'Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol'
(Tom Cruise, Paula Patton, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, Michael Nyqvist, et al / PG-13 / 121 mins)
Overview: The Kremlin has been bombed, and the blame has fallen on the IMF. As a result, the president initiates Ghost Protocol, and accuses Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team of placing the bomb in an attempt to incite a global nuclear war.
Verdict: What makes Tom Cruise run — run harder and run faster, leaping from one building and dangling off another, the world’s tallest — as he does to exhausting, unnerving effect in “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol,” his latest exercise in extreme performance.
The fourth in the franchise, this “Mission” has a solid cast, including a notable new co-star in Jeremy Renner; a new director, Brad Bird; and a story that’s as nonsensical as any in the series. Mostly, though, it has Mr. Cruise hurtling through the movie as if his life depended on it, which, to judge by the hard line of his jaw, his punishingly fit body and the will etched into his every movement, may be what’s at stake.
It’s fitting that Mr. Bird, the director of the Pixar movies “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille,” has taken over the reins of the franchise for his live-action directing debut. The “Mission: Impossible” movies belong to that outlandish, sometimes cartoonish class of action adventures in which lesser, Bond-like heroes walk or race from fiery explosions in between locking and loading, kissing and killing, and killing some more.
Ethan, after being broken out of a Moscow prison, where he had been idling among hordes of bull-necked Ivans and Igors, sets off on another mission with an old teammate, the tech whiz Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), and the obligatory pretty lady, Agent Jane Carter (Paula Patton). The mission goes bust and boom, as does a debriefing with Ethan’s boss (Tom Wilkinson, uncredited), whose murder finds Ethan and his team blackballed (if still sleuthing) and keeping company with an intelligence analyst, William Brandt (Jeremy Renner).
Renner, who played the main bomb specialist in “The Hurt Locker,” eases effortlessly into the blockbuster register, where star charisma and presence like Mr. Cruise’s matter more than emotionally selling a scene. Renner has to do some actual acting because of the role (surprise: there’s more to Brandt than a suit), and his low-key performance is a dividend in a movie in which almost all human interactions take exaggerated form, with more throttling than talking, or so it seems. Renner isn’t an obvious action type — he’s good-looking rather than roguish or boyishly pretty — but as soon as he rolls up his sleeves and picks up a gun, it’s obvious that he’s qualified for the job.
Unexpectedly, though, his age and inescapable gravitas work for “Ghost Protocol,” partly because they invest the outrageous stunts with a real sense of risk. Cruise’s primary job in the “Mission” series is to embody a not-quite-ordinary man whose powers are at once extraordinary and completely believable, a no-sweat feat in the first few films.