‘Mission: Impossible’ Cheat Sheet: Everything You Need To Know

We've been following Tom Cruise's road back to the 'M:I' series, leading up to the film's release Wednesday (December 21).

After a five-year hiatus, Tom Cruise is back as superspy Ethan Hunt in “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.” This is Cruise’s fourth foray into the world of fancy gadgetry, high-stakes missions and crazy action sequences, with “Incredibles” director Brad Bird at the helm of his first live-action film.

To celebrate Cruise’s long and winding road back to Hunt and the “Mission: Impossible” franchise, here is everything you need to know about “Ghost Protocol,” which releases wide Wednesday (December 21).

The Return of Ethan Hunt
Although Cruise’s third “Mission” film was a bona fide box-office success following its $134 million gross in 2006, the green light for a fourth film was a long time coming. First, director J.J. Abrams confirmed that he would not be back to helm the film, though he would stay on as a producer, then in February 2010, Cruise announced he’d be back , and the hunt was on for a new director.

New Blood
In May 2010, Paramount announced that Pixar mastermind and director Brad Bird would take on the fourth “Mission” with Cruise, which was followed by casting announcements of new leading lady Paula Patton, Jeremy Renner and “Lost” alum Josh Holloway. Returning castmember Simon Pegg promised us that his character had an improved bag of tricks in the form of a “promotion” in the IMF. We also soon learned the film’s proper title: “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.”

Cruise Defies Death, Scales World’s Tallest Building
As soon as photos emerged of Cruise scaling Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, interest in the film picked up considerably. How can you ignore one of the world’s most famous film stars dangling from and then standing atop the world’s tallest building? You can’t. Bird told us that people wouldn’t believe that it was actually Cruise performing the “crazy” stunts and assured us that no CG was needed for those scenes.

Amped-Up Action
Once the first trailer arrived, we put it through our expert analysis , and it was obvious that once again, Cruise and co. had upped the ante with regard to ridiculously complicated action sequences. Even Cruise’s wife, Katie Holmes, admitted Cruise’s stunts were “intense,” alongside Guillermo del Toro, who provided the very excellent bonus trailer reaction by humming the theme song and comparing “Mission: Impossible” to his diet.

All Systems Go
As we got closer to the film’s release date, more trailers, posters and clips started rolling in. Then it was time for the press junket, which, incredibly enough, Paramount hosted in Dubai, from where two members of our intrepid MTV News team sent in daily reports of their experiences and interviews, the highlights from which include a Tom Cruise “After Hours,” Cruise revealing the most interesting and mundane facts about himself, and just how many more “Mission” films Cruise has in him.

Check out everything we’ve got on “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.”

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