Tom Cruise's wildly successful, 16 year-old franchise adds another terrific chapter to a pretty terrific series with entry number four, "Ghost Protocol," which finds our hero, Ethan Hunt (Cruise), blamed for the bombing of the Kremlin and subsequently disavowed by his own government. On his own and just barely a step ahead of vengeful Russians, Hunt and his small but loyal team set out to clear IMF's name and to stop a lunatic terrorist ("Girl with the Dragon Tattoo's" Michael Nyqvist) eager to start WW III with the launch of a Russian nuclear missile aimed at the United States.
"Ghost Protocol" not only made more box office then the previous installments and kept 2011's box office numbers from being a total calamity, but after six years in celebrity purgatory, Cruise seems to have finally shaken off the Oprah episode that many predicted would be the end of him.
The movie really is that good and Cruise really is that good in it. It's a pure movie star role, and even though he's surrounded with the charisma of Jeremy Renner and Simon Pegg, and the astonishing beauty and realistic toughness and vulnerability of Paula Patton, Cruise's star is never dimmed thanks to his natural presence in the quieter scenes and an impressive physicality whenever the action lights up (that's all Cruise climbing that mile-high building, no stunt double).
Much credit has to go to the script, though. The story is wonderfully simple, but there are a number of individual scenes that deliver all kinds of knock out blows. As realized and directed by Brad Bird ("The Incredibles"), these scenes and sequences represent some of the best in the series, most especially the middle portion involving a very tall building and a beautifully crafted and suspenseful exchange of nuclear codes and diamonds that leads to an exciting chase through a sand storm.
Renner is an excellent addition to the team. There's talk that he was cast as a possible franchise replacement for Cruise, but after this performance (on screen and at the box office) I'd wager Cruise will be around for a while longer. You might find this hard to believe, but Cruise will turn 50 this year. Like his hair, though, nothing in Cruise's performance shows even a hint of gray.
The film's only weak points are a climax that can't possibly live up to what came before and Pegg's bumbling character, Benji Dunn, who's the film's obvious and unnecessary comic relief. IMF is presented as the elite of all elite national security branches and it's simply absurd to have us believe that such a fool would ever be recruited, much less promoted to a field agent. You'll miss Ving Rhames.
Without having to say so (other than a nice shot of the Stars and Stripes near the end), "Ghost Protocol" is also the kind of old-fashioned patriotic action audiences everywhere are starving for. There's no irony, no anti-heroism -- just brave, selfless Americans doing what brave, selfless Americans does to protect their country and make the world a better place.
There's also a nice emotional arc that runs throughout that involves Renner's character and connects to the franchise's previous chapter. I don’t want to give too much away, but this narrative thread pays off beautifully at the story's end and in a way that says so much about the sacrifices made by the extraordinary men and women who quietly go about the business of protecting our way of life.
Brad Bird's non-animated feature debut is an action film triumph, and for Cruise, a welcome comeback.
Bring on number five.
"Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol" Arrives on Blu-ray and DVD tomorrow and is available for pre-order at Amazon.com.