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I am never one to go out of my way to see Tom Cruise in a movie, but I am a fan of director Brad Bird. Bird worked on “The Simpsons” and has made some wonderful animated films, including “Iron Giant” and “The Incredibles.”
“Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” now playing, is Bird’s first live-action feature, and I went to see it for that reason.

I am glad I did. “Ghost Protocol” is one of the best popcorn movies of 2011. It has lots of action and just the right dash of comedy to make for a savory dish.

The movie opens with the death of an IMF (Impossible Mission Force) agent, who was supposed to intercept a courier carrying launch codes for Russian nuclear missiles.

This death sets the story in motion. Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), imprisoned for suspected murder in a Moscow jail, is sprung by Jane Carter (Paula Patton) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg).

Jane and Benji need Hunt to help them infiltrate the Kremlin. Their goal is to identify a person known as Cobalt. The mission goes badly – so badly that the Kremlin is blown up and IMF is implicated.

Because IMF is now brought into the light of day, the president declares that IMF is now on “ghost protocol.” This means that Hunt and his team members are cut off from access to any intelligence that would be needed to combat Cobalt.

Cobalt is a former Russian adviser who now believes the world needs to be destroyed by nuclear weapons. His belief is based on a crazy idea that the world will recreate itself, but only after all human life is ended.

The movie jumps from Russia to Dubai, where Hunt and his team believe they can get the launch codes to the missiles and stop Cobalt. The clock, of course, is ticking, and time is running out.

Bird knows what a spy thriller looks like. It is paced in a way that the characters are always in some form of danger. There are no easy moments here. Just when a little reflection seeps in, the action picks back up.

Bird brings a discerning eye and an appreciation of the source material – the great TV series of long ago. (Bird lets us know he is aware of this in the opening credits.)

One must also appreciate how Bird shot this movie. The sequences in Dubai are nothing short of extraordinary. The hotel BurjKhalifa is the location for some of the most spellbinding shots you will ever see in a movie.

Hunt has to climb up the outside of the building, and when he arrives more than 100 stories up, we are shown some of the best stunt and camera work you will find.

Bird’s experience in animation is evidenced here as we see things shot from all manner of angles, and we feel the experience of being suspended outside a skyscraper.

I saw “Ghost Protocol” in an IMAX theater, which certainly helped drive home how great this popcorn movie is. The detail of some shots will take your breath away.

If you are looking for a fun holiday movie, look no further.

MikeParnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of intense action and violence.

Director: Brad Bird

Writer: Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec (based on the TV series created by Bruce Geller)

Cast: Tom Cruise: Ethan Hunt; Jeremy Renner: William Brandt; Paula Patton: Jane Carter; Simon Pegg: Benji Dunn; Michael Nyqvist: Hendricks.

The movie’s website is here.

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