Discussion: Impossible - Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011)

Ali Gray,
Matt Looker,
Becky Suter,
Ed Williamson

1st August 2018

Look at all those colons! Our Mission: Impossible discussion has kicked into a higher gear, by which I mean we're scaling the lofty heights of Ghost Protocol, its incredible set-pieces, its rubbish villain and one very special false arm. Join us please, otherwise all this editing was pointless!

Previous missions:
Discussion: Impossible - Mission: Impossible (1996)
Discussion: Impossible - Mission: Impossible II (2000)
Discussion: Impossible - Mission: Impossible III (2006)
What a klutz! Classic Ethan Hunt!

Matt: I'm watching one of those Film 4 interview featurette things about Mission: Impossible - Fallout and someone has just said "Tom Cruise would say that the series really only found its feet with Ghost Protocol". And I think that's pretty obvious now in hindsight.

Becky: There's quite a lot to enjoy - obviously it's a lot funnier than the previous instalments, and yeah, Brad Bird really amps the Cruise factor. But because the crew are out on their own, they’re just winging it which is endlessly entertaining: stuff goes wrong (the gag with the phone, the mask machine’s not working), the agents make mistakes, THE FAKE HAND... There are a few niggles, but I can overlook those because it's just so bloody charming.

Ali: By far the biggest failing of any Mission: Impossible movie is that at no point do any IMF agents say "OH FOR FUCK'S SAKE" when the missions go tits up.

Matt: It's disappointing in some ways, because I enjoyed the idea that each instalment would be drastically different in tone with a different creative approach - or with a different auteur at the helm, if you want to be a twat about it - but it's hard to argue that the series isn't now better overall for following the tonal template laid down by this film. After the 'gritty reboot' of JJ Abrams' M:I-3, this brings so much more fun and so many more big-scale thrills and it all just works brilliantly. I think it's also in part because this film is the one where "Tom Cruise is doing a totally mental stunt for real" first became a thing. And so, this tone, this scale and that Tom Cruise IP all working together made this one the first that really hit gold.

Ali: If you had to plot a graph of the excitement of Ghost Protocol, it'd look a lot like the Dubai skyline - starts off pretty exciting, a few spikes here, then WHOOOSH for the Burj Khalifa sequence, then back down to Earth again for the ending. I cannot overstate how brilliant that entire Burj Khalifa sequence is. Not only is it an amazing piece of work - how it's shot, how it's executed, the sheer vertigo of it all - but it feels like it started a larger conversation, on how the appeal of special effects is waning in favour of proper stunt work. You can't fake something this exciting. I've seen it multiple times and it's still mind-boggling. I'm tempted to say it's the greatest action sequence ever shot. It's definitely up there.

Matt: All the Dubai stuff is by far the best segment of the whole film, and I agree that the Burj Khalifa sequence is basically about as good as blockbuster cinema gets, with the sandstorm chase being a brilliantly inventive follow-up too. But the prison breakout, the escape from the hospital, and all the Kremlin stuff is all great fun. Then the race toward preventing the nuclear launch and then trying to deactivate it POST-launch is real edge-of-the-seat stuff. Right down to the car park climax and Hunt having to drive off the edge... I found it all totally exhilarating.

I think we all enjoyed the scene where Hunt threatened to shoot his dick off.

Ed: I loved the sequence at the end with all the cars going up and down. Always enjoy action scenes where the mechanics have been properly worked out and there's a satisfying kind of clockwork to them.

Ali: The car factory finale felt very Brad Bird, very Pixar. A bit too zany for me though. Too many moving platforms and shenanigans and such. It felt like the finale to Monsters Inc.

Why does Ethan Hunt never sweat? I get sweaty just walking to the bus stop
Ed: Generally, I am quite bored with these movies now to be honest. Why does Ethan Hunt never sweat? I get sweaty just walking to the bus stop when it's 18 degrees out, and this guy's cutting his abseil rope to jump into a skyscraper window in Dubai without so much as a bead on him.

Ali: Fun fact: I recently went on a climbing wall when on holiday during the heatwave and the staff had to ask if I was okay to continue because I had completely sweated through my shirt. One of the many ways in which Tom Cruise and I are very different people.

