GENRE: Transcontinental spy-jinks
THE PITCH: Superspy Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his latest IMF team must go rogue to stop a nuclear terrorist bent on launching World War III. But is new addition William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) the inexperienced desk jockey he appears to be?
MOTHER OF ALL MONEY SHOTS: Ethan scales the exterior of the world's tallest building, Dubai's Burj Khalifa tower, taking one vertigo-inducing risk after another.
OTHER MONEY SHOTS: Where to start? In the opening seconds, "Lost's" Josh Holloway steps off a building, turns and shoots two bad guys while falling. Ethan fights his way out of a riot in a Russian prison. The Kremlin explodes with a rippling concussion. Hot Agent Carter (Paula Patton) has a great girlfight with a French assassin. Cruise chases a bad guy as a horizon-filling sandstorm closes in behind him. Even the chase in the sandstorm is cool, and you can barely see anything.
BEST LINE (SERIOUS): "Failure to a terrorist is just a rehearsal for success," Ethan intones. The movie star plays the superagent as focused and occasionally pissy, which is good: Cruise is never more interesting than when he's not supposed to be likable.
BEST LINE (FUNNY): "We're going into the Kremlin," declares Ethan. "Ha! I thought you said the Kremlin!" replies an incredulous Benji (Simon Pegg), who deserves top billing for comic relief scenes that humanize the film.
WORST LINE: "The President has initiated Ghost Protocol," intones Tom Wilkinson as the Secretary, the secret boss of the IMF. (I like to think that he's playing the Secretary of Education.)
PRODUCT PLACEMENT: Cruise and company show up at a fancy Mumbai party driving a BMW Vision EfficientDynamics hybrid concept car, which looks like a cross between a DeLorean and one of Cruise's futuremobiles from Minority Report.
BEST GADGETS: Benji gives Ethan these neat-o gloves that allow him to climb walls, but prove alarmingly glitchy. Ethan and Benji sneak down a Kremlin corridor using a big screen and a camera that projects a perfect simulation of the hallway.
SOUNDTRACK HIGHLIGHT: Dean Martin's "Ain't That a Kick in the Head" provides a swingin' accompaniment to a big caper.
INSIDE JOKES: Brandt wears a gravity-defying magnet suit for a stunt reminiscent of Ethan's CIA break-in from the first movie. Lines like "Light the fuse!" wink at the franchise's history. Ethan's access code A113 refers to a CalArts classroom and frequently turns up in Pixar films. Incidentally, Pegg imitated Cruise's "Ethan Hunt run" in the film Hot Fuzz.
BETTER THAN THE PRIOR MISSIONS? Kind of, yeah. The previous film, directed by J.J. Abrams, has the best script, the best villain in Philip Seymour Hoffman and the richest emotional content. But Ghost Protocol, the live-action film debut of Pixar director Brad Bird, boasts the most spectacular, effective set pieces — and they look really good in IMAX projection.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Apart from the unnecessary coda, which contains cameos and ties off loose ends that we didn't really care about, Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol accomplishes its mission as an awesomeness delivery system. Ghost Protocol sets up a Cruise-free future franchise anchored by Renner's character, but Pegg might be an even more entertaining lead.