Recently retired, Agent Ethan Hunt lives a slower-paced life training new IMF agents. With this change, new opportunities enter his life, including a possible marriage to his girlfriend Julia. However, when a new conflict arises, Ethan is called back to duty to confront the toughest villain he's ever faced -- Owen Davian, an international weapons and information provider with no remorse and no conscience.
The thrills come mad hot and wicked sweet in Mission: Impossible III, the movie to beat this summer in the race to push your pulse rate past the danger zone. And please don't ask if the plot makes sense. It didn't the last two times either. Here's what counts: Tom Cruise is back as secret agent Ethan Hunt and he takes it to the limit -- running, jumping, punching, kicking, freefalling and flashing his laser-beam peepers with an intensity that could cut steel. But Ethan doesn't faze weapons trader Owen Damien, the most deliciously vile movie villain in ages as played with dry wit and hardcore menace by the newly Oscared Philip Seymour Hoffman. It's a kick to watch Hoffman play hellboy to Cruise's action hombre and you can believe the movie is all the better for it. Having said that, the true star of M:i:III is director and co-writer J.J. Abrams. Best known for his TV work, notably on Alias and Lost, Abrams takes to feature directing like the tabloids take to Cruise. He's all over it. With a reported budget of $185 million, M:i:III is the most expensive movie ever undertaken by a first-time director. After David Fincher (Seven) and Joe Carnahan (Narc) left the project, producer Cruise put his trust in new guy Abrams, who does him proud.
It's nuts trying to untangle the plot concocted by Abrams and his Alias collaborators Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci. Here's as far as I'll go: Ethan has found the right girl to marry in Julie (Michelle Monaghan, a star in the making), who knows diddly about his job at IMF (Impossible Mission Force for the uninitiated). It's love that makes Ethan vulnerable to Owen, who threatens to put a bullet in Julie's pretty head if Ethan doesn't give him some damn rabbit's foot. OK, enough, you get the picture.
You should also know that Ving Rhames returns to watch Ethan's back as Luther Strickwel.l (Remember how the rug in The Big Lebowski tied the Dude's room together? Rhames does the same for this series). New faces include a hard-ass Laurence Fishburne as Brassel, Ethan's boss, Billy Crudup as Musgrave, the boss's wingman, and new team members: Declan (Jonathan Rhys Meyers of Match Point), Zhen (Maggie Q of modeling fame), and Lindsey (Keri Russell of Felicity, another Abrams TV staple). This is one director who does more than keep the actors from bumping into each other as they wear disguises, speak various languages and play daredevil. Going way beyond the call of action flick duty, Abrams gives each character moments that resonate. If this is just favorable ruboff from Lost, don't knock it. It helps to give a damn about a IMFers before they get blown away.
Abrams is sincere about wanting the stunts to serve the story, but don't expect Chekhov. This is a film franchise built on the principle of the unbroken rush. Look, there's Ethan leaping over a gap on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Over there, he's scaling a rooftop in Shanghai. And catch him on a speedboat chase on the Tiber with a quick stop at the Vatican to steal the Da Vinci code (just kidding about that last part). Cruise doesn't so much act as treat the film as an Olympic event, doing many of the stunts himself. On the debit side, the movie -- should you decide to accept it -- peaks in its first hour. The surprise ending is way too easy to see coming. And there's a sappiness to the romantic climax that strains our goodwill. Plus, Hoffman isn't onscreen nearly enough. And the disguise gimmicks, especially Cruise wearing a Hoffman mask, now feel like unconvincing relics from the old Mission: Impossibleseries that ended thirty-three years ago. Bury the nostalgia. Like the rap twist Kayne West puts into the film's classic theme, this movie is best when it stirs it up.
Great movie on it's own, but this is a wierd trilogy, in that there's no consistent feel to it. The art-house De Palma M:I was different from the gravity-defying, exploding John Woo one, and this one is at least as different from either of the first two. If you view it as a sequel, you will be sorely disappointed at the lack of "cool" action that the last one had so much of, but if you view it on it's own, you will appreciate how the action is molded to the storyline and the characters. Abrams's scope here is incredible: the opening sequence is the most intense opening in any non-horror movie in the last decade, yet there are also a surprising number of jokes and lighthearted moments as well.
You have heard all the rumors about whether or not M:I-3 would possibly be Cruise’s franchise flop, aggregated by his recent behavior. The Tom & Kate Miracle Baby notwithstanding, there were grumblings by journalists that the canceled U.S. press junket meant the studio was afraid of the movie. And then critics were shut out of last week’s promo screening. It did not bode well.
Especially highlighted in press reports was the fact that Cruise gave the directorial rein to this mega-blockbuster franchise to a novice movie helmer. I, for one, am tired of the same James Bond hacks turning up for by-the-numbers paychecks. (I still want Quentin Tarantino to direct a Bond film!)
Well, J.J. Abrams delivers in this best in series. He was not plucked from the second assistant director hinterlands. He has pretty good credentials: He is the creator of the infuriating “Lost” and “Alias.” Sure, he had a massive budget, but that only means he could let his imagination and the technical support fly in Cruise’s unrestricted movie space.
M:I-3 is exciting from beginning to end. While Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) now has a normal life with a sweet ordinary nurse-girlfriend, Julia (Michelle Monaghan), he is also tougher and meaner. Every character is angrier. The testosterone levels are all amped up.
