Though he took his licks for his public insanity, Tom Cruise is now back as a movie star in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. But perhaps more exciting for film geeks is the launch of Brad Bird as a live-action director. The two work together to create a stunning action movie that’s lightweight but filled with all the great action one hopes for in an event film.

The Players:

The Plot:

When a Russian steals nuclear bomb codes and turns Ethan Hunt (Cruise) into a patsy for the bombing of the Kremlin, the Impossible Mission Force is shut down, and its agents go into “Ghost Protocol” mode. That means their actions are unsanctioned but they must work just the same. Hunt’s team this time is Jane (Patton), who just lost an agent in a recent mission; Benji (Pegg), who’s been upgraded to field agent, and Brandt (Renner) – who may not be what he appears. They’re trying to stop a madman who wants to detonate a lot of nuclear weapons with little time or resources.

The Good:

  • Action: The set pieces in this film are large scale and mostly practical. From an opening prison break to the justly revered Dubai building climb, to the end set piece in a car manufacturing plant, all the action beats are huge and impressive. Bird understands the action rhythms and – perhaps more importantly – how to complicate a big action sequence. When Cruise goes climbing on one of the biggest buildings in the world his electronic wall-climbing gloves don’t work as well as they should, and it takes an already intense sequence to the next level.
  • Imax: And Bird also understands how to use the Imax camera. When Cruise is up on that huge building in Dubai, it’s vertiginous.
  • Renner is not a mole: The Mission: Impossible films have often fallen back on the premise that there’s a rogue agent dealing secrets – it’s been the plot of the last three movies. Originally Jeremy Renner was set to take over the franchise, but when they reworked the script to keep Cruise on the team, it seemed like they could go that route again. Thankfully, he’s only just a little green in the field, which is mostly charming.
  • Professionalism: Though it’s also one of the weakest elements of the film (see below), what’s great about the film is it’s about a team of skilled professionals dealing with problems on the fly.

The Bad:

  • Ethan Hunt: Where James Bond and John McClane have interesting personalities, the main character here is a complete blank, and four pictures in, the only defining characteristics of Hunt are that he’s really good at his job, and he’s played by Tom Cruise. It’s the one thing that keeps this series from being great. And though the mole plotlines were worn out in the franchise, it at least gives the films personal stakes. For a film about the world possibly ending, there’s little weight to the proceedings, and so the set pieces impress but they don’t draw you in like they do when you really care about a character. Unfortunately everyone else has slightly more compelling reasons to be there.
  • Tom Cruise: Just shy of 50, Cruise is still trying to be the action star he was ten or twenty years ago. And though he’s a fine leading man, when he runs (and he runs a lot in this picture) or takes his shirt off, that age shows. At this point Cruise should really start moving into older man roles, because it’s starting to get gross.

Overall:

Even if the main character is kind of a stiff, the action sequences are spectacular enough to make this a must-see in the theaters. And if Brad Bird was using this to audition for other bigger things, he’s passed it.

Rating: 7.7/10

Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol opens everywhere December 21.

Photos:

Trailer: