The supremely imaginative director of “The Incredibles” meets Hollywood’s most determined, career-committed star for the former’s live-action debut and the latter’s reboot of the spy-thrills franchise that keeps on giving as far as his career is concerned. (“Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” arrives none too soon either, with “Lions For Lambs,” “Valkyrie” and “Knight & Day” leaving an unpleasant pong since Tom Cruise accepted his last mission as Ethan Hunt for J.J. Abrams.) The only surprise would have been if “Mission Impossible 4” outright sucked, and it most definitely does not. Nor does it leave the giddy visceral impression you go in expectantly hoping to find.
Despite 30 minutes shot in IMAX (and try to catch it on one of the mega-screens to experience its full glory), “Ghost Protocol” isn’t going to inspire the adulatory worship of Brad Bird’s superb animated works. But his leap away from the fastidiously controlled cartoon universe can still be deemed an unqualified success. Meanwhile, Cruise reminds us that you can never keep a good film star down: he’s the coolest and most captivating he’s been on screen in what seems a very long while.
The script – written by “Alias” scribes Josh Applebaum and Andre Nemec – kicks off with a glorious prison-escape sequence, with Hunt sprung from Russian incarceration by techno-nerd Benji (Simon Pegg graduates to field agent, but mostly serves to furnish silly laughs) and kick-ass newbie Jane Carter (Paula Patton). This is followed by the team infiltrating the Kremlin with ridiculous ease, then getting the blame when it subsequently blows up. Cut loose by the US government, and acquiring Jeremy Renner’s systems analyst along the way, the hurled-together quartet globetrot from mittle-Europe to Dubai to India to unravel a puzzle-box mystery, clear their names and tie together threads left dangling from No. 3, such as what did happen to Ethan’s lovely bride (Michelle Monaghan).
A handsome international cast – including original “Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” star Michael Nyqvist as “MI-4″’s chief villain, a Swedish scientist with (ho-hum) nuclear armageddon ambitions – round out the espionage scenario and for at least part of the way, you’re thinking this might be Cruise’s best mission yet. For one thing, Bird has been given a bigger, brighter canvas to play with than De Palma and John Woo before him, and he folds dysfunctional team/family dynamics into the mix more ably than Abrams in “MI-3.” Patton’s revenge-fuelled through-line may be flimsy, but Renner is a robust addition and he’s duly granted some lively spy-game interaction with both Cruise and Pegg.
On the downside, although no one expects rationality in a franchise where agents regularly out-fox each other with latex masks, Bird’s approach still comes off as quaintly retro in a Bourne-again world. The frequent mano-a-mano scraps are edited in such a frantic blur, it looks like he just lost patience and wished he had his computer back, while the physics-defying set-pieces – as awesome as they undoubtedly are – make Bond movies look like the modicum of restraint. Some appear better suited to “The Incredibles 2,” while most feel crowbarred into the plot. Does Hunt really need to scale the exterior of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, with the aid of super-cool sucker gloves? Not really, although it’s a breathtaking feat to observe. Is an impromptu sandstorm remotely believable? Again, no, but without it the film would be deprived of an exhilarating foot chase and, frankly, no star runs as majestically as Tom Cruise.
And there’s the crux – “Ghost Protocol” is more often than not a blast and, viewed in swooping IMAX majesty, it’s frequently ravishing and electrifying. If nothing else, it surely proves that Cruise’s penchant for allowing yet another strong-willed director to stamp their visual signature on his latest mission will keep us flocking to this franchise as long as he wants to keep it running.