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4th ‘Mission: Impossible’ film cruises to new heights

Impossible – Ghost Protocol,’ in IMAX theaters Dec. 16, 2011, and standard theaters Dec. 21, 2011.

If the “Transformers” films are a Big Mac, “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” is a juicy, Hyde Park steak.

“Ghost Protocol,” the fourth film in the “Mission: Impossible” franchise, picks up with Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) being broken out of a Moscow prison by co-IMF agents Benji (Simon Pegg) and Carter (Paula Patton). Later, while on a mission inside the Kremlin investigating the theft of nuclear launch codes, the building blows up, and Hunt and his team are blamed for it, leading to the disbanding of the IMF.

On the brink of nuclear war, Hunt and his rogue team, with the aid of William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), must find the man known as Cobalt (Michael Nyqvist) and stop him before he can launch a nuke toward American soil.

“Ghost Protocol” isn’t anything particularly groundbreaking or thought-provoking, but that’s OK. It doesn’t carry any air of pretension (I’m looking at you, “Quantum of Solace”) and makes no qualms being silly and incredibly fun without ever succumbing to the utter stupidity of Michael Bay’s “Transformers” films (though admittedly, I do see them as a guilty pleasure of sorts).

In fact, I’d hope “Ghost Protocol” serves as a beacon for other spy franchises, as the morose grittiness that took hold with James Bond and Jason Bourne is starting to wear thin. After all, action films are meant to be enjoyed, and it’s hard to do so when everything is so dour.

Director Brad Bird (“The Incredibles”) deserves high marks in that regard. Not only does he craft some true visual splendor with some of the best use of IMAX I’ve ever seen, he also avoided some of contemporary cinema’s most vile trends by forgoing a washed out color palette and shooting and editing action pieces like a 12-year-old riding a caffeine rush from an entire case of Mountain Dew.

And thank goodness for that as there’s a seemingly never-ending rotation of those big set pieces. The piece on the Burj Dubai skyscraper is the film’s signature, and rightfully so as it’s something to behold in IMAX, but a chase in a dust storm and a face-off in a car park are also super fun to watch and, ultimately, make “Ghost Protocol” more enjoyable than its predecessor.

I’d go so far as to say “Ghost Protocol” is the James Bond film that “Quantum of Solace” wasn’t. It’s got the gadgets and humor that were lacking from the last 007 entry, which, quite frankly, makes “Ghost Protocol” feel like a Bond film done right.

There are multiple parties to thank for that. Pegg helps keep things light and Patton provides plenty of eye candy, especially during a dinner party bit near the film’s end.

That said, if there’s any real complaint with “Ghost Protocol,” it’s the score. There’s plenty of that iconic “Mission: Impossible” theme to go around, but when it’s served up every five minutes, it loses its impact. Instead, Michael Giacchino’s brash score hits you in the face like a wall of noise with no real subtlety or richness.

It was also a shame to see Nyqvist under-utilized. He doesn’t get a lot of screen time and falls into the background as an entirely forgettable baddie.

Those are just minor qualms, however, as “Ghost Protocol” is an all-around good time. If the end of the film is any indication, this crew will be returning to the “Mission: Impossible” franchise, and I can’t say I have any complaints about it.

Grade: B+

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