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Bigger,Better, Faster, Harder

by Shawn Stone on December 21, 2011

Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol
Directed by Brad Bird

If you don’t like big action movies, then the suggestion that Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol is the most enjoyable edition of the 15-year-old Tom Cruise franchise isn’t going to mean much. But if you do, M:I—G.P. is outsized, fast-paced and surprisingly light on its feet.

This is true even though M:I—G.P. commits the action-movie sin of having two “opening” sequences: The damn prologue has a prologue. In the first, some secret-agent guy gets himself killed over a valuable envelope. (We know the envelope, not the dude, is the key because the actor’s a nobody.) Next, a couple of agents we immediately recognize as important (because they’re played by Paula Patton and Simon Pegg) break Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) out of a Russian prison.

The prison break is fun because the textbook, split-second plan is scuttled—improved—by in-the-moment improvisations. These movies are about executing elaborate plans with split-second timing; it’s nice to know that this crew of superhuman agents can think on their feet.

The entire enterprise is fun because the filmmakers know that the trees are more compelling than the forest. The plot is about a madman who wants to blow up the world. Seriously, who cares? Certainly not the filmmakers; they are so devoted to not offending any real-life bad guys that they make the villain Swedish. (He’s played by Michael Nyqvist of the original Dragon Tattoo trilogy). Ex-Pixar maestro Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille) succeeds in his live-action directorial debut by dazzling the paying customers with a succession of brilliant set pieces. Our heroes break into the Kremlin, scamper up and down one of the tallest buildings in the world, crash a millionaire’s soiree, and, oh, save the world from a nuclear holocaust. It’s cartoony, but in a good way; there’s a hint of good-natured absurdity that’s reminiscent of the Men in Black movies.

Bird and his team also make brilliant use of IMAX. If you’re willing to pay the extra $6.25 to see it in that format, it’s worth it.

Like a James Bond flick, M:I—G.P. spends a lot of time in exotic locations: Dubai, with its 21st-century architectural wonders; Mumbai, with its glamorous nightlife; and Moscow, home to stately palaces and fierce people. Bird and his team make the most of each, using Dubai’s desert locale (and weather), Mumbai’s crowded streets and Moscow’s history (and rough edges) to maximum effect. It’s probably no coincidence that Dubai is now a big player in film finance, and there are millions of devoted moviegoers in India and Russia. That’s show biz.

If you’re wondering where the United States is in this travelogue, it isn’t. Seattle is doubled by Vancouver, B.C.

Occupy Mission: Impossible!