By Ashley Bergner
Source: Box Office Buzz

By the time a film series has reached the fourth sequel, it can be difficult to maintain momentum and keep holding the audience’s interest. No matter how great the original idea was, it’s hard to come up with fresh material by the fourth go-around. It’s even more of a challenge to take that fourth sequel and not only turn it into the best film of the whole franchise, but to make it one of the best action movies of the year. Yet that’s exactly what “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” does.

The film has earned an impressive 93 percent on the film rating website Rotten Tomatoes, and according to the Internet Movie Database, the film has taken in $78.65 million at the U.S. box office so far.

“Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” follows veteran IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team on a globe-trotting mission that takes the spies to Russia, Dubai and India as they try to track down a terrorist bent on inciting global nuclear war. When the terrorist manages to pin a bombing at the Kremlin in Moscow on Ethan and his team, the spies are “disavowed” and forced to go underground. However, they are asked to unofficially continue their mission to stop the terrorist, and at the very last second manage to stop a nuclear warhead from exploding (the film’s climax takes the phrase “close call” to a whole new level).

The film is directed by Brad Bird, perhaps best known for his computer-animated Pixar movie “The Incredibles.” He makes the transition to film quite successfully here, bringing the same wit, intricate plot and fast-paced action that made “The Incredibles” so great. Michael Giacchino provides a nice score, including a fun take on the classic “Mission Impossible” theme in the film’s opening credits sequence.

Although the movie has all the elements you expect in a spy movie — car chases, shoot outs, etc. — it manages to up the ante and present them in a new way. Some stand-out action set pieces include a car chase in a sand storm; the team’s daring Kremlin break-in; and what is probably the most death-defying crawl up the side of a skyscraper ever featured in a film.

In the movie’s most impressive scene, Ethan Hunt climbs up the side of the “Burj Khalifa” in Dubai, the world’s tallest skyscraper, using only special adhesive gloves. My stomach started churning as soon as the camera panned out the window and showed how far of a drop it was to the ground. Even if you’re not afraid of heights, this scene gets pretty intense, especially when one of the gloves gives out and Ethan almost falls off the skyscraper.

The film also features plenty of fun spy gadgets, such as a camera disguised as a contact lens; a magnetic, levitating suit; and a sheet of high-tech material that can display a rendering of any surface (Ethan and another agent hide behind this sheet in one scene in the Kremlin; the sheet projects an image of the blank wall and the statue behind them, making it appear as if the spies aren’t really there).

Regardless of how you feel about Tom Cruise as a person or as an actor, he’s definitely brought his “A game” here. He’s also joined by a strong supporting cast, including the always-witty Simon Pegg as a computer expert; Paula Patton as an agent who’s struggling not to make the mission personal; and Jeremy Renner as an analyst who may not be exactly who he first appears.

“Casino Royale” may still be my favorite spy movie, but “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” is one of the best espionage flicks I’ve seen in a long time. I think Brad Bird and Tom Cruise can call this one “mission accomplished.”