CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS
Never mind the Bourne movies, this is the franchise the James Bond films should be wary of. When it comes to the glamour, globetrotting, guns, girls and gadgets, the demented antics of the IMF are precisely the kind of thing the 007 crew should be doing rather than emulating Jason Bourne's humourless personal crises. (Irrelevant aside regarding Bourne: I much prefer the first of the series rather than the hand-held grit of the two Paul Greengrass sequels.) You can almost see Brosnan or Craig - though admittedly not Sir Roger Moore - starring in this latest and possibly best of the M:I films as easily as Tom Cruise.
Ricocheting from Budapest to Moscow to Dubai to Mumbai, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol is breathless action on an industrial scale right from the start and barely lets up with hair-raising stunts, crunching fight scenes, ticking countdowns and outrageous gizmoes. Beginning with Tom Cruise's jailbreak (to the appropriate tune of Ain't That A Kick In The Head by Dean Martin), the mission is to remove a top secret file from the Kremlin archives, containing details of a potential nuclear terrorist codenamed Cobalt (Michael Nyqvist). But then the operation goes wrong: the Kremlin is bombed, the whole of the IMF disavowed - and Cruise, along with Simon Pegg, Paula Patton and analyst Jeremy Renner, must retrieve the launch codes for Russia's nuclear arsenal. This means intercepting the trade on the 118th floor of a premier Dubai hotel.... Cue vertigo attacks and clutched armrests throughout the audience as Cruise starts clambering up sheer sheet glass outside the building.
The great joy of the movie is watching the extra complications thrown in: it was pretty damned impossible to start with but the writers gleefully keep lobbing in more and more obstacles. It's not enough that they have to infiltrate the Dubai hotel computer system, for example: it's on the 125th floor and they can only access it from the outside of the building. Oh, and the electric suction gloves he has to use to climb up aren't entirely reliable. Oh, and by the way there's a sandstorm approaching. And the rubber mask generator isn't going to work. And the launch codes are going to be verified so they can't substitute dummy ones. And....
It's Mission Audacious bordering on Mission Absolutely Ridiculous, and yet they pull it off. Once you accept you're watching something so outlandishly unbelievable and thoroughly preposterous it might as well be a cartoon of stick men, you can settle into the sheer stupidity of it all and it's as much delirious popcorn entertainment as I've had in a cinema in ages. The makers haven't taken it so seriously that they've squeezed all the fun out of it as the Bournes did; but MI:GP knows it's a giant heap of silly and so it plays with a big dumb smile on its face. Better, it's a team game rather than a showcase for the star, with reluctant Renner, glamorous Patton and computer whizz Pegg all pulling their weight. Even so, it's still Cruise's movie and he is the right man for it.
Okay, some of the computer effects (such as the Kremlin bombing) look a bit weak, and the villain's motivation for starting a nuclear war is perhaps implausible even in this context: rather than power or revenge or money, he just seems to want to prove a philosophical theory about mankind. But the genuinely painful-looking combat sequences (particularly the climactic one-on-one between Cruise and Nyqvist in an automated Mumbai car park) and the non-stop thunderous action and races against the clock are what count and they're done so well I want them all to go and make Mission Impossible 5 immediately. Right this minute.