5 Reasons to stop at Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
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I may not know Ghost Protocols, but I do know when to quit...
We've all seen it by now. The Kremlin collapses in smoke and flame, Tom Cruise flips up his hood and prepares to go underground, and enough scenery explodes to give Michael Bay night terrors. Thanks to its hugely popular trailer, a consensus has emerged that the fourth addition to the Mission: Impossible franchise will be the best. But should we choose to accept it?
Stretching an already thin concept over four films might seem a gamble too far for Cruise and his new BFF, producer JJ Abrams, but then Tom's no stranger to risky business. Will MI:4 be an unlikely success? Or a box-office bomb so devastating the government will have to disavow its existence? Here's five reasons why this mission might really be impossible...
5. Four is not the magic number
The law of diminishing returns is a cruel mistress, so when the franchise cash-cow grows fat enough to sustain a fourth instalment, studio executives can start to get the jitters. Sure-fire hits are so rare in this business that execs can't stop themselves tightening their grip on every aspect of production, weeding out anything that won't appeal to a mass audience. The transformation of rough-and-ready actioner Die Hard into the tween-friendly Die Hard 4.0 was a prime example of this, the result mortifying to behold. Not only that, but the conceptual core of the movie has often become so diluted that coherency and vision are in woefully short supply: witness the Alien: Ressurection debacle, when the young Joss Whedon's promising screenplay was hacked to slivers at the hands of arty-farty auteur Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Perhaps MI:4 will escape the dead hand of commercial interference, but I wouldn't bet on it.
4. Animators can't direct actors
Paramount have thus far attracted an interesting stable of directors to tackle the adventures of the Impossible Missions Force. Neither Brian De Palma, John Woo nor JJ Abrams were obvious candidates to helm a mainstream action movie at the time, and Brad Bird – he of The Incredibles, The Iron Giant and Ratatouille fame – seems an agreeably left-field choice to bring Ghost Protocol to the screen.
But take a second look at that résumé – Bird has never directed live-action. If that doesn't already trigger alarm bells, check out the trailer for John Carter, fellow Pixar guru Andrew Stanton's first foray outside of animated filmmaking. See the uncomfortable, wooden performances? That's what happens when an actor gets treated like a puppet, by a director who knows how to shape the facial tics of a computer-generated character, but not so much how to build a performance collaboratively. This isn't always the case – Tim Burton emerged from animation to direct some of Johnny Depp's most acclaimed screen turns – so here's hoping Brad follows in his footsteps.
3. CG overload
Remember when summer blockbusters meant Indiana Jones hurling himself recklessly under speeding trucks, and James Bond barrel-rolling across rivers in a clapped-out chevy? Neither do I, but thanks to the magic of ITV's repeats schedule, those images stamped themselves indelibly into my cinematic consciousness.
You could feel the danger in those set-pieces, when stuntmen risked life and limb in the service of the world's popcorn industry. CGI effects have since crept into every aspect of the visual effects process, as a crutch for uninventive filmmakers searching for easy spectacle – and still haven't shaken off that cartoonish edge that robs them of any visceral impact. If Pixar man Brad Bird reaches for CGI as a first, last and only resort – and the Ghost Protocol trailer is stuffed to bursting with digital trickery – his action spectacular may prove disappointingly anaemic.
2. In JJ's shadow
Following John Woo's trippy, overblown stinker MI:2, it seemed Mission: Impossible was, quality-wise, on the ropes. Entrusted to then-unproven television director JJ Abrams, the franchise looked set to join Shrek, Alien, and Terminator in starting off strong before pitching helplessly into decline. Well, not if JJ had anything to do with it.
The strength of his MI:3 caught us by surprise: smart writing, crunchy action and a genuine flair for cinematic storytelling lent the third part of the trilogy the unusual status of being the most critically adored to date. Now that we've seen the definitive M:I flick, what's left to see? Going down the Licence to Kill route of turning the IMF rogue smacks even more of desperation than when James Bond did it, and without the capacity for reinvention that 007 perfected, Ghost Protocol may end up flogging a horse that died long ago.
1. Cruise control
Ah, Tom. It's been a long time since he had us at hello. Tabloid tales of sofa-jumping and Scientology have diminished his celebrity of late, and his recent screen performances haven't helped either (I'm looking at you, Knight & Day). Nonetheless Hollywood's erstwhile golden boy has become one of the most powerful producers in tinseltown, calling the shots not just on the M:I films but on countless major releases.
That creepy, stare-y smile of his has taken on the air of a lunatic who won the lottery and bought the asylum. Actors-turned-producers often become notorious for derailing the films they appear in (I'm looking at you, Sean Connery in Entrapment), but making a film with a man gone so blatantly banoonoos must be the challenge of a lifetime. Let's hope Brad Bird's up to it.
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