I know Tom Cruise likes doing his own stunts, but that couldn’t have been him hanging off the side of Dubai’s Khalifa Tower—the tallest building on earth, standing at 2,723 feet. Halfway through Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol, Cruise’s Ethan Hunt, the leader of an elite spy unit called IMF, spider crawls up the side of the massive edifice with merely gripped boots and some faulty suction gloves for assistance. Only a mile away, a stand storm portentously forms on the horizon.
On an IMAX screen, that sequence—complete with a bird’s eye camera tilt that showcases Hunt’s vertiginous, mile-high POV—is one of the most exhilarating sequences of the entire year. The fourth film in Tom Cruise’s successful franchise based on the famous television show, Ghost Protocol is one of the only top-notch action movies of 2011—not because its story or set pieces are anything particularly brilliant, but simply because it has a story and good set pieces, and, for once, they actually seem to fit logically together. That’s more than I can say for that 2½-hour robot and car commercial called Transformers.
Directed by Pixar and Simpsons’ alum Brad Bird, the movie is instilled with much of the same adventurous and spirited methodology of his animated picaresque The Incredibles: from the highly imaginative opening credit sequence—in which a lit bomb fuse zigzags mercurially across the screen—to the plethora of futuristic gadgets Hunt has available for any precarious situation. Composer Michael Giacchino (who also did the music for Bird’s Pixar movies) interweaves the famous opening notes of the Mission: Impossible theme with The Incredibles’ blaring horn section for a truly rousing spy score.
The plot supporting all the pageantry is a serviceable Bond rehash: a madman steals nuclear launch codes from the Kremlin so he can instigate global war by firing on the United States under the guise of Russian hostility. Ethan’s team—including the foxy Jane (Paula Patton), the tech guy Benji (Simon Pegg, displaying his crack comedic timing), and the mysterious analyst Brandt (Jeremy Renner)—must stop the launch, even though the Kremlin attack has been mistakenly blamed on them, leading the president to disavow their operations and Interpol to brand them international terrorists. The mission takes them from Moscow to Dubai to Mumbai, India. Each location has some new information to obtain, new people to kill, and a new BMW to drive around in.Behind the wheel of this spectacle, Tom Cruise, now 50, still has enough charisma and energy to keep it running smooth. And unlike Willis or Schwarzenegger, who always seemed to be both inside and outside their own movies, playing shamelessly to the audience, Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is a genuine man on a mission. There’s no irony in the performance; his focus and intensity injects the movie with pulsing adrenaline. In the movie, Hunt and his team are rogue agents; they must work under the radar and incognito. But it’s Tom Cruise, with a little help from his director and costars, who makes hanging one-handed off the side of the world’s tallest building look less meretricious than truly death-defying. Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol is an action movie without a net.