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January 15, 2012 / Siobhan Argent

Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol – white jeans and (pretend) empowered women

Man, I do love the rationality of my vertigo. It becomes all too apparent why humans don’t like the idea of vertiginous heights when I’m watching Tom Cruise’s stuntman (or Tom Cruise himself, who knows) leap through the kind of empty spaces that make a black hole seem small. To anyone who’s already seen Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol and to everyone who hasn’t, the Dubai tower scene is sublimely ridiculous. Of course there is no other way into the building’s mainframe except from the outside. Of course the mainframe is 100 stories up, and of course Simon Pegg as tech geek Benji Dunn has weird gloves that stick to anything with an ultra-geeky special effects noise. But no one can do only-I-can-do-this like Tom Cruise, and he has plenty of moments in this film during which it becomes clear that he is the only bloody man for the job. Dammit.

Cruise sure as hell gives every task his best shot, but no man over forty years of age can get white jeans to look like anything other than pudding on a perfectly taut behind. I don’t care how hot the weather is, white jeans are like leggings; neither should exist in the pants category.

But I should get to the point, and by point, I mean plot. A pretty boy from Lost meets an unexpected enemy. Meanwhile, Ethan Hunt is stuck in prison in a foreign country. It doesn’t matter where, really; he’s conveniently fluent in whichever language the plot requires. A Dean Martin songs rescues him and kablam! We are smack bang in superspy territory again, with enough high-tack gimmetry to give us a fair idea that the MI team is loaded. They’re on the trail of a femme fetale (Sabine Moreau, played by Léa Seydoux) who prefers her payment in shiny diamonds. She, in turn, is holding the launch codes for ultra-dangerous nuclear missiles to ransom. There’s some other bad guy involved (Kurt Hendricks, played by Michael Nyqvist) and a good-guy Russian on the MI trail (Anatoly Sidorov, played by Vladimir Mashkov) but they’re a bit like Rupert Murdoch; they show up too late to seem to be in control, and they have crappy excuses for why they weren’t there earlier.

So as usual in MI-land, there’s the safety of the world at stake. However, we’re all too preoccupied with Miss femme fatale’s blonde hair and petite figure (and designer clothes) to worry too much about mutually assured destruction and one assassin’s deadliness. Sure, she can wield a gun in a sexy way, but what self-respecting probably-model-turned-actress can’t?

It’s perhaps not surprising, then, that the only women in this movie who have any major screen time are either stunningly beautiful (like MI spy Jane Carter, played by Paula Patton) or non-existent. Meanwhile there’s Simon Pegg, bless his soul, who gets more cheesy lines than a Sunrise/The Today Show television prompter. But aside from the gaping hole in gender representation, this is a likeable film, and a large chunk of it is due to the amazing scenery featured throughout the film. Brad Bird (the ever-admirable director of The Incredibles and regular contributor to The Simpsons as well as films Up and Toy Story 3) also forces us into an adventure frame of mind, tilting the camera directly down along the line of the building frame as Ethan swings around onto the sheer, thousand-window exterior of Dubai’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. A moving-car-park-system scuffle is also pretty impressive; it is a jigsaw of camera shots and moving layers as cars are smashed, landed on or ploughed into concrete from extreme heights. And blowing up the Kremlin is, well, blowing up the Kremlin.

Brad Bird’s probably got the right idea on this one. He knows perfectly well we’re here for the fully sick stunts, and he doesn’t disappoint, but he also doesn’t overload our senses or stretch the drama to the point where we’re just wishing the characters would just stop whingeing and get on with kicking ass. It’s easy to see how someone who helped craft Mr. Incredible might have a good grasp on how to make Tom Cruise remind us of something other than couch-jumping on Oprah. Surprisingly, Bird does make some headway. But I may need another MI movie of similar quality to make me stop wondering whether Katie Holmes is, as Family Guy suggests, secretly Tom Cruise’s prisoner.

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