Don’t let the idea throw you. It turns out to be rousing good news that producer-star Tom Cruise has brought on Brad Bird, the animator king behind The Incredibles, Ratatouille and The Iron Giant, to make his live-action directing debut with the fourth Mission: Impossible movie. In fact, Bird is an ideal fit to follow Brian De Palma in 1996, John Woo in 2000 and J.J. Abrams in 2006. For Bird, the impossible is business as usual, and his is the best and most spectacular Mission yet. See it in IMAX, and you’re in for an action adrenaline rush that keeps you on the edge of your seat eager for the next visual astonishment. The IMAX cameras produce the thrilling effect of 3-D without the damn glasses, making Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol a genuine marvel of cinema ingenuity. Check the dizzying scene of Cruise scaling Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. You won’t believe your eyes.
And Bird turns out to be a natural with flesh-and-blood actors, tapping the script by Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec for every ounce of humor and suspense. Bird also knows how to build a scene for utmost impact. And he has just the right actors to do him proud. Cruise effortlessly exudes magnetism as Ethan Hunt, the IMF (Impossible Mission Force) undercover agent who specializes in getting out of tight fixes. Bird starts things off on a high, with Ethan busting out of a Moscow prison with outside tech assistance from Benji Dunn (a wonderfully droll Simon Pegg) and Dean Martin warbling “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head” on the soundtrack. After a bomb blows up the Kremlin (another knockout IMAX sequence), Ethan’s boss (the great Tom Wilkinson) tells him the President has evoked “ghost protocol” to sever the U.S. from the team, leaving Ethan, Benji, Jane Carter (Paula Patton) and new agent William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) out in the cold and without cash for fancy tricks. Unless, of course, they they can nab nuclear launch codes from a baddie (Michael Nyqvist) and restore order. This will require Ethan to hang by suction gloves from the 123rd floor of the Burj Khalifa in the face of a sandstorm. It also means double teaming two groups of crooks at the same time, forcing Jane to duke it out with a hottie French assassin (Lea Seydoux) while Ethan dodges disaster. It’s implausible as hell, but no less fun for that. As Lalo Schifrin’s iconic TV theme keeps pumping, cinematographer Robert Elswit and editor Paul Hirsch perform kinetic wonders as the film moves to Mumbai for a bruising face-off in a multi-leveled parking lot. Spotting a glammed-up Jane, William can’t disguise his envy. “Next time I want to seduce the rich guy,” he says, with Renner nailing the smile in the line. Sweet. Still, this is Cruise’s show and the actor, pushing 50, brings the role a startling athletic grace and becoming maturity. If someone asks you what a true movie star is, point to Cruise. He has it all. And he’s found an ideal collaborator in Bird. You leave Mission: Impossible–Ghost Protocol thinking that these guys can do anything.