Four is the magic number in the latest Mission: Impossible, and not just because it’s the fourth instalment in Tom Cruise’s Bond-aping spy franchise.
No, it’s also the number of protagonists in Brad Bird’s zippy caper, the Pixar dude having taken a cue from his own Incredibles in assigning his lead a surrogate family of secret-agent helpmates.
Given the lukewarm public reaction to Cruise’s recent solo vehicles, it makes sense to position people around him to pick up the slack – literally in the case of the film’s main set-piece, a vertiginous dangle outside Dubai’s Burj Khalifa.
And if the result means Cruise seems occasionally short-changed by his own production, it’s a price worth paying in a fast-paced, globe-trotting adventure that offers blasts, brawls and buildings of equally spectacular scale.
Bird sets the tone early with a Russian prison break that combines Dean Martin, a Great Escape gag and even a nod to Cruise’s height within one playful, pre-credits sequence.
Yet it also sets up Ethan Hunt’s new role within a slimmed-down IMF: that of testy, tutting leader, forever trying to keep his unruly charges (revenge-hungry Paula Patton, rebellious Jeremy Renner and gadget man Simon Pegg) under control.
In Bird’s eyes, getting this quartet to work together as a team after they’re disavowed in the wake of a billowing Kremlin explosion is at least as important as them foiling mad extremist Michael Nyqvist and his shapely blonde assassin (Léa Seydoux). But then this is a very different Mission to the ones that first revisited the 1960s TV series.
Its light, zesty touch is a marked contrast to the multiple treacheries of Brian De Palma’s franchise-starter (1996) and the slo-mo excesses of John Woo’s part two (2000).
Racing from Moscow to Mumbai via eye-catching stopovers in Budapest and the United Arab Emirates, Protocol only disappoints in failing to give Renner’s enigmatic ‘analyst’ Brandt a back story deserving of his initial air of mystery.
It’s a shame too that Pegg’s puppyish enthusiasm as Benji the techie isn’t always well served by the script, though he still scoops the best one-liners. And then there’s the surprise-strewn but somehow flat-footed coda to the all-action climax.
Still, these are minor niggles in a film that delivers two hours plus of thrilling blockbuster entertainment with a goofy grin on its face. Not only that, but it scores a first by staging a punch-up in an automated car park.
A few damp squibs aside, Bird’s sensibilities make for the most animated Mission to date. Don’t see in IMAX if you’re a vertigo sufferer, though…