Tom Cruise actually scaling that building in Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol
He actually scaled that mother.

Y’like colons, Johnny? The number of colons in that title should tell you that this is the other big December sequel opening this week–well, officially opening after spending five days in IMAX exclusive. This is the fourth entry into the growing  Mission: Impossible franchise from auteur/producer Tom Cruise and the first since the 1996 original to do away with numbers. Numbers really only serve to date us, don’t they, Tom? Isn’t it much better to just have subtitles? That way no one will ever realize that somehow, these movies should have stopped being good in 2002 and died off quietly thereafter. Happily, that isn’t the case. Instead of being entirely scrapped after director John Woo’s Mission: Impossible II was neutered of its violence and most of its plot, Tom Cruise picked up the series again and–in a pinch–courted director JJ Abrams to make Mission: Impossible III his first feature film. Lo and behold, that was a movie far better than it should’ve been.

And now we’re back for the fourth installment in Tom Cruise’s “Ethan Hunt tours the world via ESPIONAGE!!!” series, from the director of The Iron Giant, Ratatouille and The Incredibles. I wish I could make that up, but no–real life is too pricelessly unpredictable to be fabricated. And in another example of that priceless unpredictability, Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol might be the most relentlessly fun spy movie released since Jason Bourne’s reign of gritty, realistic terror. It’s like somebody said the Pierce Brosnan Bond movies just needed a little less stupidity and a couple more fistfights and turned out an incredibly inventive and necessary kick in the pants to a dying genre. With Bond 23 in limbo and faltering under heavy-handed seriousness, it’s nice to be reminded that espionage is actually quite thrilling.

This outing finds Ethan Hunt (Cruise) in a Russian jail cell, being bailed out by Benji (Simon Pegg) from the last movie along with new recruit, Agent Carter (Paula Patton) or Jane as she comes to be known. It turns out that, after they bail Hunt out, they’re a team to go get the file on an international terrorist named Cobalt from the Kremlin before Cobalt destroys it. I guess he’s either intensely private or this movie’s set in an alternate future where Ethan Hunt is Mark Zuckerberg’s codename. However, before you can say “you only say the entire plan out loud in a movie if you plan to fail”, it’s revealed that the file has already been stolen! By Cobalt! Who’s really named Kurt Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist)! Who’s really the Russian advisor for nukes! AND WHO SEEMS TO BE HELL-BENT ON DETONATING ONE! And before Tom Cruise has a chance to make aborting a mission look sexy, the god damn Kremlin is blown to smithereens. Before your eyes. In IMAX. It’s glorious.

The detonation and utter destruction of the Kremlin forces IMF into “ghost protocol”, two words that mean that IMF has been officially disbanded and any NOC spies will be branded enemies of the state if they are revealed to the public. As the IMF Secretary is telling Ethan this, along with his personal secretary Brandt (Jeremy Renner), he mentions that now, there is a nuclear weapons trigger in the hands of Cobalt and nuclear launch codes on their way to his hands, after being stolen in a previous botched operation. Ethan Hunt will be brought back to the United States and prosecuted, unless he manages to escape the moving van after having assaulted Brandt and the Secretary and followed Cobalt to his destination in Dubai. At this point, the movie goes entirely off the rails with plot twists you ain’t seen in the trailers yet (though many you have are yet to come, don’t worry) and all bets are off. The entire team are officially terrorists and their only assets are a computers guy, two toughies and an “analyst” who happens to be very disarming–if you know what I mean.

Ghost Protocol proceeds to have fun in every expensive locale it can name, frequently shooting orgiastic sprees of violence and stuntwork in outstandingly crisp and gigantic IMAX cinematography. It was said a number of years ago regarding The Dark Knight that 3D isn’t the way to go in films, but IMAX is–that bigger movies will always trump slightly dimmer ones with an extra dimension. Let me tell you, I’ve seen a couple movies on my local IMAX screen as well as a few on official IMAX screens in my lifetime, but Ghost Protocol was the first time that I could feel the difference in emotion in the auditorium. During the skyscraper climb in Dubai, in the opening gambit–I hate to sound like a marketing shill, but several times I was left wiping the cold sweat off my palms and removing my girlfriend’s clutched hand from around my arm. It was one of those exceedingly rare but spectacular moments where I indeed paid for the whole seat, despite only needing the edge.

Brad Bird, the director of this feature, is an incredible man. He has fought for years to make animation be seen as having equal weight with live action, and despite the world’s insistence that he was wrong, he kept at it anyway. He made some of the best animated feature films of our time, let alone all time, and has won multiple Oscars for his efforts. Now that he’s transitioning into live action, I just hope he keeps up his track record of astounding filmmaking. Every movie with his name on it is exactly what it wants to be in every way, despite universally being a few minutes too long. They might not pass the Bechdel test (yet) and they might not be as boundary pushing as the films of other filmmakers, but all of his movies are tightly wrapped packages of perfection at doing what they do best. From the music to the sound to the writing to the anything at all, Ghost Protocol continues that tradition of excellence. And if being a few minutes overlong is the only flaw in the feature, then it’s time for me to stop nitpicking. FOUR STARS