[Screen It]

(2011) (Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner) (PG-13)

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Action: After being set up as responsible for a bombing of the Kremlin and thus having their existence disavowed by their own country, top secret agents try to find and stop a madman before he starts a nuclear war.
Following the murder of one of her team members at the hands of contract killer Sabine Moreau (LEA SEYDOUX) in Budapest while trying to find a criminal known as Cobalt, IMF agent Jane Carter (PAULA PATTON) and newly promoted field agent Benji Dunn (SIMON PEGG) are assigned to head to Moscow and free fellow IMF agent Ethan Hunt (TOM CRUISE) from prison.

They succeed, and their next immediate assignment to infiltrate the Kremlin goes terribly wrong when they realize they've been set up and much of the Kremlin is destroyed by a massive explosion set by Kurt Hendricks (MICHAEL NYQVIST), a.k.a. Cobalt.

After escaping from Russian intelligence agent Anatoly Sidorov (VLADIMIR MASHKOV), Ethan learns from the IMF secretary (TOM WILKINSON) and his chief analyst, William Brandt (JEREMY RENNER), that the Russians are blaming the U.S. for the attack. As a result, the U.S. President has enacted "ghost protocol" that disavows the existence of the IMF and any further government support.

Learning that Hendricks has nuclear launch codes and is desirous of starting a nuclear war, Ethan, Brandt, Jane and Benji join forces in hopes of finding and stopping him before it's too late.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
What an interesting end to 2011 we're experiencing in terms of acclaimed filmmakers trying something new. With "Hugo," Martin Scorsese jumped headfirst into the world of 3D, as has Steven Spielberg with "The Adventures of Tintin." The latter is also notable as it marks the first time the filmmaker has fully ventured into the world of an animated film with him behind the camera. The result is an obvious freedom that translates onto the screen in one of the most sheer entertaining flicks in years.

On the flip side, Brad Bird has made his living in the world of animation, helming beloved favorites "The Iron Giant," "Ratatouille" and "The Incredibles." While those films could have been live action -- albeit with varying amounts of computer generated or other such special effects -- they benefited from the freedom the format gave the filmmaker to do pretty much what he wanted. Simply put, the sky wasn't even a limit and the results were glorious.

Now the filmmaker has opted to venture over into the "real world" of live action filmmaking and seems to have brought that no limits mindset along with him in "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol." Other than some notable exceptions (such as the "Harry Potter" flicks), being handed the reins of a third sequel usually isn't a good sign and normally goes to directors who've yet to make much of a name for themselves and where little is expected of them.

Yet, while "MIGP" might not emotionally engage viewers like Bird's previous films, it's still a hoot to watch, as what's essentially a cartoon brought to life turns out to be the best action movie of the year. It has its problems, but you'd be hard-pressed to find another film with the same number and degree of expertly handled action sequences as we're given here, including one set way up (but unfortunately not at the tip-top of) the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa.

While I might have placed the concluding fight sequence at or near the pinnacle of the 2,700+ foot spire (a real-life video showing work done up there will give just about everyone sweaty palms), Bird and his rigging crew opted for the "wimpier" height more than a thousand feet below from which returning star Tom Cruise would get to do his thing in an impressive set piece that takes place in the middle of the flick.

During that, the nearly 50-year-old actor has his character go up, down and sideways along the skyscraper's glass as part of his IMF team's efforts to thwart a villain's plan to nuke the world. As if still operating in the world of animation, the logistics of that (not to mention the insurance rider) don't faze the filmmaker -- or, apparently, the star either -- and the result is a wild scene that's part of a longer but similarly well-executed sequence set in Dubai.

Faked identities, a false arm, a deadly assassin, choreographed fight scenes, car chases and a big sandstorm only add to the offering and help make that part of the movie one of the most thrilling moments in films this year, at least from the aforementioned action standpoint. There are others, including an opening prison break sequence, another featuring the infiltration of the Kremlin (with a literally explosive conclusion), and one set in a high tech parking "garage," but the tower sequence is nothing short of thrilling.

Those moments certainly help the film get through some of the slower moments that scribes Josh Appelbaum & André Nemec have used to tie together the visceral fun, or mask the fact that the film's villain (Michael Nyqvist) isn't terribly impressive or original and certainly isn't memorable. As I've stated before, a protagonist (and the film in which he or she appears) is only as good as the antagonist, and a deeper characterization of the latter here clearly would have made the pic better (think of Hans Gruber in "Die Hard" as a perfect example).

In a way then, the "impossible" missions end up serving as the antagonists, as the characters played by Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Paul Patton and Simon Pegg must face and overcome those various adversities. Cruise is on par with his usual work in this series (and still wins the award for most committed running scenes by an actor), Renner is good, and Patton brings an undeniable sexy but tough woman aura to her part. I have mixed feelings about Pegg who I've liked in other movies, but his somewhat goofy and chatterbox persona here - while obviously present as comic relief and to take an edge off some of the action -- came off as a bit distracting to me.

Yes, you might be inclined to say his character is somewhat cartoonish and certainly animated. Some might have the same feeling about the aforementioned action sequences, as some of them certainly need varying doses of suspension of disbelief to work fully.

Yet, just as he did in his animated pics, Bird and his cast and crew make the seemingly impossible seem possible, resulting in an often exhilarating experience. While certainly not perfect, "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" could be the most thrilling fun you'll have at the movies in quite some time. It rates as a 7 out of 10.

Reviewed December 13, 2012 / Posted December 16, 2012

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