Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 1/6/12
Producer: J. J. Abrams
Director: Brad Bird
Cast: Tom Cruise, Paula Patton, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Michael Nyqvist, Léa Seydoux, cameos by Ving Rhames, Michelle Monaghan

IMF Agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is back in action to save the world from destruction at the hands of a nuclear extremist named Kurt Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist). But first, his friends have to break him out of a Serbian prison, where he's been doing time for an unsanctioned hit. It turns out that some Russian missile launch codes were stolen, and Hunt and his team are assigned to retrieve them. Unfortunately, a bombing at the Kremlin turns Hunt's team into fugitives and the entire IMF is disavowed and disbanded. On their own without any external support, they track the bad guys down in an outrageous attempt to avoid World War III.

It sounds like a plot for a James Bond film, and for all intents and purposes, it IS a James Bond film. Once again, it's primarily a star vehicle for Tom Cruise, with a bunch of supporting characters in the wings. Curiously, this is the first film in the series that supports any sort of continuity and features recurring characters, with Simon Pegg returning as the goofy computer jockey from "Mission: Impossible III" (2006). Paula Patton is the requisite babe this time, and she handles her role with a good amount of strength and conviction. She gets into a couple of nice fight scenes, with the highlight being an energetic smackdown with a beautiful Russian assassin (Léa Seydoux). Jeremy Renner is the wildcard in the group, as a former field agent with a terrible secret. He gives a solid performance, although his character, along with Pegg's, is often used as a comedic foil. The film is a slow starter, but overall it's a fun and exciting action romp. The stuntwork is excellent and features some very hard hitting and painful looking choreography. The fight scenes are competently filmed and edited, and overall quite satisfying. The film's climax at an automated parking garage is a very complex and superbly articulated showdown over the possession of a briefcase, and while it's utterly ridiculous, it's also a lot of fun to watch. As director Brad Bird's first live action film, I'm excited to see what he works on next. With any luck, he'll get a chance to reinvigorate the increasingly aimless James Bond franchise.