By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin December 16, 2011 at 1:00AM
Unlike most movie series, this one has actually improved with each new installment since its debut in 1996; the last one, directed by J.J. Abrams, reinvigorated the concept, while this fourth entry—which the studio seems to want to downplay as a Mission: Impossible film, given the tiny typeface they’re using in its ads—is the best yet, a breathtaking, globe-trotting action yarn that pulls out all the stops.
Character development is not the movie’s strong suit. One simply has to accept that Tom Cruise is the leader of a team of deep-cover agents who’ve been cut loose from the government and have to survive on their own. Simon Pegg returns, from the last film, to provide welcome comedy relief as the unit’s high-tech specialist, while Paula Patton is the requisite female agent. They’re joined by Jeremy Renner as a man with a mysterious past who is quickly adopted as one of the team.
Why are these agents hopping around the world, from Russia to Dubai to Mumbai? I can’t really tell you, but screenwriters Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec manage to inject the necessary urgency into each twist and turn of the plot, in the interest of keeping the IMF team on the go. The script is more-or-less a clothesline on which to hang a series of large-scale action set-pieces. That it works as well as it does is a tribute to the consistent pace set by director Brad Bird, the exceptional staging of those segments, and the commitment of his actors.
Tom Cruise is as watchable as ever, and proves to be nearly as indestructible as the Terminator in the slam-bang action scenes. They’re just believable enough to keep us hooked, especially since the film doesn’t pretend to be anything more than pure escapism.
As an animation buff, I can’t pretend I’m not sorry to see the talented Brad Bird—the man who gave us The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille—devoting himself to a live-action film that any number of other people could have piloted. But I have to give him credit for making the most of this opportunity and scoring an absolute bull’s-eye. He’s brought along at least one of his Pixar colleagues, composer Michael Giacchino, who makes great use of Lalo Schifrin’s original Mission: Impossible theme and builds a lively score on top of it.
If you crave action and don’t demand very much in the way of subtext, I think you’ll have a great time with Ghost Protocol. (I sat a little too close to the IMAX screen and was almost overwhelmed by the experience; if it had been in 3-D my head might have exploded.)