As listeners of Hypable’s Cinema Hype have recently become aware, this writer has a deathly fear of heights and was advised therefore to not see Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol on an IMAX screen. If I had heeded this advice, I would have been robbed of one of the most exhilarating film experiences of the year.

No one was sure what to expect when a fourth Mission Impossible film was greenlit, but as casting information was slowly revealed and Pixar directing guru Brad Bird was chosen to direct, it seemed that Ghost Protocol was shaping up to be better than its predecessors.

Well, the proof is in the pudding now. Ghost Protocol has proven that Ethan Hunt isn’t done yet, and director Brad Bird proves that an imagination that doesn’t confine itself to the rules of live-action film-making will produce the best result.

It would have been so easy to create a static action film around Ethan Hunt, the smoother than smooth action-spy extraordinaire, but Ghost Protocol went a different route completely and decided to not make this just any other mission.

A bombing at an international landmark leads to the disbanding of the Hunt’s organization, IMF. Because of this, a rogue team (featuring the beautiful Paula Patton [Precious, Hitch] rising star Jeremy Renner [The Hurt Locker, The Town] and funny-man Simon Pegg [Shaun of the Dead, Paul]) must assemble to stop the real terrorists before they can successfully steal a live missile launch code.

The stakes are (literally) sky-high in this feature that promises the beginning of the nuclear holocaust should Hunt and his team fail. Their mission takes them to a half a dozen unique locations, each with its own unexpected twist that forces the team to think on their feet.

Speaking of thinking on their feet, what an excellent idea it was to take Brad Bird (the director of The Incredibles and executive consultant of the first 180 episodes of The Simpsons) and put him into the Mission Impossible franchise. That amount of creativity and exquisite mastery of clever plot devices that makes the Pixar films so identifiable is ever-present in this installment of the Mission Impossible franchise. One can almost see the animated movie underneath, and this works to Bird’s advantage.

The movie begins with a larger than life and ostentatious opening credit sequence. It’s almost cartoon-y in its composition, but then again, so is the rest of the film. For most of Ghost Protocol, Cruise and his team are acting on the fly, relying on impulses and hunches to get them through their mission. In a film that takes itself too seriously, this would have seemed unrealistic and recklessly dangerous.

Under Bird’s supervision, the entire movie is dashed with humor, cool gadgets, risky plans, and more than a pinch of Pixar’s trademark cleverness. Who’s idea was it for an action set-piece that takes place in one of those ridiculous automated parking structures? How about a car-chase through a sand-storm? How about gecko-scaling the tallest building in the world?

Christopher Nolan once remarked that he wanted to bring the spectacle back to movie-making, and Brad Bird has absolutely done this. During the sweeping action scenes, I found myself on the edge of my seat, gripping the cup-holder on either side of me. This is not something that happens often. I found myself sucked into the experience, and I also found that when Brad Bird isn’t handling his audience with kid-gloves, he can have a pretty firm grip.

I was happy to spend my money on Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. It, like many films choosing to film using IMAX technology, has brought spectacle back into movie theaters where it belongs.

Grade: A

Rated: PG-13 (for sequences of intense action and violence )

Mission Impossible:Ghost Protocol opened in limited IMAX release on December 16; it opens nationwide December 21.

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