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SYFY WIRE Mission: Impossible

Ghost Protocol: The Mission: Impossible Movie That Broke the James Bond Barrier

Tom Cruise and the espionage squad go off-grid for one of the M:I franchise’s best films.

By Benjamin Bullard

Watching Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) spider-walk his way around the glassy outside of the towering Burj Khalifa might be the image that lingers the longest from Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol (now streaming on Peacock). But set against the more recent souped-up entries in the Cruise-fueled spy action franchise, Ghost Protocol remains one of the best Mission: Impossible films, in part because all of its high-wire set pieces hit with maximum impact — even more than 12 years after its late-2011 release.

In the directing hands of Disney-bred animation guru Brad Bird, Ghost Protocol crossed an invisible thematic threshold for the M:I movies. The fourth entry in the spy series also marked Bird’s first foray into directing live action, having already aced the animation game at the helm of The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille.

For More on Mission: Impossible:
The First 3 Mission: Impossible Movies Still Make for a Darn Good Trilogy
Why The First Mission: Impossible Movie Still Holds Up
All The Mission: Impossible Movies Ranked

Why Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol Still Haunts After More than a Decade   

Bird’s directing eye for visual storytelling breathed new life into Ethan’s ongoing exploits as the IMF’s best asset, as Ghost Protocol gave Cruise and series newcomer Jeremy Renner (as guilt-haunted ex-Agent William Brandt) plenty of screen space to tease out the tension. In one well-plotted suspense sequence after another (Ethan’s infiltrating the Kremlin as a Russian general! Brandt’s levitating across the corridors of an industrial-scale server room!), Ghost Protocol stacked each new spectacular action idea on top of the last, while mixing in new story wrinkles (Ethan’s wife is still alive!) that continue to reverberate through the current series’ larger storyline.

Of course, there’s an element of implausible grandeur to Ghost Protocol’s super-serious world-in-the-balance plot, but the audacity of pitching the stakes at the level of all-out nuclear war turns out to be one of the movie’s most endearing features. That’s because writers Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec (who also partnered on 2014’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and its 2016 sequel) find plenty of subtly funny ways to keep the big-ness of it all from feeling overwhelming. Their welcome injection of comic relief is hard to miss, whether it’s giving franchise mainstay Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) oodles of low-key silly sight gags that riff on the zaniness of all his Bond-esque tech gadgetry, or letting Jane Carter (Paula Patton) turn the tables on a smarmy would-be romantic pursuer at just the right do-or-die moment.

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) saves a briefcase from falling off a ledge in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011).

More than any of its predecessors, Ghost Protocol struck that sweet balance between full-throttle action (complete with hair-raising stunt work that heavily involved Cruise and his castmates) and lighthearted ensemble humor. It’s a combo that subsequent M:I movies have been trying, with varying success, to duplicate ever since, but it was never better than here. Ghosted by their own government and left to fend for themselves, Ethan and the IMF gang seemed to truly nail the same basic blockbuster blueprint that’s long made the Jame Bond espionage-verse tick — and arguably for the first time in the franchise. In the process, Ghost Protocol at last established Cruise’s Mission: Impossible movies as truly worthy American complements to their suave, sexy, and even satisfyingly silly MI6 cinematic colleagues from across the pond.

Sure, we’d have welcomed more of Ving Rhames’ Luther Stickell than we got (he only appears late in the game in this installment), and the movie’s pace does tend to sag ever so slightly across its final act. But when you tally up all the Mission: Impossible films to date, it’s tough not to throw your support behind Ghost Protocol as one of the best. After all, it takes a special kind of spy team to watch the Kremlin explode and then singlehandedly halt the ensuing countdown toward nuclear armageddon… and to do it while cracking a smile or two along the way.

Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol is streaming on Peacock.