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Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol ****

Is it worth $10? Yes

It took nearly 12 months, but we finally have the best action movie of 2011. “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” is intense from the very beginning and resonates with pulse-pounding excitement at every turn. This is the standard to which all action movies should aspire.

This time around, Ethan Hunt’s (Tom Cruise) IMF team is the only one left and has no choice but to accept its mission. Valuable nuclear weapon information has fallen into the hands of a madman named Hendricks (Mikael Nyqvist), who’s hell bent on destroying the world. Ethan’s team, which consists of computer genius Benji (Simon Pegg), beautiful but tough Jane (Paula Patton) and the somewhat ominous Brandt (Jeremy Renner), is smart and efficient but constantly one step behind Hendricks. Watching them try to catch up is as exciting as an action movie can be.

Great action pieces set the tone, each topping what came before it in style and execution. The first, inside a Russian prison, is nicely staged, but when Ethan and Benji use gadgets inside the Kremlin you’ll be both delighted and amazed. Later, Ethan has to climb the outside of the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, providing great visuals (especially if you see it in IMAX, which I highly recommend) and suspense. This is followed by a chase through a sand storm and a fight in a motorized garage, both of which are expertly paced. Director Brad Bird cut his teeth with Pixar animation, and one speculates that the attention to detail he had to give every frame of animation has served him well in his transition to live action.

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol

Much has been made of Tom Cruise doing his own stunts. No doubt he does, given that safety nets, harnesses and other precautions can be removed in post-production. What this adds, though, is a level of authenticity, and when you know it’s really Cruise swinging around the tallest building in the world while 100 stories up darn if it doesn’t take an extra breath away.

In fairness the script by Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec keeps things simple: Good guys, bad guys, stop nuclear war. What’s smart about the writing is that it’s efficient and it gives every character time in the spotlight. For example, Cruise, who certainly does his share of the hard work, nicely steps aside to allow Renner and Pegg to shine in a scene in which Brandt has to jump 25 feet into a revolving fan and trust that Benji will “catch” him before he’s shredded. Pegg plays it straight, Renner stresses, and the scene is a trip.

Ordinarily the fourth installment of a franchise means stale repetition of an old routine, but having a new director for each “Mission: Impossible” movie has allowed Cruise to keep each film fresh, even if not always successful. The fact that “Ghost Protocol” is as good as it is proves a little creativity can go a long, long way.

Did you know?
This is director Brad Bird’s first live action feature. He previously made “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille.”

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