Nonstop Movies: ‘Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol’

When I heard Brad Bird was directing “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” I was apprehensive. The “Mission: Impossible” film series had produced three solid action movies, and I was looking forward to the fourth. But what would Bird — the director of three very good, albeit animated, films, “The Iron Giant,” “The Incredibles,” and “Ratatouille” — know about directing a big-budget, action movie? A lot apparently, as he’s given audiences one of the best action movies of 2011.

I’ve always been a fan of real life action, and by that I mean action involving real humans who can get hurt, bleed and feel fear. Sure, I like to see robots and superheroes throw down as much as the next guy, but I much prefer heroes like John McClane or Rambo. Human tough guys who get things done no matter what’s thrown at them. Ethan Hunt of the “Mission: Impossible” series is that type of guy.

“Ghost Protocol” opens with Hunt (Tom Cruise) in a Russian prison with an IMF team ready to bust him out. Once he’s released, the team is given its next mission — to intercept Russian nuclear launch codes at the Kremlin. But when an explosion there is blamed on them, Hunt’s team of Agent Carter (Paula Patton), Benji (Simon Pegg) and Chief Analyst Brandt (Jeremy Renner) are forced to go rogue to bring in a man named Hendricks, who wants to start a global nuclear war.

I love how each “Mission: Impossible” film outdoes the previous one by introducing more extravagant set pieces, more elaborate spy toys and more perilous situations. “Ghost Protocol” continues this trend. A scene where Hunt scales the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the tallest building in the world, with just a pair of sticky gloves is fantastically exhilarating (especially in IMAX) and even more astounding when you realize Cruise is doing all the stunts himself. Other set pieces, such as the infiltration of the Kremlin and the finale in a high-tech parking garage, also leaves you holding your breath. Even when the film slows down between action scenes, the audience is treated to well-choreographed espionage and lots of humor.

Cruise is starting to show his age, however, and it’s been rumored that Jeremy Renner is being groomed to take over the franchise. If so, he could be a leading character in three potential franchises — the “Bourne” films, “The Avengers” and this one. It will be very difficult to replace Cruise’s unique mix of charisma, dedication and confidence, but Renner seems poised for the challenge. Patton also delivers a strong performance as an IMF agent with an agenda for vengeance, while Pegg provides most of the comedic moments as the lab rat graduated to field agent Benji. I wouldn’t mind seeing another film with this exact same team.

Speaking of another film, will this franchise continue? The box office will determine that, but after seeing how this and other film franchises have gotten better as they age (“Fast Five”), it’s likely the “Mission: Impossible” saga will live on.

“Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” 133 minutes, is Rated PG-13 and opens in theaters today.