Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol 2011 ★★½

I feel like I’m swimming against the tide on this one, but here goes. Brad Bird is a gifted storyteller, and shows some considerable promise in this, his first live-action outing, but Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is a tepid follow-up to J.J. Abrams’ taut third entry in the Mission: Impossible series.

Where Abrams’ picture delivered a memorable screen villain in Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s Owen Davian, Ghost Protocol’s bad guys are bland and forgettable. Where M:I III contained moments of high tension and true invention, this felt like a weak, copycat version in which the characters were never in any real danger: a centrepiece scene inside Dubai’s Burj Khalifa hotel that should have been thick with nervous energy was planned and discussed to the point it felt rote, its outcome inevitable.

These problems might best be explained by the worst of Bird’s directorial traits (aside from his inappropriate typographic choices, and product placement deals that would make Bond blush): he is unwilling to let a pivotal scene go by without adding some gag or other. To this end, Simon Pegg’s Benji Dunn has been elevated to field status and given the bulk of the script’s laughs, but mostly he serves to revive our disbelief at precisely the wrong times.

It’s not all bad. Bird’s strengths lie in his command of cinematic language (the camera work is vertiginously good), his feel for structure, and his eye for spectacle. He has a knack for exposition, but is perhaps too good at it, explaining many plot points so thoroughly as to leave nothing for the audience (he even spoils key moments of the film in its own title sequence).

It was telling that, after the screening we attended, my colleagues talked solely about the ten-minute IMAX sequence from The Dark Knight Rises that preceded the feature. Chris Nolan’s teaser contained bigger ideas and more tension than in the entirety of the film that followed.

Bird has executed a couple of iconic sequences in Ghost Protocol, which it will undoubtedly be remembered for, but the sizeable remainder of the film is played awkwardly for laughs, and a big fat paycheque.

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