’s good clean high-concept fun that can only exist in the movies and to knock it for that is to be a party-pooper.

There’s plenty of bone breaking action to enjoy and some extended sequences that give good value for the running time such as a disorientating sandstorm chase and the well-publicised mid-show scene that has Tom Cruise hanging onto the exterior of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. And here Brad Bird’s animation credentials come into their own as the acrophobic sequence will have you clinging your set edge. It really benefits from IMAX which has to be the recommended way to see the film and Cruise gets major kudos for doing the thing for real.

Verdict

As pure entertainment Ghost Protocol is hard to fault as long as you don’t mind the tongue-in-cheek and aren’t too fussed by gritty realism. It’s a boys film but a fun one and as long as you aren’t looking for anything else it won’t disappoint.

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