Shot in eye-widening IMAX, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (hereafter Mission: Impossible 4 for sanity’s sake) marks an impressive live-action debut for Brad Bird, who previously directed animated instant classics like The Iron Giant and The Incredibles. Tom Cruise stars as the head of a crew of off-the-map ultra-secret agents (newcomers Paula Patton and Jeremy Renner and a returning Simon Pegg) out to stop a nutbar with nukes and save the name of the Impossible Missions Force. Like a shark slipping by swift, sleek and silver-grey, Mission: Impossible 4 is so well-made and smooth you may need to see it more than once to truly appreciate its brains and nerves and blood. With Cruise’s star power—and a word-of-mouth “Wow!” factor that will make paying the IMAX premium less painful—Mission: Impossible 4 will earn more than enough rock-’em, sock-em let-me-entertain-you goodwill (and money, of course) to keep the fuse lit on this 15-year running franchise, now under the steady hand of producer J. J. Abrams.
If one thing elevates Mission: Impossible 4‘s script (written by TV veterans and Abrams-collaborators Josh Applebaum and André Nemec) it’s not the action or the set pieces—it’s the character moments and swift sense of humor. The Abrams-directed Mission: Impossible 3 was essentially and entertainingly a series of events that did not go as planned for Cruise’s super-spy Ethan Hunt. Mission: Impossible 4 continues that theme and tone—the Ian Fleming gadgets and John le Carre globe-trotting—and combines them with a weary, workplace sense of humor that wouldn’t be out of place on The Office. That is, if Michael Scott and his co-workers were a) good at their jobs and b) if their jobs involved shooting people.