As Tom Cruise scales the 828-meter-tall Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the tallest building in the world, we willingly suspend belief. After all, only in the movies or in dreams can one manage this stunt with nothing more than a pair of high-tech wall-climbing gloves. For that leap of faith, we’re rewarded with an absolutely insane death-defying sequence.

This is the blockbuster formula at its best – the same one that has kept the Mission: Impossible film series so immensely popular, the three prequels having the total earnings of over $1 billion to date: a combination of high-octane action and high-tech wizardry. And, arguably, this fourth installment is the best one yet, with its tightly wound plot and its action sequences taken up a notch.

Strangely enough, the director helming this is Brad Bird, the same guy behind Pixar’s animated winners such as Ratatouille and The Incredibles. As this 2-time Academy Award winner’s first attempt at a live action film would have us know, directorial talent transfers easily from one format to another. If anything, Bird’s exceptional creativity in working with animation has allowed him to stretch the concept of live-action sequences, creating fantastic, novel set pieces: from a foot chase in the middle of a sandstorm to a harrowing final fight in an automated parking garage.

In Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol the stakes are raised once again. Lead character, Ethan Hunt (Cruise), is incarcerated in a prison in Moscow for reasons unknown. The opening sequence shows a team of Impossible Mission Force (IMF) agents facilitating his escape, in comedic fashion.

What ensues is a mission to infiltrate the infamous Kremlin, to identify codename Cobalt, a man on the verge of inciting global nuclear war. However, Hunt and his team find themselves framed for the eventual bombing of the Kremlin, bringing American and Russian relations to levels of tensions only matched by the Cuban Missile Crisis of decades past. As the American government disavows all knowledge of the IMF team by initiating Ghost Protocol, the team is left without any support and has to use whatever resources available to find and stop Cobalt (a Russian nuclear extremist played by Michael Nyqvist).

On Hunt’s team are agents Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and Jane Carter (Paula Patton), and they provide much more than just assistance. Dunn’s the tech wizard – much like Q of the James Bond films and novels – and while he’s also the comic relief of the film with his relative inexperience, he plays an integral role as the all-important supplier of the nifty gadgets Hunt gets to use to successfully execute the mission. Patton, as Agent Carter, is a tough-as-nails agent with a thirst for vengeance after her previous partner is assassinated on a mission. Carter plays the role of femme fatale at one point, seducing an Indian playboy tycoon (Anil Kapoor) as part of the team’s strategy.

Also joining the team is the mysterious William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), a suit-and-tie IMF ‘analyst’ who hides a murky history.

While the rest of the cast gives good performances, Cruise is undoubtedly the big star of the movie here. He shows that age, at 49, hasn’t prevented him from daredevil stunts, doing his action scenes without the use of a stunt double and with minimal CGI – this impressive work ethic often results in spectacular scenes. Cruise also shows a wry sense of humour with some surprisingly amusing one-liners – in one scene, he confidently asserts, “Mission accomplished,” when stopping a deadly attack, only to realise his efforts were unsuccessful – a humourous contrast to an otherwise intense sequence.

While previous installments in the franchise were often seen as “standalone” films, with mostly different casts (and Cruise being the one constant), Ghost Protocol finallyoffers a sense of continuity; with mentions of Julia (who Hunt married in Mission: Impossible III) and features an interesting cameo from previous collaborator Luther Stickell (played by Ving Rhames) in the movie’s epilogue.

Action is delivered in huge doses here, in a $145 million film that globetrots from Moscow to Dubai to Mumbai. While some of the action sequences grounded by realism might seem repetitive with trite, uninspired fight scenes in uninspired places, Ghost Protocol truly excels when it delivers jaw-dropping scenes where the laws of physics are tested, and such scenes are many, from sky-scraper scaling shenanigans to nail-biting stealth sequences  It goes to show, then, that this new Mission: Impossible film simply aims to thrill, and that it does – very well indeed.

Movie: Mission: Impossible – Ghost ProtocolRating: 4/5Opens: Dec 15
Duration: 132 minutes
Language: EnglishAge Rating: PG-13Genre: Action

Director: Brad Bird
Cast: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg