Change is good.
In the three previous Mission: Impossible films, leading man Tom Cruise has been put through his paces by different visionary film-makers - Brian De Palma, John Woo and JJ Abrams - with a distinctive voice and aesthetic.
Brad Bird, Oscar-winning director of The Incredibles and Ratatouille, might seem an unlikely candidate to orchestrate the slam bang thrills of this fourth high-octane caper but he is an inspired choice.
Making his live action debut, Bird brings a playfulness and wry sense of humour to proceedings.
An telephone box in Eastern Europe requires a forceful knock to self-destruct after the promised five seconds and a male agent, who is put through the physical ringer while his female colleague simply employs her bountiful charms on a target, demands, “Next time I get to seduce the rich guy!”
From the moment Tom Cruise’s secret agent barks, “Light the fuse,” cueing Lalo Schifrin’s iconic theme music over the opening credits, our pulses race and we’re strapped tight in for a giddy thrill ride.
Impossible Missions Force operative Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is sprung from a Russian jail by fellow agents Jane Carter (Paula Patton) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg). They are ordered to break into the Kremlin to steal intelligence files that reveal the identity of a terrorist codenamed Cobalt.
The mission turns sour when madman Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist) detonates a bomb inside the iconic building to cover up the theft of Russian nuclear launch codes.
Disavowed by the US government, Ethan, Jane, Benji and top analyst William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) must operate outside of official channels to apprehend Hendricks before he can initiate nuclear Armageddon.
The next James Bond movie will have to up its game to match the miasma of ingenious gadgets, bone-crunching fight sequences and death-defying acrobatics in Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol.
Bird’s film is a delight, careening from the jail break and the demolition of the Kremlin to a breathless chase through a sand storm and a bruising skirmish in an Indian car manufacturing plant.
What Andre Nemec and Josh Appelbaum’s script lacks in plausibility - almost everything - it compensates with unabashed, all-guns-blazing fun.
The fourth film keeps Cruise in the eye of the storm, allowing the gung-ho star to perform many of his own jaw-dropping stunts.
The actor throws himself into the melee with boundless energy, scaling the dizzying heights of the world’s tallest building in Dubai or zip-lining onto the roof of a moving vehicle on the streets of Moscow.
It’s hard to believe he turns 50 in the summer.
Patton injects ballsy girl power and Pegg brings welcome comic relief, while Renner proves his action credentials before taking the lead in The Bourne Legacy next year.
For now, 2011 ends with an almighty bang and Cruise firmly in control.
By Damon Smith
:: SWEARING :: NO SEX :: VIOLENCE :: RATING: 8/10
Released: December 26 (UK & Ireland), 133 mins