I don’t hate Tom Cruise. I like him a lot. I think the whole Scientology, jumping up and down on Oprah’s couch, Matt Lauer argument didn’t do him an favors as far as his image goes, but I’m supremely capable of divorcing that persona from what I see on the screen. Plus, I don’t really like Matt Lauer at all.

He makes awesome movies. And Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol is yet another on the long list of fun and exciting action romps that he has been delivering for a very long time.

I had to count on my fingers. This is the fourth Mission Impossible film. The first one had the big finale on the train with Jean Reno. The second was the John Woo movie with all the extraneous doves. In the third he was married and trying to save his wife. And, now this is the one where IMF is disavowed and they have to go about exonerating the team while saving the world.

I have to say, this may very well be the best of that set. I never left any of the others saying, “Oh, I have to get that when it comes out on DVD.” I definitely said that about Ghost Protocol. You can’t really say that “It’s the biggest Mission Impossible yet!” They’ve all been pretty huge. I think this one is probably the smartest. It’s smarter because it seems more self-aware and not every maneuver Ethan tries to make seems so impossibly easy.

Kurt Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist) is a no-goodnik that wants to drag the world into nuclear war to sort of clean the slate. He thinks we’re too far off course and society needs a reset button. He steals some Russian launch codes and the missile launching briefcase thing. In the process , he destroys the Kremlin and frames it on the IMF. Ha… Impossible Mission Force. That’s pretty ridiculous in and of itself.

Ethan and his team, Benji (the returning Simon Pegg), Jane (Paula Patton), and Brandt (Jeremy Renner), are left out in the wind having been disavowed. It’s up to them to stop Hendricks before he can use the codes to launch an apparently Russian nuclear attack on the US in response to the Kremlin’s destruction.

The adventure takes them from Russia to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai and then on to India. This sort of action never really happens in Towson. That would be the perfect plan. “Rendezvous in Whitemarsh, Maryland to exchange the stolen nuclear launch codes.” Who would suspect that? “No. That can’t be right. All they have is an IKEA. That’s not nearly exciting enough for such a grand plan.”

The charm of this movie is that it knows what it is and where it has been. All along the way it takes self-referencial jabs that are more wit than gimmick. Ethan trips and fumbles. He’s not as precise and perfect as he was in the other movies. A lot of that charm is likely due to first-time live-action director, Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, Ratatouille, The Incredibles.)

Some of the smartest movies in recent history have come out of the world of Pixar. It’s no surprise that putting one of Pixar’s chief architects at the helm of this movie (or any movie) that the results would show marked improvement and turn out splendidly. The “comic relief” pulled in largely by Pegg’s Benji (excited to be out and about in the world and not stuck in mission control), never seemed forced. It was organic. Obvious, but carefully placed and dolloped in the proper proportions.

Brad Bird? He makes cartoons. How could he handle the action?

HELLO? All you have to do is watch The Incredibles (which I may just do) to know that he can manage an action movie. MI:GP was appropriately cool. It neared the top, but by comparison, never went over the top. It was exciting and remained believable-ish.

We have two big action movies to choose from this Holiday season. There’s MI:GP and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. I’d obviously see both and already have; however, if you’re not as aggressive in your movie going as I am, I give it to MI:GP.

Sherlock is fun and some would probably say that it has “eye-popping action.” But, it’s really just more of the same. It’s Downey Jr. and Law fencing with their sharp wits. The carefully arranged scheme of dominos that serve to provide all the clues to topple the bad guy.  How impressive is that when a writer can plant all the evidence he needs to solve the case? I don’t mean to down on it. It’s a ride. There are some new wrinkles and surprises. Sherlock takes his lumps this time around. It’s not as easy. It’s also not as new.

I guess, MI:GP just seems to be more of an improvement upon what we’ve seen before. It shed of the old standbys and gags from the earlier movies. It even takes a poke at them, which is very funny. I think this is just one more example in a long list—maybe even near the lop of that list—of why Tom Cruise is awesome.

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