Oddly enough, Mission Impossible 4 was at least twice as good as Sherlock Holmes 2, despite having a title which was objectively a million times worse. Game of Shadows was stupid, but had something to do with what was going on. Ghost Protocol just sounded like a computer game. Probably one based on a Tom Clancy spin-off novel. I harp on this because if you've bothered hiring writers (an increasingly optional notion in Hollywood) you'd expect them to focus on getting the title just right. The title is, after all, the very first string of words that anyone who sees the movie is going to read or hear. It's the ne plus ultra of first impressions. You'd try to avoid something actively awful, at the very least?
As always, I'm wrong. As I get older, I've learned to tackle every problem by asking myself "What would I do here?" and when I've figured that out - not taking too much time over it - I may not know what's going on, but at least I know one thing which is certain not to happen. Despite having enough writers to get the movie to hang together between set pieces, and a director from Pixar, nobody involved in producing MI 4 thought it mattered in the slightest what they called it. I'm sure, if the question came up, it was laughed down "The TITLE? Don't be stupid. It's the new Tom Cruise movie. The new Mission Impossible! We could call it Mission Impossible: Telly Tubbies go Sodom, and people would still buy tickets. Bwahahahahaha." Or the like.
Mebbe. I was on my own in the Hidden City's fleapit deluxe, the only person in the whole rundown, dreary metropolis who thought it worth braving the elements to see Tom Cruise not quite get killed. Who knows? With a snappier title, I could have had company.
I quibble. Title to one side, it's a pretty enjoyable flick. Not great art, exactly, but Brad Bird understands the speed of plot. You can get away with some pretty stupid stuff if you just keep things moving fast enough that people don't have time to think "Hang on…." For about the first two thirds of MI4, things are motoring along so briskly that you never really have the leisure to ask what the heck is supposed to be going on. Afterwards - days afterwards in my case - you finally get the time to think "But why the jailbreak at all?" or "Why would the FSB shoot up the Secretary's car in the first place?", but while you're sitting there in the fleapit, at least up until the moment when the whole caravan lurches into Mumbai, there's no room for those little demons of doubt.
The big action centerpiece of the film is Tom Cruise climbing up the outside of the Burj al-Khalifa in Dubai. I expected to hate this, but it's absolutely terrific. The last couple of seconds of the whole thing are brilliantly done. it's halfway through the movie, you know Tom Cruise is not going to die no matter what, and even so, as he swings through the air trying to get back to safety; I was on the edge of my seat. I'm not quite sure what magic was done there, but Brad Bird somehow got suspense into something where it shouldn't have been possible.
Part of what makes it all work was one very simple trick; none of the technology works. All the gizmos which the MI team have used to dazzle us over the years break down, pack in, or just give up the ghost. They don't even get to do the rubber mask thing, because at a critical moment their rubber mask machine burns out. Everything has to be improvised. Just that one switch in approach is enough to make everything fresh - and come to think of it, it might have something to do with the relative flatness of the Mumbai section, where pretty much the toys do work about as well as they usually do. Of course, the corollary of toys not working is that actors have to, and Bird does OK there. Paula Patton hits her marks, Tom Cruise is predictably charming, and Simon Pegg and Jeremy Renner give the movie all the heart it needs. Watching Cruise and Renner together is fascinating; if you ever had to explain the difference between glib and clever, you could use their scenes together and probably save a lot of time. Rumour has it that Renner will be the lead in any MI 5, should have ever happen. Get Brad Bird in as well, and they can have my money, even if the title is even dumber.