Ed: They're a good enough lark overall, and I don't particularly look for originality in a lone-hero-driven action franchise, but now having seen four of them I still don't see a USP for the M:I series. They have some really well-worked setpieces which I'd enjoy on a big screen but they never have any actual characters in them, just archetypes for Hunt to bounce off, so I've never cared for a second about the consequences of anyone's actions.

Ali: I don't know, I think Paula Patton's character at least gets a proper plotline and a motivation. Plus: she kicks a bitch out a window.

Ed: You should factor into this that I don't especially like action films. But I most enjoy them when they do a proper job of making me give a shit whether anyone lives or dies. M:I doesn't seem all that bothered about that, because it amounts to a huge totem pole with Tom Cruise at the top, wherein everyone stands back and watches him do stunts. A quick scene at the end where he sees his wife and smiles at her isn't enough to get me invested.

Matt: It's funny you mention about needing to care whether anyone lives or dies, because obviously you don’t feel like there’s any danger of that in any of these films, but Ali and I had a big chat about exactly this point in the pub after Fallout, and the new film actually does a really good job of making you think someone will die.

David... Brent?

Ali: Outside of the Burj sequence, the rest of the movie is a mixed bag. I like the simplicity of the opening sequence in the Russian prison, and the fact there's almost no dialogue. I also like the mad switcheroo in the hotel and the sandstorm chase that follows. But I also think it's a criminal waste of Josh Holloway, and the villain is useless. I don't know how you watch a movie like M:I-3 where the hero and the villain have such an intense up-close relationship, then go to a movie like this where they literally share one scene and a single line of dialogue with each other. Pop quiz. We all just watched it. What's the villain's name? What's his plan?

Becky: Villainy McVillainface.

Matt: Okay, granted, I can't remember his name, but I can barely remember the name of Jeremy Renner's character in these things. I genuinely think the film did a good job of selling the plan though: he was trying to bring about nuclear devastation as a way of resetting the world and making it stronger after the ‘tragedy’. There was even that bit where they showed old footage of him giving a lecture about it - it was his whole life's work and philosophy.

Ed: Dave Villain wants to restart the world by blowing up a load of it so people start to act how you think they should afterwards: seen it a million times before, most recently in Inferno, and it never makes any sense as a plan. Even if you succeed, what sort of geopolitical control do you have over humans' behaviour after a nuclear event? Essentially you're just banking on some sort of post-apocalyptic collegiate civility springing up and hoping for the best. Which is a pretty big gamble. Why not try a TED talk first?

Matt: Villainous Joe literally did try a TED talk first. We see footage of him giving that lecture, and this is a culmination of that not working so he has to resort to putting his own beliefs into action himself. I know it’s not the most original of plans (although it’s slightly unfair to cite Inferno, as that came out five years after this film) but neither was "selling government secrets to the highest bidder", "holding the world to ransom with a deadly virus" and "chasing after an unknown MacGuffin".

Ed: Oh, "I'm Matt and I'm capable of remembering important details from films I just finished watching." No one likes a know-it-all. In my defence I saw the start of the film about a week ago. And I saw Inferno before I saw this, which technically means it happened first and thus this is definitely Tom Cruise's fault somehow.

The villain's name is 'Kurt Hendricks' but I only remember that because he sounds like a really shit character in a film about someone trying to become a rock star.
Ali: The villain's name is 'Kurt Hendricks' but I only remember that because he sounds like a really shit character in a film about someone trying to become a rock star. Isn't "bringing about nuclear devastation as a way of resetting the world" the first evil scheme they teach you at Villain School?

Becky: The villains in the Mission: Impossible films are always flimsy though. The one Philip Seymour Hoffman played was only saved by the fact he was played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. At the end of the day, all a good villain wants is to take over the world, otherwise why go to all that trouble? (Unless you’re the one from that Bond film when all he wanted to do is hike up utility bills [eye roll].

Matt: Not sure why this film gets the 'This is a bit hackneyed' criticism when the whole franchise is built on clichéd villain plots. I'll concede that Ethan Hunt having zero personal interaction with his antagonist is a problem, but the actual big baddie scheme is just par for the course for this kind of film, no?

Ali: It's one thing having a cookie-cutter evil plan, but if you have no personality and no relationship with the hero then you deserve to be forgotten. R.I.P Kurt Hendricks or whatever your name was.

Hunt made the international gesture for 'I'm hungry' because the mission was lunch.

