The wait for a good action movie is finally over. "Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol" is pure popcorn of the highest, most flavorful order.
Brad Bird ("The Incredibles," "Ratatouille" ) is the first director from the Pixar stable to cross over into live-action films, and he has set a high bar for everyone else to follow.
Unlike the James Bond franchise, where most of the films adopt the same, anonymous style, Tom Cruise's original concept for the "Mission: Impossible" franchise was to turn it into a showcase for established directors, an opportunity for each filmmaker to leave a signature imprint. "Ghost Protocol," written by Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec, has a cookie-cutter plot about Russian terrorists who steal nuclear missile launch codes to try to launch World War III. But the generic story is a fine framework for Bird to orchestrate one gigantic set piece after another.
You won't forget the movie's astonishing action feats, including Cruise scaling the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, with a gigantic sandstorm rolling in on the horizon. Obviously, the actor wasn't really dangling by his fingertips 100 stories above the ground. But man, does it look that way in the movie!
Almost 30 minutes of "Ghost Protocol" were shot with 70mm IMAX cameras, and although the giant format isn't always ideal for action-intensive pictures, Bird takes every conceivable advantage of the extra clarity and oversized frame, as well as the pumped-up sound, to whip up vertiginous excitement. Simple stunts, such as Cruise leaping onto a moving van, seem more dangerous and painful. Elaborate sequences, such as a long fight on the conveyor belts of a working automobile factory, are so exciting, you still start worrying that the good guys are going to lose.
Simon Pegg is the movie's comic relief, never better than when he and Cruise sneak into the Kremlin using the single coolest piece of preposterous gadgetry I've ever seen in a movie. Paula Patton brings poise and warmth to the requisite spy-babe role, and Jeremy Renner, playing an IMF data analyst with a secret, adds charm and heft to this mindless entertainment.
"Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol" is thoughtful enough to throw in not one but two nice surprises in its final five minutes. This is an expertly-crafted piece of pop entertainment. Bring on "Mission: Impossible V," please.