Film Review: Mission: Impossible--Ghost Protocol

Fourth installment in the series returns to the basics as secret agent Ethan Hunt tries to prevent nuclear war.

A finely tuned action machine, Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol offers cutting-edge escapism that's almost guilt-free. Eschewing the personal relationships that bogged down the previous entry, MIGP starts fast and rarely lets up. Outstanding IMAX footage is a real plus for a project that looks to score big at the box office.

Opening scenes in Budapest set a blistering pace as Impossible Missions Force (IMF) agent Hanaway (Josh Holloway) tries to secure stolen nuclear launch codes from assassin Moreau (Léa Seydoux). The action hurtles through a train station, up onto a building roof, and then out into thin air, all with a satisfying grace and geographic logic. It's an indication of how deeply director Brad Bird (The Incredibles) has put his stamp on the material.
IMF agents Jane Carter (Paula Patton) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) next have to free Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) from a Russian prison in the middle of a riot. It's another expertly staged scene that guides viewers through multiple viewpoints under, over and through the teeming sets.

Hunt and his team are blamed for a subsequent explosion in Moscow, forcing the U.S. government to disavow the IMF—the dreaded "ghost protocol" that turns them into rogue agents. But Hunt, Carter and Dunn hold the team together to defeat a plan by the villainous Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist) to start a nuclear war. They are joined by William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), a supposed State Department aide who hides a dark past.

A long stretch set in Dubai may be the film's highlight. It includes a fierce chase through a sandstorm and a scene in which Cruise scales the outside of the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building. Even accounting for green screens and CGI, Cruise's commitment to his stuntwork is very impressive.

Plot details continue to whiz by as the team makes its way to India. Keeping up with what everything means isn't that important, as set-piece follows set-piece like clockwork. Some subplots drag a bit, including an unfortunate comic turn by Indian superstar Anil Kapoor along with some computer nonsense near the climax. And a little Simon Pegg goes a long way.

But overall, MIGP is admirably crisp and focused. The decision to limit Cruise's acting chores and to surround him with strong performers like Patton, Renner and the unbilled Tom Wilkinson helps considerably. What's more of a question is how the franchise will compete against the onslaught of Christmas releases. Here's where the visually stunning IMAX sequences (about a half-hour of material) might help: They add breathtaking scale to an already bigger-than-life adventure.