Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011)

Genres - Action, Spy Film  |   Sub-Genres - Action Thriller, Glamorized Spy Film  |   Release Date - Dec 16, 2011 (USA - IMAX), Dec 21, 2011 (USA)  |   Run Time - 133 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol could very well be the series' best installment. While the 1996 De Palma reboot, with its master-class intrigue and superb action set pieces, still holds up well -- as does J.J. Abrams' third entry with its character-driven story (we'll leave M:I--2 in the gutter where it deserves to stay) -- there's no denying the top-notch quality of this slam-bang fourth film. Director Brad Bird (Ratatouille, The Incredibles) makes an effortless transition to the live-action arena, where his focus on character still holds strong, but he's not afraid to pummel his lead actor to a pulp in thrilling ways. In theaters, the presentation is helped by bravura IMAX scenes that could be Hollywood's best use of the large format to date.

While each entry so far has stood on its own plot-wise, film number four continues the tale of a married Ethan Hunt (played once again by Tom Cruise), who, as the movie opens, is busted out of a Russian jail where he was imprisoned for taking revenge for the apparent death of his wife (Michelle Monaghan). Once out, Hunt and fellow team members Benji (Simon Pegg), Jane (Paula Patton), and information analyst Brandt (Jeremy Renner) head off on their newest mission: preventing a Russian terrorist (Michael Nyqvist) from unleashing a nuclear war against the United States.

Set in three locales that give the globe-trotting flick a glossy James Bond feel, Ghost Protocol is a classy production, the scale of which is matched only by its edge-of-your-seat sequences. Cruise jumps fully into the action, giving 110 percent and proving that even at his age there are few other actors who would attempt to do what he does (including hanging from the tallest building in the world). Thanks to a well-written script, his teammates are also given ample screen time and are allowed their own hero moments time and again. Yet it's the invisible Bird at the helm who really deserves credit here. Working with veteran De Palma editor Paul Hirsch (who also worked on the first film), the duo weave together action beats that consistently take the viewers' breath away. And the film is fun. This isn't a charmless Jason Bourne spy film -- this is a grip-the-sides-of-your-chair-and-walk-away-grinning-from-ear-to-ear type of ride. In other words, choose to accept this mission by all means.