Usually, when an action star agrees to star in a “fourth film in a trilogy,” the decision reeks of desperation. It’s a kind of acknowledgement by the actor that his star has reached its apogee, that audiences wanna see him in one thing and one thing only. By the time Bruce Willis signed on for Die Hard IV, he hadn’t had a bona fide star-driven hit since The Sixth Sense; Sly Stallone quickly settled into a routine of Rocky-Rambo movies, and hasn’t really tried to break the pattern since; Vin Diesel and Paul Walker both skipped a Fast-Furious movie to pretend some confidence in their starpower, but they quickly returned; even Harrison Ford hadn’t seen a name-above-the-title victory since 2000’s What Lies Beneath when he finally did Indy 4.
So when Tom Cruise, now pushing 50, followed M:I3 with duds like Lions for Lambs and Knight & Day, his decision to sign on to do Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, reeked of last-ditch career move. And honestly, for about the first 20 minutes, as Cruise sucks in his gut and throws back his shoulders to look like the unrelenting superspy Ethan Hunt, it feels that way. But then the movie just gets good.