Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol

As previously mentioned, I’m not a fan of sequels. Threequels are generally at least one film too much and a fourth installment? Well I was dubious, to say the least.

Ghost Protocol’s trailer pretty much dispelled any lasting doubts, leaving no questions as to whether Brad Bird would be continuing the MI series’ themes of high action and cooler-than-cucumbers tech for his spies. Beautiful, stunning locations and breath-taking stunts add to this roller coaster of a film for which (unlike Drive) the trailer was a pitch-perfect teaser of what was to come.

It’s not spoiling anything to say that the main sequence in the film for full-on wow factor involves Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt swinging around the outside of the Burj Khalifa Hotel in Dubai, and the thrill is only added to by the knowledge that Cruise did the stunts himself. The rest of the film is hardly action-shy; beginning with a spectacular prison-break sequence in which the movie’s tone is set – breath-taking action leavened by just the right amount of comic-relief by Simon Pegg’s Benji, building on the work he started in MI:3. The Kremlin sequence is brilliant – for the technology involved more than anything, and the beautiful buildings and architecture add a fresh feel for being as-yet little used in big, mainstream blockbusters.

Perhaps the only bum-note in Ghost Protocol is that the central premise – unhinged weapons genius threatening nuclear holocaust – has been so done-to-death that to be honest as a threat to world safety it barely raises a shiver. Been there, seen it before – everyone knows that the world is not going to be evaporated. For all its cliched unoriginality, the sight of a missile speeding towards the Earth is still enough to make you grip the armrests of the cinema seat and mutter “come on, come on” as the IMF agents obviously race to the last second to stop it. The rest of Ghost Protocol more than makes up for the unimaginative plot – if the story is uninventive then the way it is told certainly is not, and the pace is so enjoyably relentless that you won’t have time to evaluate the originality of the storyline.

The other IMF team members get more of a look-in in this installment, new agent Jane (Paula Patton) is satisfyingly hard-core, and Benji’s greater involvement can only be a good thing. Jeremy Renner’s Brandt is surprising as the unknown quantity, and Renner did “agent with a troubled back-story” very well, injecting the role with a warmth that I didn’t expect from him. He also showed himself more than capable of handling the action, sharing some of the fight-scenes with Cruise. There was a definite sense of a “team” working together, which made the film less of a Cruise/Ethan Hunt vehicle and more of a dynamic ensemble piece.

Over all, Ghost Protocol proves that the Mission Impossible franchise is far from dead. Brad Bird strikes it neatly between the corny tongue-in-cheek humour of pre-Craig era Bond, and the all out action of Bourne and hits something pretty much perfect. A must for cinema viewing, preferably at an IMAX, Ghost Protocol is thoroughly enjoyable and leaves you looking forward to the next mission.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Sequels are often more miss than hit, taking characters and stories that absolutely shone in the first installment, and degrading them with a shoddy, half-hearted attempt at a follow up to bring in a few more million at the box office.

Happily, this is not the case with A Game of Shadows.

The film wastes no time dropping audiences straight into the action, re-introducing familiar characters such as Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) and a poorly-disguised Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.). The much-anticipated Moriarty (Jared Harris at his silken-voiced villainous best) is also revealed early on, thus confirming (in case there was someone on the planet who didn’t know) who Holmes’ nemesis was to be this time around.

The story picks up a little while after the ending of the first film – there is the sense that Watson and Holmes have been apart whilst Watson prepares to be married, and Holmes retreats into his own brand of genius/insanity as he follows the seemingly random chains of events that lead him to Moriarty. There’s no attempt at character-growth for Holmes or really Watson – which is a blessing, as each so perfectly encapsulated the roles the first time around, that to change them would be to stop them being Holmes and Watson and then really, what would be the point?

For all its familiarity and similarity to the first film, A Game of Shadows is no Hangover 2. Everything that was excellent about the first film it keeps, and applies it to the new adventure, the new mystery and new threats. Racing from London to Paris, from gypsy camps to anarchists’ headquarters to peace summits in Swiss castles, the scenery and set pieces are breath-taking. The visual effects experimented with in the first film are expanded upon and used with much greater effect – particularly in the headlong rush through the forest, where the camera flits from bullet-eye-views to the fleeing Holmes and gang, to the gunners and the relentless pursuit of Moriarty’s right-hand man Colonel Sebastian Moran (Paul Anderson).

A Game of Shadows is filled with all the suspense, mystery and action that one could wish for, as well as an almost steampunk sense of irreverence and fun in Holmes’ outlandish inventions and approach to things (urban camouflage?!). Moriarty is a fitting foil for Holmes, his Joker if you will, and their final confrontation manages to include one of the most threatening games of chess ever played (except outside of Hogwarts maybe). Difficult though it is to imagine, there is a clear sense that Holmes has met his match, and the audience waits desperately for him to pull some brilliant, left-field solution out of the bag. The ending is a true surprise, and perfectly rounds off the film. On seeing the confidence, brilliance and sheer fun with which Guy Ritchie and his team pulled off this sequel, a third installment to the Sherlock Holmes franchise would be very welcome indeed.