We'll begin with a couple of ringing endorsements and then add a qualifier or two, but all in all, most critics are pleased to be surprised.
"Take an aging star often viewed as a weirdo," begins Salon's Andrew O'Hehir, "a director who's never made a live-action film and the fourth installment of a 15-year-old movie franchise whose roots go back to 1960s television. What do you get? Well, it certainly could have been a total disaster, or an awkward nostalgia exercise, but instead Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol is something even more unlikely: the most exciting action flick of the year, by a huge margin. Director Brad Bird brings all the wit, style and imagination of his animated films (Ratatouille, The Incredibles and The Iron Giant) to this slick secret-agent techno-fantasy. As for 49-year-old Tom Cruise, he's surely ready for a comeback after weathering the worst publicity of his celebrity career. He's back in his comfort zone here as renegade super-spy Ethan Hunt, who is exactly the kind of charismatic, overamped control freak we all believe (rightly or wrongly) that Cruise is too."
Keith Phipps at the AV Club: "Bird's direction — the work of someone with something to prove and the skills to prove it — puts the film over. From a prison break (timed to Dean Martin's 'Ain't That a Kick in the Head') to a finale that orchestrates many moving parts at once, Bird brings a scary amount of assurance to Ghost Protocol. His action scenes are clean, coherent, thrilling, and visceral, never more than in a mid-film sequence in Dubai that piles setpiece atop setpiece as the action moves in, around, up, and down the Burj Khalifa skyscraper — the tallest building in the world. As Cruise clings to the side of the building using malfunctioning equipment, and a sandstorm looms in the distance, the question shifts from whether Bird can direct an action film to whether there's anyone out there who can top him. (Note: About 30 minutes of Ghost Protocol was filmed in IMAX, and seeing it in that format is worth the extra effort and money.)"
For Glenn Kenny, "one of the least appealing aspects of Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol is just how well all of the operatives on the same side get along with each other. Yeah, there's a little tension between Hunt and new op Brent (Jeremy Renner) relative to some standard-issue Buried Secrets, but for the most part it's all light-heist-movie bonhomie between those two guys and techno-nerd Benji (Simon Pegg) and woman-scorned-by-opposing-side-assassin Jane (Paula Patton). It's all cute but a little boring…. Another funny as in not-haha-but-peculiar thing here is that screenwriters Josh Applebaum and André Nemec miss the Cold War so much that they've decided to act as if it never ended. Seriously, this 2011 movie is about a madman stealing Russia's nuclear codes to launch an attack so as to fool America into starting a full-on atomic war between the two superpowers." Nonetheless: 4 out of 5 MSN Movies stars.
"[E]ven more than with the Bourne movies, the Mission: Impossible franchise seems almost crudely mercenary in its formula for success," finds Jaime N Christley in Slant, "especially when, after a six-year gap, it changed directors from John Woo (whose work on the second film produced one of the strangest blockbuster movies ever made) to JJ Abrams (whose clean professionalism in the third film, his feature debut, is about as strange as an episode of Grey's Anatomy), and now to erstwhile Pixar prodigy Brad Bird…. His direction of Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol works feverishly to acquire the same weightless kineticism as his past triumphs. Truth be told, there are moments when the movie comes teasingly close to attaining escape velocity… For the most part, disappointingly, the movie often feels sluggish and secondhand, as if there were really nothing Hunt and his team could do, no scrapes they could miracle their way out of, that could truly wow anyone, anywhere, anymore."
"Unexpectedly, [Cruise's] age and inescapable gravitas work for Ghost Protocol," finds Manohla Dargis in the New York Times, "partly because they invest the outrageous stunts with a real sense of risk. Mr Cruise's primary job in the Mission series is to embody a not-quite-ordinary man whose powers are at once extraordinary and completely believable, a no-sweat feat in the first few films. Here, however, when Ethan ziplines off a building onto a truck and then rolls hard onto the street, Mr Bird — while borrowing more than a little from the Roadrunner cartoons — also makes you aware of the fragility of the body ricocheting on screen, absorbing every blow for your entertainment. And when Mr Cruise hangs off the even taller building, what you see isn't just a man doing a crazy stunt but also one poignantly denying his own mortality."
More from Richard Corliss (Time), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times, 3.5/4), David Edelstein (New York), Ystyn Francis (500 Club), Todd Gilchrist (Playlist, B), Tom Huddleston (Time Out London, 3/5), Dan Kois (Slate), Wesley Morris (Boston Globe, 3/4), Jeffrey Overstreet (Filmwell), Marc Savlov (Austin Chronicle, 3/5), Catherine Shoard (Guardian, 3/5), Kaori Shoji (Japan Times, 4.5/5), Jim Tudor (Twitch), Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times), Keith Uhlich (Time Out New York, where he's attracted the Scientology bots with this 3/5 review) and Jen Yamato (Movieline, 7/10).
Interviews with Bird: Brooks Barnes (New York Times), Todd Gilchrist (Movies.com) and Julie Miller (Movieline).
For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow @thedailyMUBI on Twitter and/or the RSS feed.