Of the three Mission: Impossible movies, the first, directed by Hitchcock-enthusiast Brian De Palma, is the only one that holds up on repeated viewings. John Woo’s Mission: Impossible 2 and J.J. Abrams’ Mission: Impossible 3, while both stylish and technically well made in their own right, were melodramatic and forgettable, respectively. At least, that’s my opinion.

Hopefully, Mission: Impossible 4, the first live-action feature film directed by Brad Bird (The Incredibles), will take its cues from the original and not from the aforementioned underwhelming sequels. The good news is, if the highly atmospheric pictures from the set of number four are any indication, that may very well be the case.

Check out the pictures below, featuring series staple Tom Cruise and new cast members Jeremy Renner (The Avengers) and Josh Holloway (Lost):

Unfortunately, there’s nothing in the pictures that divulges the nature of the third sequel’s story. As you can see, Jeremy Renner is sporting a suit and a very clean-cut haircut, while Josh Holloway looks like he’s getting ready to drag race James Dean off a cliff. Were I a guessing man (and rest assured, I am not), I’d say that Mission: Impossible 4 is about businessmen blowing off steam by playing chicken in old-timey cars. Let’s hope so!

Seriously, though — the set photos, which take place primarily at night over a European backdrop (specifically, Prague), are far more reminiscent of the first Mission: Impossible movie than, say, Missions 2 and 3. Brad Bird has proven, at least in the animated world, that he is more than capable of creating massive amounts of cinematic suspense and atmosphere. In fact, The Incredibles owed as much to the 60s spy thriller genre as it did superheroes and comic books, what with Mr. and Mrs. Incredible sneaking around Syndrome’s island at night.

Previous set photos revealed that Tom Cruise’s character, Ethan Hunt, would be disguising himself as a Russian military officer with an affinity for Bruce Springsteen, not to mention dangling shirtless from a harness (below). Internet commentators mocked Tom Cruise’s naked torso for resembling Admiral Ackbar’s face, but the truth of the matter is, each and every one of those commentators will be lucky to look half as good as Cruise does at the tender age of 48.

Mission: Impossible 4, also known as The Mission, hits theaters December 2011. Besides Cruise, Renner and Holloway, the film will co-star Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Léa Sedoux (Inglourious Basterds), and Anil Kapoor (Slumdog Millionaire). Keep an eye on the main page for more Mission news, including possible plot information, as it’s forthcoming.

Sources: Coming Soon, Flix66, Daily Mail