IF WE CAN AGREE that Mission: Impossible III is one of the more underrated bits of pop filmmaking in the past few years—which, yes, let's agree on that, it'll make this review easier to write and it'll make me like you more—then it doesn't come as too big of a surprise that its follow-up, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, is also really solid. What is surprising is how different the films are: While the intense, clever Mission: Impossible III marked the big-screen directorial debut of J.J. Abrams, the funny, popcorny Ghost Protocol is the first live-action flick from animation genius Brad Bird, the guy behind The Iron Giant and Pixar's The Incredibles.
That's not to say Ghost Protocol has an actual plot, because c'mon: All that's really needed here is a halfway sturdy framework to hang crazy-ass action sequences on, and check mark on that, so great. In short, something something nuclear war, and the only people who can save the all-but-doomed world are Tom Cruise and his club of action heroes/nerds (this time around: Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton, the always-excellent Simon Pegg). And so everybody runs around: the Kremlin! (It blows up!) The Burj Khalifa! (Cruise bounces around like Spider-Man on it, two billion miles in the air, giving everyone in the audience an anxiety attack!) India! (India!)
While Abrams' Mission stripped down the blockbuster/action/spy genre to its leanest, meanest, trickiest bits, Bird just wants to have fun with this thing, and damn, does he ever: With a lighthearted tone and exceedingly well-executed mash-ups of preposterous action and witty physical comedy, Bird lines up a series of great moments from both his cast and his stunt team. The only things really lacking are (A) ghosts and (B) protocols. But whatever: There's a huge surplus of fun to make up for those deficits, and in a season defined by family and financial stress at home, and Oscar bait in theaters, fun's a pretty great thing to have.