While Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol offers us Tom Cruise dangling off the side of the world's tallest building in Dubai, a couple of questions dangle over this fourth movie in the 16-year-old franchise. Is Cruise, now pushing 50 and carrying some negative PR baggage, still convincing as a physically indestructible action star? Can Brad Bird, the superb animation director ( Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille), deliver in a live-action film?
The answer to the first question is yes. Cruise, looking buff but no longer boyish, holds back on the smiley emoting for a mostly grim physical performance, in which his body gets repeatedly pulverized before quickly recovering. The answer to the second question is mixed. Though Bird and his team have designed a series of hyper-slick action sequences, the overly long story (132 minutes) moves in fits and starts around a musty Cold War plot straight out of a vintage James Bond movie.
Though low on originality, Bird's film has plenty of visual pop, especially in the big-screen Imax format. Particularly strong is the long, almost dialogue-free opening sequence in which we see agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise) breaking out of a Moscow jail. He's assisted by computer hacking from Hunt's comic sidekick, Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and underground drilling from his other colleague, Jane Carter (Paula Patton), all set to Dean Martin's Ain't That a Kick in the Head.
That scene is quickly followed by another equally well-crafted caper, in which Hunt and Benji impersonate Russian generals and employ a nifty holographic cloaking device while trying to retrieve a file. The file is on Kurt Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist), a whacko Russian physicist who believes a nuclear holocaust is just the tonic our planet needs, and as a taste of things to come, he arranges to blow up a good chunk of the Kremlin.
Hunt's boss (Tom Wilkinson) tells him that the Impossible Mission Force is being blamed for the attack and is now officially disbanded, although unofficially it's assigned to stop Hendricks. A four-member team – Hunt, Jane, Benji and a new addition, analyst William Brandt ( The Hurt Locker's Jeremy Renner) – is left to save the world.
First stop is Dubai, where the team members impersonate both parties involved in a nuclear-codes-for-diamonds swap between Hendricks and a pouty French assassin (Léa Seydoux).
Dubai provides the backdrop for the movie's signature stunt: Hunt, using suction gloves, climbs the glass sides of the Burj Khalifa tower, 123 floors above the ground, to break into the hotel's computer room. The sequence is deliriously dizzying, though slightly undermined by contrived hazards, including a failed suction glove and an impending sandstorm.
After that literal high-point, the movie rolls on, with more clever but increasingly repetitive action sequences that entertain, but drain the film of any credible sense of jeopardy. Moving to Mumbai, in a de rigueur party scene, Jane dons a revealing gown to seduce a media tycoon ( Slumdog Millionaire's Anil Kapoor) and steal his satellite access codes, while Hunt runs around in a tuxedo speaking into a headset while eyeing Carter's weapons of mass distraction.
Also notable is a concluding cat-and-mouse chase in a high-rise parking garage, with elevators going up and down like a Super Mario game. That may raise the dander of People for the Ethical Treatment of BMWs, but the rest of us are reduced to watching in glazed stupefaction at this big, shiny, ever-moving toy of a movie.
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol opens in select Imax theatres on Friday, and opens wide on Dec. 21.
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
- Directed by Brad Bird
- Written by Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec
- Starring Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton and Simon Pegg
- Classification: PG