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Tom Cruise is fast. The 49-year-old actor of “Top Gun” and “Minority Report” fame demonstrates his incredible athleticism while running like there’s no tomorrow through the tourist-packed streets of Moscow, the sandstorm blasted byways of Dubai and the perpetually congested alleys of Mumbai in “Mission Impossible — Ghost Protocol.”
The globetrotting fourth installment in the series based on the 1960s television show features a fit Cruise, reprising his role as Agent Ethan Hunt, dashing across the globe with a special team of fellow IMF agents to stop a psychotic Russian nuclear strategist (Michael Nyqvist) from pushing former Cold War enemies Russia and the United States to nuclear war.
Brad Bird, director of Pixar-animated hits “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille,” makes his live-action directorial debut with this stunningly creative and impossibly entertaining film that is by far the best in the series. Bird brings a revitalizing spark of life to the otherwise lifeless series, and he certainly puts his actors through the paces.
Cruise’s character in particular seems to spend the majority of his screen time chasing after the quasi-simplistic bad guys, but this is perhaps emblematic of the entire film, which, coincidentally, consists of his team pursuing its enemies while avoiding capture from Russians insistent on blaming Hunt for the bombing of the Kremlin.
Hunt, in typical “Mission Impossible” style, has been framed for the attack and must work to clear his name while stopping Armageddon. He is assisted by series newcomer Jeremy Renner, whose breakout performance and character depth prove to be one of the most compelling components of the film; the wisecracking Simon Pegg, returning as a technical field agent who repetitively breaks the ice in otherwise tense scenes; and the beautiful Paula Patton, who fleetingly serves as a romantic tease for Hunt and is his most dependable companion.
The characters had a surprising level of depth for such a glossy and entertaining film, something that is an improvement over previous installments in the series. But the real stars of the movie were the incredible gadgets and the exotic locales.
The gadgets, as in all “Mission Impossible” films, feature prominently in their uniqueness and practicality for the moment, even though most are highly impractical. One device, utilized fairly early in the film, consists of a deployable cushion for agents leaping from rooftops. While interesting, the device proved simply convenient and seems to have been created merely for the purpose of demonstrating possible but improbable technology.
The settings themselves prove to be breathtaking in the IMAX format, particularly the sweeping shots above the golden dunes of Dubai and the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the entire world, which serves as a principle location for the film.
Rising like a modern Tower of Babel, the Burj Khalifa points skyward in a declaration of modernity and sophistication that contrasts remarkably with the packs of camels being herded through the streets. Some of the most jaw-dropping stunts of the film take place at the tower, stunts that had me leaning off the edge of my seat and gripping the arm rests. Cruise performs a death-defying high wire act that, while a familiar component of each of the “Mission Impossible” films, truly stands out in “Ghost Protocol” due to the massive height of the famed tower and Hunt’s fearlessness.
This fearlessness helps drive the entire movie, providing the catalyst for some of the most explosive scenes while also demonstrating Hunt’s single-minded determination to succeed even when the odds are stacked completely against him. In one scene Cruise and Patton’s characters are racing through the crowded streets of Mumbai to stop a nuclear ICBM. They are three and a half minutes away from their destination, but Cruise emphatically believes that he can prevent the nuke from going off in less than three minutes. That almost psychotic determination, while appealing at times, turns the film into a remarkable demonstration of mind over matter.
Hunt believes he can succeed and, thanks to his team and the tools it has been given, as well as an impressive amount of dumb luck, he is able to channel that belief into reality without a plan or backup. Perhaps in a nod to the audience for the overall implausibility of the film, the screenwriters actually include a scene in which Renner’s character remarks that what the team accomplished was largely a result of luck.
Whether or not this is the case, “Ghost Protocol” proves to be entertaining on a level that supersedes all expectations. That, however, was not because of luck but because of the remarkable fusion of ideas and acting, particularly from Cruise.
In an age where modern action film stars like Tom Hardy and Christian Bale bring realism to their roles, Cruise retains the can-do-ism of action stars of old while also a zest for entertainment that borderlines on cheesiness at times. This cheesiness becomes excessive in the final moments of the film, especially when the writers insert a pathetic wink to the audience that breaks the spell of realism previously embedded in the film, but otherwise proves to be remarkably entertaining.
And while Cruise spends much of the movie racing around the world, it’s his American bravado and instincts that, even against absurd odds, save the day and make this “Mission Impossible” a mission possible.