It seems somewhat improbable that the Mission: Impossible film franchise would deliver a fourth installment in 2011, with potential for future sequels as well. The first one came out in 1996, at a time when Tom Cruise starring in an action blockbuster made sense. In 2011, it would, in theory, make no sense, but Cruise is no ordinary man, having seemingly not aged too much in the past 15 years, although there is still clearly some wear and tear on Cruise in Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, but time makes fools of us all. More than that, the general consensus surrounding this movie was largely positive, even though it was the non-animated feature debut of director Brad Bird, known for The Incredibles, The Iron Giant, and, most importantly, The Simpsons. Helping Cruise along the way were Jeremy "The Next Big Thing of 2010" Renner, Simon Pegg, and some woman named Paula Patton, who is not, it turns out, Zoe Saldana. So, in the eyes of many, this was a high-profile movie that turned out to be a pleasant surprise.
The issue is, of course, that general consensus does not apply to everybody, particularly those who aren't interested in a by-the-books, overwrought, clumsily written action movie. Cruise once again stars as Ethan Hunt, superstar agent in the IMF, the secret government agency where messages self-destruct, who, when Ghost Protocol begins, is in a Russian prison. After getting broken out by his team, Hunt picks up where he left off, jumping into the action after another agent is killed. Patton's Jane Carter is sad about it and maybe she loved the guy or something. The movie wants you to feel something, but doesn't do anything to make you really care or understand what's going on. Then, an explosion happens, the IMF and Hunt are blamed, so they are excommunicated and the IMF is completely disavowed. That just leaves Cruise, Patton, Pegg, and Renner, who joins the action about midway through as William Brandt, an analyst with a secret past that he reveals in the way these things are already revealed.
There are big action scenes and globetrotting and fights and all that stuff. The good guys win, which doesn't count as a spoiler, and sets up another mission. Up to that point, however, Ghost Protocol does nothing to merit another sequel. The overarching plot is alright. It works for the action genre. There aren't really any twists, but there is enough there to sustain a movie. The good guys have the odds stacked against them to a great degree, but they prevail. There are also some good action scenes. In fact, that's pretty much the only positive aspect. When they stop trying to deliver exposition or jokes or emotions or dialogue in general, it can be engaging. The climbing of the Burj Kalifa got the big promotion, and it's fine if a bit heavy handed, but there a couple other chases and fight scenes that are good.
However, they only make up a small section of the movie, and the rest of it is fairly poor. A lot of the dramatic stuff is very generic. Doing a flavor or something that is done before isn't in and of itself an issue. What is an issue is when what you do is done in the exact way it is always done, and is done with poor acting and clunk conversation. These folks certainly don't act like people who took jobs in a dangerous business where they knew there was a chance people would be killed. The movie tries to be quippy, Pegg in particular is supposed to be a comic-relief character, but most of the jokes are awful, and the only genuinely funny line comes from Renner of all people.
Speaking of Renner, it is no surprise that the notion of him as a major movie star was short-lived. He is mediocre in this at best, although that pretty much makes him on par with everybody else. The technology is ridiculous, going beyong fun into dumb. Patton gets to be a tough lady who fights, but one of those fights involved two ladies in dresses with plunging necklines and later she removes her dress with literally no practical reason. Plus, in the end, the movie decides it want to have its cake and eat it to, a move that removes one of the only aspects of the story that involved any emotional heft at all.
A well-made action movie is a worthwhile watch. Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol is not a well-made movie. Bird's direction is mostly fine, but it is nothing special and is never really engaging and leaves little impression. The movie is immense in scope, but fails at all the details. The plot is banal, the characters uninteresting, the acting mediocre, and the dialogue clumsy. It's just not very enjoyable. It isn't bad, really. It's just decent to pretty good, and it certainly isn't the kind of movie that leaves you clamoring for one minute more, let alone a sequel.