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Saturday, December 17, 2011


Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) scales the world's tallest
building in Mission: ImpossibleGhost Protocol.

3 Stars

Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol is hopefully the beginning of a beautiful friendship. It's hard to say whether Brad Bird needed Ethan Hunt more, or if it was the other way around, but regardless, their first collaboration is one hell of an action movie.

Bird is the director of such animated hits as The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille, and he was looking for a way into live-action filmmaking. Hunt, of course, is Tom Cruise's screen persona in the successful but fizzling franchise that was in dire need of some fresh, new energy. It seems both got what they wanted, and us viewers are the lucky recipients, for you won't find a more exciting and pure action flick than "Ghost Protocol".

After breaking out of a Russian prison, Hunt is directed to the Kremlin, where he'll rendezvous with his new team—Benji (Simon Pegg) and Jane (Paula Patton)—before breaking into Russian defense headquarters to track down a lead on some stolen nuclear codes. Unfortunately, they aren't the only people on this trail, and after a massive explosion destroys everything, the entire IMF is disbanded and disavowed, and Hunt and his team—including a new pickup, William Brandt (Jeremy Renner)—must find an alternate way, without any real resources, to stop an impending nuclear disaster.

The film takes us and its characters from Budapest to Moscow, from Dubai to India. Between that and the plot, it makes this film closer to the James Bond franchise than any other "Mission: Impossible" film. And as with most of the 007 movies, this one has a megalomaniacal villain (played by Mikael Nyqvist of the Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo fame) hell-bent on global destruction. He's the only aspect of the film that really doesn't work. His motivations are both underdeveloped and ludicrous (he's some kind of genius, yet he believes nuclear war will lead to eventual world peace….yeah, OK). Still, without him and his silliness, the plot would not have been as grand in scope as it is, so it's definitely a forgivable sin.

The action is glorious, especially in non-3D IMAX, a format that's being utilized quite well by filmmakers of late. While in Dubai, Cruise scales the Burj Khalifa (the world's tallest building) with gloves that stick to the glass exterior. It's a jaw-dropping, vertiginous sequence, guaranteed to make you squirm in your seat with each little slide downward Hunt makes. Then there's the Kremlin bombing which is as impressively done as you'd expect from a filmmaker as respected as Bird. Though he's never worked with live people and special effects like this, it's clear the guy knows what he's doing.

The film does a great job organically connecting to the third film in the franchise. Gone is Hunt's wife (played in "M:I 3" by Michelle Monaghan), but her exit works its way into the plot very well. Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) is no longer a member of Hunt's team, but he's not written off entirely. A welcome edition to the big leagues is Benji, who steps away from the desk he occupied in the third film, to provide much needed help to Ethan in the field. He's also, unsurprisingly, the source of 95% of the film's humor.

Is this the best "Mission: Impossible"? In IMAX, it certainly gives you the best theater experience of any of the four films. But I suspect it'll hold up quite well on regular screens and even at home. Action films this breathless just don't come along very often.

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