Here's one of the year's biggest surprises: a third sequel to a franchise whose heyday is long in the past, featuring a star who's pushing 50 and a director who's not even supposed to be able to do live action.
Yet, Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol is improbably the series' best entry since its first, not to mention the most entertaining, exciting and well-made action-adventure picture of the year.
The Mission: Impossible series is of course based on the 1960s TV show and first arrived on the big screen with Brian DePalma's 1996 movie, which was a huge success despite all but blowing up the show's premise.
This is his first live-action feature, and he emerges as a supremely skilled and confident director of action. This is especially impressive considering most movies of the genre these days can't even keep the action straight.
The plot is the usual globe-trotting super-adventure, jumping from Russia to Dubai to Bombay and back to America with lots of intrigue- and explosions- at every stop. Tom Cruise is back as Ethan Hunt, and this time his team consists of Jeremy Renner (from The Hurt Locker), Paula Patton, and Simon Pegg, who reprises his comic relief role from the third film as a computer geek. They're trying to stop a duo of Russian supervillains from setting off nuclear war.
Sure, it's a formula, borrowed from the earlier films, as well as its English cousin James Bond: spy intrigue, gadgets, disguises and elaborate action setpieces.
But Ghost Protocol executes it nearly perfectly, largely thanks to an expert action touch by a director who's never even done it before. It's also always photographed both brilliantly and coherently.
There are numerous highlights – a super tense sequence in which Cruise spends several minutes hanging off a skyscraper in Dubai; a suspenseful scene in which two meetings are taking place in two different hotel rooms; and a sequence, recalling Cruise repelling into the safe room in the first movie, in which Renner does the same. It's all accompanied by a strong score from Pixar/Lost veteran Michael Giacchino, interweaving Lalo Schifrin's original theme into much of it.
The cast is first-rate, as well. Cruise is still in good-enough shape that his age isn't an issue, and Renner and Patton are both just perfect in their roles. While Pegg is usually very funny I didn't love him in the previous film, but he's better here. And Anil Kapoor (the game show host from Slumdog Millionaire) has a memorable turn as a horny Indian billionaire who Patton has to pretend to seduce.
No, it's not perfect. The plot and most of the action never veer far from the realm of the totally preposterous, and I had no idea for most of the film which villain was which and what he was trying to accomplish at any given time. And there's a twist at the end that feels both unnecessary and not in keeping with most of the film's tone.
Regardless, Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol ranks as perhap's 2011's most pleasant surprise.
Note: The film is being screened in IMAX in some theaters, including KIng of Prussia. This is the way I saw it and I highly recommend it.
The Silver Screen Rating – "Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol": 4.5 stars
Roll Credits: Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol; Directed by Brad Bird and starring Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton, Simon Pegg and Michael Nyqvist. Rated PG-13; 2 hours, 4 minutes.