The Cold War has come and gone, but the war between spy movie franchises has been hot for the past decade.

The Cold War has come and gone, but the war between spy movie franchises has been hot for the past decade.

And though it's often downright exhilarating, "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" feels like a throwback to a campier time in the genre.

"Mission: Impossible" first made the leap to the big screen in 1996, years before 2002's "The Bourne Identity" injected some gritty realism into the spy flick.

Even the granddaddy of movie spies took note, as the Daniel Craig incarnation of James Bond got less campy and tougher. Then "Mission: Impossible" got its hardcore reboot in a third film directed by J.J. Abrams.

So where does "Ghost Protocol" go from there? Backwards, it turns out.

The latest film is set some years after the third- but it's easy to follow if your memory is hazy. In a breathless opening, an IMF agent (played by "Lost" alum Josh Holloway) is assassinated while trying to intercept a courier with a mysterious package.

Meanwhile, Agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) breaks out of a Moscow prison with some help from fellow agents Jane Carter (Paula Patton) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg).

The reunited team's first impossible mission is to secure some files from the Kremlin. After some daring subterfuge, their objective unravels as a massive explosion rips through the facility.

With the IMF being blamed and the attack labeled an act of aggression, Hunt's team must avert nuclear war while operating under "Ghost Protocol" - meaning their official government connection is revoked and their resources limited.

Admittedly, "Ghost Protocol" has no shortage of thrilling eye candy and some of the best action set pieces of the year. It's what connects those set pieces that disappoints.

With director Brad Bird making his live-action debut after helming stellar animated movies including "The Iron Giant" and Pixar's "The Incredibles," there's obviously the visual flair of someone who has never felt limited by what a camera can do. Sequences shot in glorious IMAX are particularly impressive. If you've got a fear of heights, come prepared.

But after we were spoiled by the new realism of the spy genre, the strains on plausibility are a distraction. And when you're watching characters trading nuclear launch codes for a bag of diamonds, it feels like an '80s Bond flick (and not in a good way).

No one will complain of not getting his money's worth, but with Bird on board and J.J Abrams returning to produce, it could have been so much more.