Dec. 15, 2011 at 8:51 PM ET
The last James Bond movie, "Quantum of Solace," came out in 2008. But while fans of action-packed spy thrillers wait for 007 to return in 2012's "Skyfall," they can fill the gap nicely with "Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol."
Finally, the "Mission: Impossible" series is back on track, and this latest installment is packed with exotic scenery, fancy cars, crazy gadgets, beautiful women and handsome men. And except for an overlong prison-escape sequence at the very start, once the fuse starts burning on this one, it never slows down.
Tom Cruise is back as spy Ethan Hunt, and when the Kremlin blows up, he and his team are disavowed by their organization and must go rogue, becoming the "ghosts' of the title. Which has no real effect on anything, because they still have devices that would make Bond's Q drool -- iPhones that can pull a suspect's face out of a crowd, magnetic vests that let the wearer float, and an amazing pair of gloves that allow Cruise to climb the outside of the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.
Those stomach-churning skyscraper scenes live up to their billing, and even sitting safely in a comfortable theater seat it's hard to watch Cruise swooping around at 2,700 feet without feeling queasy. But there's not a ton of time for Spider-Man antics, as there are plenty more action scenes and exotic locales to jump around in, including an underwater shootout and a fight in a car park where the levels, and the parked cars, slide around just to make things more difficult. The film was partially shot with IMAX cameras, and numerous scenes take full advantage of that format.
Don't stop to question the plot too closely -- Hunt can beat up an entire Russian prison but struggles to best one gray-haired villain (Michael Nyqvist), and the team magically happens to find all the puzzle pieces to stop a nuclear launch in the time it takes most folks to grab a shower. But enjoy the supporting cast, which includes Simon Pegg as the comic relief computer whiz, Jeremy Renner as an analyst with a guilty secret, and Paula Patton as the lone female agent, who switches between seduction and butt-kicking with aplomb.
The film is director Brad Bird's first live-action undertaking -- you may know him from "The Incredibles" and "Iron Giant" -- and it's fun to think that maybe his animation experience helped him guide Cruise and pals as they swoop around like cartoons. J.J. Abrams of "Lost" is one of the producers, and he reunites with Josh "Sawyer" Holloway in a pivotal role.
One rumor had Cruise retiring from the franchise after this film and Renner taking over, but Moviehole reports that Cruise, Bird and Pegg are all open to returning for a fifth film. Why not? Cruise will be 50 in July but for a guy who famously did some of his own Burj Khalifa stunts, he has the verve of a action hero half his age. Should he choose to accept it, audiences will likely be happy to follow him on another "Mission."