As a newspaper of record, Gulf News has covered the Mission: Impossible filming in Dubai and subsequent hoopla of the stars’ return to the city for the world premiere in depth for over a year. But there’s always a slight doubt in the back of one’s mind: after dedicating so many column inches to Tom Cruise and his Burj Khalifa antics: What if the film itself is not very good?
I shouldn’t have harboured that thought for even a moment.
Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol thrills with every intrigue, every punch thrown, every explosion, every deadpan line — and every shot of the city that is a major character in the film: Dubai.
Fans of the franchise, rejoice, because all the elements that define a Mission: Impossible film are here, and yet thanks to the policy of introducing a new director each time (this fourth instalment is helmed by Brad Bird, an Oscar winner for the animated film The Incredibles), those elements seem fresh and fun, not stale and trotted out.
Cruise returns as Ethan Hunt, the IMF agent who always seems to find himself on the wrong side of the game, busted out of a Russian jail in a brilliant opening sequence that is balletic in quality, despite the sheer chaos and violence, and which sets the unrelenting pace of the film. In the starting moments of the film, we are reintroduced to those MI elements: the post-Cold-War locations (Hungary, Russia) that still send a thrill of intrigue; the futuristic technology that’s still believable; the coordinated team of agents speaking in code through earpieces (“Comm check!”) and the dose of knowing comedy that separates MI from Bourne but never descends into farce. How about a little Dean Martin while we start a prison riot?
As with earlier films, Hunt must operate outside the IMF — in fact, there is no IMF to speak of after the unit is framed for an attack on the Kremlin, described as terrorists and shut down by the US government in what’s called Ghost Protocol.
Clearing his name isn’t the first item on Hunt’s to-do list, however: it’s stopping the real attacker, a nuclear extremist played chillingly by Swedish actor Michel Nyqvist, who after a role as the investigative journalist in the original Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, knows a thing or two about subterfuge.
This is the only area where the film seems a little weak, however — although it plays well on the still-relevant fears of nuclear technology falling into the hands of a madman, the villain’s aim of hitting the reset button on society by launching a nuclear war seems somewhat threadbare.
But the tactical agenda for Hunt’s ragtag team is clear — recover stolen nuclear codes and gadgetry before the real terrorist can buy them and make 1+1 equal global annihilation. The deal is taking place — where else? — inside the Burj Khalifa. “We’re going to Dubai,” says Hunt — and let the games begin. What takes Hunt on his breathtaking, edge-of-the-seat, face-covering jaunt outside the Burj, I won’t reveal, suffice to say that it’s an action high in a movie packed with them. The footage of the city is lingering and loving, if not always faithful — residents will chuckle at the proximity shown between Burj Khalifa and DIFC, and a sandstorm Hunt fights his way through has a rarely-seen intensity.
That creative stunt driving he performs, however? Pretty accurate on some of our highways — although here’s hoping it doesn’t inspire anyone.
The Dubai scenes form a substantial part of the film — around a quarter, I would judge — and make great use of the city’s landmarks without feeling too much like a story was purpose-built around them. It was in 2009 that I met one of the film’s producers, J.J. Abrams, as he flew into Dubai on a stopover from Australia, spending only enough time here to take a helicopter ride over the city (from the top of the Burj Al Arab, no less). It took just that one-hour ride for him to decide the city was a perfect location for the film — rising like Oz’s Emerald City out of the desert (one of the first shots we see of Dubai plays on this comparison).
Simon Pegg returns to the franchise as the comic-relief technology specialist Benji, playing Everyman, the one who says what the audience are all thinking: I couldn’t do that! Paula Patton’s female agent employs every tool at her disposal, be it kick-a** fighting skills or the art of seduction, as in a short but key sequence featuring Bollywood star Anil Kapoor as a cheesy, sleazy billionaire playboy (a role we wish had been a bit more challenging), while Jeremy Renner is the real surprise: the Oscar-nominated star of the heavy-going Iraq war-set The Hurt Locker has excellent comic timing, and boy, does he look great in civilian clothing.
The ending — which unfurls the plot until the very last moments of the film, delivering surprises even after the audience thinks it’s wrapped up — of course leaves the door open for more films, and you can’t begrudge Cruise that. After all, he was building a franchise when Bourne was just a glint in Robert Ludlum’s eye and Ocean’s Eleven was still at sea. If he keeps delivering like this — yes he has aged, if you remember the first film, but he’s added a quality of knowing, of wisdom that makes sense — it will be Mission: Accomplished.