Time for a mini-rant. I didn't really like the first Mission Impossible movie that much. A lot of people really loved it, but I just didn't see that much more in it than Tom Cruise shooting things and running. It wasn't that exciting, but logic tells me that shooting things and running should normally be very very very exciting. I also had outrageously high expectations because of Brian De Palma and a screenwriting trinity of Robert Towne, David Koepp, and Steve Zaillian. I can see that I was clearly in the minority when it came to not enjoying that film. Mission Impossible II from John Woo was like the first film for me only with a lot more slow motion. The thrilling plots that made up Woo's films like The Killer and Hard Boiled had been replaced with with a very minimal effort to even have convincing dialogue.
Then came Mission Impossible III and I was blown away. J.J. Abrams just managed to deliever an outrageous action picture that had all the components that clicked with my sensibilities. Since I haven't normally enjoyed that many big-budget blockbusters or action movies, perhaps I have a very narrow mind as to what constitutes a good or bad film for that genre (or as some might say, in general). The Bourne films by Liman and Greengrass are a good example. I liked those a lot for the same reasons I like (and hopefully a lot of people people like) most movies- story and character. Just this past year I hated The Green Hornet, Pirates of the Caribbean 4, Green Lantern, Transformers 3, Cowboys and Aliens, Conan the Barbarian, and Killer Elite just to name a few. A majority of critics, and whoever goes on IMDB to rate what they had just seen, also hated them. I just feel compelled to remind myself that I'm in a bubble because when I'm not talking to cinephiles on the Internet, I'm taking filmmaking classes with people who obviously have an appreciation for film.
Anyways, this is a long way of me saying that when action-adventure films seem to be the most popular genre umbrella around, it is refreshing when I find a blockbuster-esque movie that I thoroughly enjoy without a shadow of a doubt. It happened with MI IIII and director Brad Bird has also delivered a solid movie with the fourth film in the MI series, sub-titled Ghost Protocol.
Bird literally understands how to make something out of nothing. His first three films were animated and having worked in that field for a long time, he is used to having to create a world from scratch. That helps with jumping into this live-action debut as he has such an understanding for all the aspects of filmmaking and doing his job to be sure that they all flow together as one. For example, the skyscraper climbing scene is so well shot, edited, and directed that I feel Bird's passion for delivering an exciting final product that leads to a flawlessness I don't often think of in this easy-to-detect-CGI age of action blockbusters.
It also helps that the film has a top-notch cast. Simon Pegg demonstrates his great nack for timing as Benji, Paula Patton is beautiful and aggressive as Jane, and Jeremy Renner plays a seemingly moody individual who has a lot more to him. Even the villain played by Michael Nyqvist (and it is great to see him in some American films after wowing audiences in Niels Arden Oplev's version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) might sound on paper like he would be one-dimensional, actually seems believable. Yes, he doesn't say or do much in the movie, but I'll be damned if I don't actually take the whole "I'm just a nihlist" reasoning for his actions and actually buy into them. That is because of the whole outrageous tone and mood for this film. It's as clever as it is fun.
However, the man who seems to hold everything together would be Tom Cruise. He is also the main producer alongside J.J. Abrams and with the MI films he has been very active and involved in their stories and style. It was his idea to have a different director for each film and for each to stand on their own. He is one of those actor/producers who just has a clear idea of what he wants to present to audiences, but he never stands in the way of a director having their own vision. It does also help that he is a fantastic actor. As Ethan Hunt, he demonstrates this energy, bravado, and courage to seem believable in circumstances that definitely aren't. He doesn't always give as good of a performance as his efforts in say Born on the Fourth of July or Magnolia, but even in the most seemingly mundane roles does he still inspire a level of confidence in his character.