Ali: One trope I could do without: the last minute 'security check' hack, where the guards check once, then get told to check again, then at the last second, the hacked ID appears on the screen, just in time.

Becky: I thought the security check thing was jut another way of showing how something simple can throw the whole thing off-course. See also Hunt’s malfunctioning gloves. As a trope it’s not as overused as the mask reveal so I’ll allow it.

Ali: I feel like for the fourth Mission: Impossible movie, we can do better than that. Like the inflatable camera wall thingy! That is amazing. It felt rooted in real tech but also gave me proper old-school spy movie vibes - when ingenuity is what gets the job done, rather than brute force.

Becky: The inflatable camera thingy was inspired though: a cool new gadget and genuine lols. Even just the sight of Cruise and Pegg walking it down the corridor made me laugh because it looked so pedestrian, but it was cutting edge technology. But the FAKE HAND, guys!

Ali: What is the issue with the fake hand?

Becky: Simon Pegg being French in the hotel room, nicking the diamonds while he's putting the drink on the table and you realise he's had a fake arm THE WHOLE TIME. Totally unnecessary and ridiculous considering what they manage to do in the Kremlin.

Ali: I remember it! It's just a bit of sleight of hand, if you'll pardon the pun. I think it'd be even more conspicuous if he suddenly had a million-dollar synthetic robot arm. They don't really have a machine to do hands, only faces.

Becky: He could have done it without the fake arm, though.

Ali: Suddenly you are the authority on the IMF's use of synthetic arms, oh THAT is rich.

Matt: The arm never bothered me. It's just a gag, right? It would be different if they introduced fake arms in the first scene of the first film and then relied on them as a crutch for every twist in every instalment of the whole franchise. I think you know what I'm getting at here.

Ali: I like that some of the mission tech is bleeding edge and some of it is just random old shit they nicked out of a dressing up box. I also like the fact that Benji presumably carries with him at all times a suitcase filled with fake arms, wigs and comedy noses attached to glasses.

Benji! A Mission: Impossible Spin-Off (2019)

Ali: Jeremy Renner really made no impact on this movie at all, right? It's weird to think there was ever a discussion to have him take over the franchise. That crazy summer when Jeremy Renner was the big new thing. I mean, I like Jeremy Renner, but no.

Matt: Yeah, the idea that he would ever take over the franchise seems insane now, but I actually really like him in this movie. I read somewhere that the film was being rewritten as they were shooting and and a big part of what was constantly changing was Renner's character's back story.

Ali: I love how the later Mission: Impossible really do fly by the seat of their pants. They're rewritten on the hop, rejigged, scrapped and started over. They're like mini missions in of themselves. The mission, which Brad Bird chose to accept, was to make Jeremy Renner popular.

Matt: What we ended up with though totally works for me: The fact that he is at odds with Ethan but also in some way relenting toward him, the bit where Ethan Hunt picks up that an analyst shouldn't have such great fight skills, his 'confession' scene and then the final relief when Ethan reveals what really happened at the end. I think it's a brilliant arc for that kind of character and he really makes it work. Plus the whole bit where he has to jump down that little porthole bit to be 'caught' by Benji using magnets and then he starts doing stretches always cracks me up.

Jezza Rezza, pictured yesterday.

Ali: The thing about that scene is that he's wearing the tightest trousers I've ever seen. These are not trousers that are suitable for a top secret mission. I doubt if he could bend over without giving himself a hernia. Just once I'd like to see an IMF member wearing some comfortable slacks and some Converse.

Matt: You've just reminded me that the first image released for this film showed Tom Cruise wearing a hoodie with carnage and flames in the background... and it was released as the London riots were happening.

Ali: The people just wouldn't accept Jeremy Renner.

Matt: One last thing from me. I don't care how much Mission: Impossible II shit you throw at me, the single worst moment in any Mission: Impossible film comes at the end of this one, when they’re all sitting around the table for the epilogue scene.

So I hear the insurance company’s refusing to pay the claim on that car you crashed, Ethan. Something about intentional 100 metre vertical drops not being covered?

(mock incredulously)
Go figure!

Everyone laughs far too hard and far too loudly in the same way that you would when trying to impress your CEO at a work-related mixer because you’re scared that you’ll be earmarked for the next round of company redundancies if you don’t pretend to find your boss absolutely hilarious.

Becky: THIS bothers you more than the fake hand?
Coming soon: Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, I guess!

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