If Tom Cruise ever felt he lost out on playing James Bond due to his height or the lack of a British accent, the Mission: Impossible movie franchise more than makes up for it. Based on the 1960s and 1970s television series of the same name, these espionage-themed flicks feature producer/lead actor Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt, a secret agent with IMF (the fictitious Impossible Missions Force, not the International Monetary Fund).

 

Expect loads of action, sleuthing, gadgetry and exotic locales, once again, in the fourth Mission: Impossible film, Ghost Protocol (133 minutes, opening December 15, 2011). It holds interest not only as a vehicle to return Cruise as foremost action hero after last year’s misstep, Knight and Day, it’s also the first non-animated feature directed by Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles). From Ethan’s jail break in Moscow to a daring infiltration of the Kremlin, Bird exerts a strong grip on action sequences like an old hand, delivering elaborate stunts with eye-popping visuals, electrifying fluidity and tightly-wound suspense.

 

This time, the world is in danger of nuclear annihilation. With the entire IMF disavowed by the US government (invoking the so-called “Ghost Protocol”) after Russia blames the US for destroying the Kremlin, Ethan has to conduct a perilous mission without backroom support to intercept launch code that may spark World War III. Watching the highlight sequence of our hero scaling the world’s tallest building, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, on IMAX best brings out the fear of height, as you feel like you’re perched precariously in mid-air. The ensuing car chase, set in a sandstorm, lends another touch of novelty.

 

The story then moves on to Mumbai, where Ethan and his gang (played by Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg and Paula Patton) continue to pursue the main villain, a Russian nuclear strategist named Kurt Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist from the Swedish film adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). By comparison to the Dubai sequence, this segment feels like Bird’s bag of tricks has run out of steam. The seduction by IMF agent Jane Carter (Patton) of an Indian telecom magnate (Anil Kapoor), to obtain the override code of a satellite that Kurt is intending to use to transmit missile-firing signals, is awkward and offers nothing new from what you’ve seen in past movies.

 

If you wish to appreciate Nyqvist’s acclaimed acting, check out his Swedish filmography as this Hollywood role is not his best example. I was also expecting a darker twist to Renner’s character, but at least he provides a worthy sparring partner to Cruise in the acting department. Like Daniel Craig’s Bond in his two 007 outings, Cruise’s Ethan Hunt character is a brooding action hero with enough dark secrets and past pains in his life to make this stylish action-adventure go much further than flashy set pieces.

- Dexter Yong