It makes perfect sense that the man who directed Pixar's The Incredibles, and won a best animated feature Oscar for his trouble, is behind the camera on Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol.
The Tom Cruise franchise, about a crack team of special agents who save the world by performing impossibly impossible acts of deception, detection, and derring-do, has become a kind of cartoon anyway. No one really believes that Cruise's Ethan Hunt and his gang have inner lives, or even outer lives beyond the machinations of the mission at hand. So why not give Cruise a funny mustache, and make Simon Pegg (as Benji, the goofball Brit) sport a slightly too big hat on his head? The two of them march into the Kremlin disguised as Russian Army brass in order to collect vital files, and everything about their gaits, their gazes, and their gruff Russian accents smacks of Looney Tunes. Hunt is just a couple of brushstrokes away from being a Muscovite Yosemite Sam.
So, Ghost Protocol, which opens Friday only in Imax theaters, and then everywhere on Wednesday, has a certain cartoonish vibe. That's OK, because Brad Bird's brand of toonage (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille) owes much to the rigors and traditions of live action, not only in the way he references other films, but also in his visual approach - sweeping, swooping camera pans, wide vistas, jolting perspective.
Though not quite as front-to-finish satisfying as J.J. Abrams' Mission: Impossible III, Bird's installment nonetheless rocks. And if you see it in the giant Imax format, with the kazillion watts of digital surround sound, it literally does so. Watch (and feel) the Kremlin go kaboom - hurling Hunt to the ground, and then hurling him and his new IMF squad on a mad run through Dubai and Mumbai, trying to thwart a nuclear extremist (Michael Nyqvist - Mikael Blomkvist of the Swedish-made Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels).
(Important note: IMF stands for Impossible Missions Force, not International Monetary Fund. The special agents of that other IMF really have their work cut out for them.)
The centerpiece set-piece of Ghost Protocol involves a complicated swap of launch codes for diamonds, a fetching French assassin (Léa Seydoux), a Russian arms dealer (Samuli Edelmann), and tricky parallel meetings on adjoining floors of Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. For reasons too absurd to get into (or to understand), Hunt is required to scale multiple stories of the vertiginous glass skyscraper - clambering up the building's reflective skin using high-tech suction-cup gloves and a look of grim determination. It's an amazing sequence - suspenseful, cinematic, outlandish, hard to top. Which makes Bird's mission for what follows - the chase through the sandstorm, the vertical parking-lot game of musical cars, the fancy hotel seduction scene involving the beautiful Paula Patton and a Mumbai playboy billionaire - rather daunting. Inevitably, the pace, and purpose, flag.
But Cruise is never less than game, Pegg adds a wonky comic tomfoolery to the proceedings, Jeremy Renner comes onboard as a State Department aide with lethal skills and lots of baggage, and Patton is striking, whether she's pitching woo in a backless gown or kickboxing that French femme fatale. (Yes, cat fight!!)
And pay attention to the subtitles in the early going, when everybody's running around Moscow and the world looks like it's heading for Armageddon. There's a great, and totally cartoon-y, moment when Agent Hunt struggles to regain consciousness in a hospital ward. Mission: Impossible - Cyrillic Protocol.