Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol - Tom Cruise
Agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) scales the world's tallest building to thwart a madman bent on global destruction © 2011 Paramount Pictures

Pictured above: Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol – Agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) scales the world’s tallest building to thwart a madman bent on global destruction © 2011 Paramount Pictures

Like the elaborately complex capers of the Impossible Missions Force itself, nearly everything in this fourth installment of the Mission: Impossible film franchise works like clockwork — and the occasional parts that go wrong turn out to be insignificant to the big picture.

Agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is after nuclear bomb launch codes stolen by ideologically inspired madman Kurt Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist), whose codename is Cobalt. Complicating Hunt’s task is the fact that he has been set up to take the blame for bombing the Kremlin, from whence Cobalt snatched said codes. Branded an international terrorist, Hunt has to redeem his reputation — and save the world — without any backup from the US government, which officially has shut down the IMF.

Cruise’s characteristic focus and intensity, which can make the actor seem slightly less (or maybe more) than human in films where he’s supposed to be portraying regular joes, serves him well as the fearless, efficient and unstoppable agent Hunt. Cruise looks a little older and more world-weary than usual here, but that also fits, considering the fate that has befallen Hunt’s wife since the last movie.

Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol - Paula Patton and Tom Cruise
Agents Jane Carter (Paula Patton) and Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) chase a killer codenamed Cobalt from Russia to Dubai to India © 2011 Paramount Pictures

Hunt’s team this time is reduced to fellow field agents Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg, upgraded from his tech support role in Mission: Impossible III) and Jane Carter (Paula Patton), with William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) along as an intelligence analyst who gets caught up in the chaos.

Director Brad Bird, who previously helmed the line-animated The Iron Giant and Pixar’s CGI The Incredibles and Ratatouille, turns out to be equally imaginative and creative on his first live-action feature. Hunt’s stratospheric exploits climbing, running down and swinging around the outside of the world’s tallest skyscraper are breathtaking, and include a hilarious two-word punchline. A high-speed chase through a blinding sandstorm is as exciting as it is eerie. And a desperate back-and-forth struggle for possession of a metal suitcase in a shifting-platform high-rise garage is as deliriously complicated as the automated baggage-handling scene in Toy Story 2 — but with a considerably more brutal outcome.

The screenplay by Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec seldom slows down, racing from Hungary to Russia to Dubai to India. The always likable Pegg provides just the right amount of comic relief, and Patton is a long cool woman who refreshingly stays out of damsel distress. Renner occasionally seems like an odd fit, but his character has an unexpectedly good reason for feeling awkward.

The IMAX scenes are sharp, big and beautiful, but be aware that the entire movie was not shot in that massive floor-to-ceiling format. Like The Dark Knight, the film switches between huge square-frame IMAX scenes (typically outdoor cityscapes and such) and a more conventional widescreen presentation.

The movie’s minor flaws include a silly bit featuring Anil Kapoor (Slumdog Millionaire) as a horny Indian billionaire, ridiculously easy-to-negotiate traffic in a crosstown Mumbai race against time and the strange failure of anyone outside or inside the Dubai skyscraper to notice agent Hunt’s Spider-Man act. And as with any Mission: Impossible adventure, it’s hard not to think the agents’ task could be accomplished a lot sooner with a single well-placed bullet.

Even taking those quibbles into account, this movie delivers so well on the core requirements of an action-adventure popcorn flick that it’s impossible not to give it a hearty “mission accomplished.”

[Rating: 4 stars]

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol is being released exclusively in IMAX theaters on December 16, and in other theaters December 21, 2011.

James Dawson

Jim is Film Review Online's Los Angeles based reviewer.