After an agent (Josh Holloway) of the I.M.F. - The Impossible Mission Force - is killed in the field, it alerts the authorities that there is more to this than meets the eye, as the agent was intended to pick up a vital file that is now in enemy hands. Meanwhile, another mission is being undertaken to spring another agent, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), from a Russian jail, and the members of the team who saw the agent die are the ones attending to this: computer expert Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and another field operative, Jane Carter (Paula Patton). But getting Ethan out of a manufactured prison riot will be small potatoes compared to the mess they are all about to find themselves in...
Although they made a lot of money and recruited some talented people to support Cruise, the Mission: Impossible films always felt underwhelming, as if all that sound and fury about civilisation as we know it being under threat from a shadowy organisation was rather ho-hum when it came to the great scheme of things, and none of them saw those involved in their production operating at their best, indeed Mission: Impossible 2 could be counted as the most boring film of John Woo's career. Nevertheless, there was more of a buzz about Ghost Protocol than the others among movie buffs, at least since the first, Brian de Palma-directed one.
That was down to the man behind the camera, Brad Bird, here making his live action debut after a career in animation. One could look to The Incredibles to see how he could ably manage action adventure with computer graphics, but how would he cope with real actors performing the scenes? The answer to that was that he approached this as if those actors were cartoon characters themselves, which turned out to be an inspired method of handling Cruise, never the star with the most range, so to offer him material which cheerily allowed him to be two-dimensional in the confines of a blockbusting action flick was very clever. Not that Ethan was like a Pixar character, he was more Hanna Barbera.
Imagine Ethan as Fred from Scooby-Doo, leading his team through the ups and downs of a plot under slavish regard for the importance of its setpieces, and you'll have some idea of how well Bird attained what could easily be described as the best in the series. Which might not have been saying much, but he and producer J.J. Abrams did appear to recognise M:I was not necessarily a copy of James Bond, as it was more the sort of starry heist movie which had become popular in the sixties, so each of those setpieces followed those rules. Imagine this as a continuation of the Ocean's Eleven series and you had a decent idea of where they were coming from, and what you had in store.
Actually, the best part of Ghost Protocol turned out to be a lavish advertisement for the tallest hotel in the world, a certain towering structure in Dubai which Cruise could climb up the outside of (and fall off the outside of, for that matter) to general vertiginous admiration of the audience. Wisely, the narrative was kept simple, so what Hunt and his team are looking for is the launch codes for Russian nuclear weapons, why, if the bad guy (Michael Nyqvist) gets his hands on those it could spell World War III! Unfortunately, even with that threat there's no weight to the peril we see, as it could not have been more glib if it had been a comedy (and unforgivably the facetious comic relief of Pegg isn't offered any funny lines), leaving a lot of impressive management of the action and you not caring a jot about any of them. So if it was soulless, there were compensations in it illustrating the potential for such empty experiences: you had to admire the professionalism, if nothing else. Music by Michael Giacchino (always a thankless task when everyone just wants to hear the Lalo Schifrin theme).