By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
The mission -- to convert a classic TV series from the late sixties and early seventies into a viable movie series -- seemed eminently possible when it kicked off on the big screen fifteen years ago. And so it was.
Which brings us to the latest entry, Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol, the fourth installment in a generally successful franchise that has had its ups and downs.
Director Brain De Palma's 1996 Mission: Impossible was a spyro-technical thriller that was a mission accomplished -- but barely, because it was a mission: impossible to follow.
Director John Woo's 2000 followup, Mission: Impossible II, was a disappointing shoot-em-up action extravaganza that proved to be a mission: impossible to swallow.
Then director JJ Abrams' 2006 sequel, Mission: Impossible III, breathed new life into the franchise as something close to a mission: impossible to dislike.
This fourth installment, Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol, registers as a mission: impossible to resist.
With Abrams serving as a producer, we find Tom Cruise's Ethan Hunt, the leader of the Impossible Missions Force (IMF) -- sort of a CIA within the CIA -- being blamed along with his team for a terrorist bomb that has destroyed the Kremlin.
So the US government initiates a black-ops "ghost protocol" and disavows the IMF -- as they are wont to do -- after which Hunt and his colleagues choose to accept an assignment designed to clear their name and discover just who framed them.
In the process, they hope to thwart a maniacal plan that could eventuate into nuclear winter.
Jeremy Renner joins the IMF team for this outing, playing an analyst with a top-secret background, and his and Hunt's colleagues are played by returnee Simon Pegg and newcomer Paula Patton (quite the action star, it turns out), with the estimable Tom Wilkinson as the in-charge Secretary of the IMF and Michael Nyqvist (star of the Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels) as a nuclear extremist.
The director, Brad Bird, is making his first stab at live action after directing three impressive animated films (The Incredibles, Ratatouille, The Iron Giant). And, whaddaya know, he takes right to it -- these high-tech geeks are, after all, in a manner of speaking, The Incredibles -- bringing a master animator's pinpoint timing to the task.
Bird flies high indeed, instilling a productive sense of humor, mostly delivered by the delightful Pegg; letting the featured actors each shine; showcasing Cruise's willingness to do most of his own stunts; establishing a sense of place in such exotic locations as Moscow, Dubai, and Mumbai; supervising the surehanded, elaborate, and dizzyingly exhilarating action sequences; giving the high-tech gadgetry the ingenious kick it deserves; dishing out just enough in the way of technical explanations for us to follow the narrative without being disenfranchised by the science involved; and maintaining a pace so breathless that we barely notice just how comic-book preposterous most of what we're watching and accepting actually is.
The combination of high-octane action, nosebleed-inducing high stakes, whirlwind globetrotting, and thick suspense that Bird conjures in Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol is both laudable and applaudable. So much so, in fact, that not only is this perhaps the best of the franchise offerings thus far as well as a promise of more installments to come, but probably the best action-oriented film of the year.
And in mid-comeback, Cruise reminds us what a convincing and highly watchable leading man/action star he is, exhibiting the commanding Cruise control and charisma that made so many of his star turns boffo at the box office.
So we'll scale 3½ stars out of 4 for the eminently enjoyable espionage-thriller sequel, Mission Impossible -- Ghost Protocol. This mission you should absolutely choose to accept.
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