Attention, Pirates of the Caribbean (and others), let Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol serve as an example that it is actually possible for an action/adventure franchise to improve with age. After two ho-hum adventures in the 90s, the Tom Cruise-led spy series went into hibernation, only to re-emerge in 2006 in the surprisingly rousing Mission Impossible 3, directed by J.J. Abrams. Now, almost six years later, the series has another entry, this time under the direction of Pixar alum Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille), and though it lacks the fine-tuned kineticism of Abrams' film, it still stands as an improvement over the first two films in the MI canon.
Opening an indeterminate amount of time after the Abrams film, Ghost Protocol finds Cruise's Ethan Hunt in a Serbian prison, while team mates Benji and Jane (Simon Pegg, returning, and Paula Patton, new) have just been struck by failure and tragedy in Budapest. After reconnecting, the group finds themselves blamed for an attack in Russia, resulting in the shut down of their organization, leaving the team with limited connections. At the same time, they must find a way to stop a nefarious terrorist (but really, is there any other kind?) from acquiring the launch codes to all of Russia's nuclear missiles.
When it comes to plot, Ghost Protocol is easily at its weakest. The opening of the story proper involves Hunt's team breaking him out of prison, and the feeling of the whole sequence lacks a sense of drive. By the time the narrative chessboard is properly sorted out and ready for play, it feels like too much time has been wasted on a plot that's not as complex as the runtime (2 hrs 15 min) would have you believe. All it does it tie back into a surprisingly important subplot that allows for the film's ending. On whole, it feels contrived, and not necessarily well-earned. Thankfully, the middle section of Bird's film is where everything actually comes together.
The Russian-set scenes are fun, and there's some decent humor drawn out of a clever device that Ethan and Benji use while infiltrating the Kremlin. But where the film finally hits its stride is in Dubai, with a massive string a set pieces and fight scenes staged in and around the Burj Dubai, aka the world's tallest building. When Hunt climbs out to scale the glass and steel exterior and the camera (on a crane) follows him out and hangs in the air, it's difficult not to tighten your grip on your armrests. And even when the Dubai scenes finally come to a climax set on the city streets during a sandstorm, the action still engages, despite the silliness of the set-up.
But Cruise isn't the only star. Pegg's Benji, previously used as Hunt's back up back at HQ, finally gets to play both sides of the field. Meanwhile, Paula Patton's Jane Carter adds some much-needed female punch to the proceedings, and emerges as one of the film's highlights. Last is Jeremy Renner as Brandt, an analyst with a (possibly) hidden agenda, who gradually gets his own moments to shine. If the film's conclusion is a little drawn-out, then, at least it's plenty of fun to watch. It may not match the previous film, but Ghost Protocol stands as proof that being an old franchise and being an outdated franchise aren't traits that have to walk hand in hand.