No plan. No backup. No choice. Agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his elite team (Jeremy Renner, The Avengers and Simon Pegg, Star Trek) go underground after a bombing of the Kremlin implicates the IMF as international terrorists. While trying to clear the agency's name, the team uncovers a plot to start a nuclear war. Now, to save the world, they must use every high-tech trick in the book. The mission has never been more real, more dangerous, or more impossible.
The second half of the first decade of the 21st century has been kind of tough for Tom Cruise. That's tough in a way over and above the hardship of living the legacy of one of history's top movie stars--a job more demanding than any mere mortal could imagine. But after two fruitful collaborations with Steven Spielberg (Minority Report and War of the Worlds), his stature took a beating from the one-two hits of those wacky PR gaffes and that string of relative box-office disappointments (Lions for Lambs, Valkyrie, Knight and Day), which seemed to start with the third installment of his Mission: Impossible franchise in 2006. It's hard to say with a straight face that taking in only $398 million worldwide is a disappointment, but it was a low for the series, which some later saw as a prelude to his potentially dimming stardom. But on the cusp of turning 50, it looks like Tom Cruise has put the licking behind him and entered a new phase of self-conception with an upcoming array of roles, starting with a more maturely controlled version of superspy Ethan Hunt in the sleek and supercharged Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol. The things Cruise has done right in M: I part four include toning down his youthful, arrogant preening and letting his castmates share more of the spotlight (Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton, and Simon Pegg all have some terrifically shiny moments). He also lets the unique creative vision of director Brad Bird shine through in a first live-action outing for the acclaimed helmer of Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille. Still looking much younger than his years (that hair! those pecs! those abs!), Cruise is playing more age-appropriately, letting a little wisdom and grace seep into his charisma so the wattage of his mere presence smolders a little deeper. It's a nice nod to a graying generation that says you can get older and still be cool. All that is not to say he doesn't play up his action-star chops to the max. In a mostly inconsequential narrative arc that has something to do with purloined nuclear launch codes, an important metal briefcase, satellite uplinks, and global annihilation that leaps from Moscow to Dubai to Mumbai, Cruise is as dangerously nimble as he has ever been. He dangles one-handed from the tallest building in the world, bounds off ledges, springs out of speeding vehicles, tumbles and careens up and down the levels of an automated parking garage, and generally sprints and jumps his way across the movie with only a scratch or bruise to show for it. Also on the outlandish upside is a happily stereotypical villain straight out of Connery-era Bond and as many bleeding-edge gadgets as the art department techno-geeks could dream up. A running gag is that many of these electronic fantasy tools fail at just the wrong moment, which is part of a larger wink acknowledging how utterly preposterous yet ingeniously conceived this behemoth of a movie really is. The gadgetry is not limited just to the miraculous props. Ghost Protocol employs CGI fakery of the highest order from the sub-industry of effects contractors that ratchet up the standard of computing power and software design, one-upping each successive action-adventure extravaganza. The loving detail that goes into blowing up the Kremlin or rendering a photo-realistic sandstorm erupting across the enhanced skyline of an Oz-like desert city is nothing short of miraculous. What's more astonishing is that Tom Cruise closes the deal with a selling power that's as new and improved as the laminates on his multi-million-dollar teeth. --Ted Fry