Hunt is now out of the field. He has a boring cover job as an air traffic control expert but really trains MIF operatives. On the night of his engagement party, Hunt gets a call. His star pupil, Lindsey Ferris (Keri Russell), is being held by phantom menace Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman). MIF chief John Brassel (Laurence Fishburne) reams out Hunt: Why did he vouch for Ferris? She got herself kidnapped. Brassel tells Hunt he has been pursuing the very bad Davian for years. He’s a ghost. MIF’s operations manager Musgrave (Billy Crudup) asks Hunt to join his former team in an “Unauthorized - Don’t Tell Brassel - Mission: Freeing Ferris.
Of course, Hunt has to lie to Julia about a 2-day business trip and go rescue his extremely competent protégé.
Hunt re-teams with Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) and new characters Declan (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and Zhen (Maggie Q). Zhen is such a cool professional, she hardly notices Hunt and never speaks.
We know from the opening what happens and I prefer not to spoil your fun. I can confidently say that you will not be disappointed. Everything that made MI iconic is here: The identity-switching mask, the glamorous locations, the alternative reality-shifting stunts, and the now classic Hunt-Flying-On-A-Wire trick. What has been pushed forward is the cruel violence, the team’s lack of respect for Hunt’s dream of a normal life, and the brutality of the beatings Hunt gets. And, while James Bond keeps coming up against girly-girl villains, Hunt gets temperamental “I don’t care if you don’t like me” Hoffman-as-Davian.
What is not to enjoy? Davian is not to be toyed with. He implants time-release explosives in his victim’s brains. You die – no options. The chopper scene and highway chase – with Hunt being thrown against a car – are terrific. And then there is the mysterious black-box “Rabbit’s Foot” that everyone wants. Well, even if it was worth $850 million, Hunt and Davian burn up that much money destroying property.( but not one police report is filed). As far as the Rabbit’s Foot, miraculously, Hunt finds it.
The plot is tricky and swirls around, but who cares?
The dialogue by screenwriters Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Abrams was well-executed and gave the audience a few cast-off lines – not “I’ll be back” catchphrases – that the audience appreciated.
Abrams is now an acknowledged, gold-plated director who can direct a huge team. Guys like him should be leading military operations in Afghanistan.
The exotic locations are perfect, but would any guest go to a Vatican function in a Paris Hiltonesque revealing red gown? And I suddenly got upset that Hunt’s team was destroying priceless Vatican property. If the screenplay did lift from “The Abyss” and “Pulp Fiction’s” mysterious briefcase, so be it. It not only worked, I’m going to see it again this weekend (and re-visit the plot).
While the famous M:I theme music is used too sparingly, it has been toughened up. Oh, and by the way, I hated the end credits song by Kanye West.
Victoria Alexander answers every email and can be contacted directly at email@example.com or by visiting www.FilmsInReview.com
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III
Director: J.J. Abrams
Screenwriters: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and J.J. Abrams
Based on the television series created by: Bruce Geller
Producers: Tom Cruise, Paula Wagner
Executive producer: Stratton Leopold
Director of photography: Dan Mindel
Production designer: Scott Chambliss
Music: Michael Giacchino
Co-producer: Arthur Anderson
Costume designer: Colleen Atwood
Editors: Mary Jo Markey, Maryann Brandon
Second unit director: Vic Armstrong
Visual effects supervisor: Roger Guyett
Special effects coordinator: Dan Sudick
Ethan Hunt: Tom Cruise
Owen Davian: Philip Seymour Hoffman
Luther Stickell: Ving Rhames
Musgrave: Billy Crudup
Julia: Michelle Monaghan
Declan: Jonathan Rhys Meyers
Lindsey Ferris: Keri Russell
Zhen: Maggie Q
John Brassel: Laurence Fishburne
Benji Dunn: Simon Pegg
MPAA rating: PG-13
Running time -- 125 minutes
Victoria's column, THE DEVIL'S HAMMER, appears every Monday on FromTheBalcony.com. Go to: www.FromTheBalcony.com/devilshammer/index.htm
The formula wears thin, bending not breaking, in "Mission: Impossible III." This latest edition about the exploits of the team from the secret agency delivers a few new twists along with many of the same fireworks and outlandish special effects seen in the two earlier films. But, by now, much is starting to look overly familiar.
"MI3" comes assembled by an odd assortment of television refugees. The director and co-writer, J. J. Abrams, has no noticeable directing resume to suggest that he could handle such a big budget, high profile assignment, other than he once co-created TV hits "Lost" and "Alias." Co-writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci have received their top recognition for having penned scripts for "Hercules" and "Alias."
But Abrams follows the expected pattern, with the results being more loud--extremely loud--explosions, prolonged gunfights, a series of chases of different varieties, and a convoluted plot seemingly based on nothing. Try as Abrams might to give his main character, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), a back-story, complete with fiancee, Julia (Michelle Monaghan), "MI3" never delivers Brian DiPalma’s lurid excesses of the first film, or John Woo’s lyrical violence of the second.
Recent whipping-boy Cruise returns as secret agent Hunt, and whatever the movie’s faults, they can’t be blamed on him. He’s merely an actor (although, here, he also produces), and, as such, isn’t responsible for the film’s redundancy and general lack of creativity. He’s fine in his role as the agent pulled back in when an old friend (Keri Russell) needs helps.
On the eve of getting married, Hunt secretly joins his re-assembled old team, now comprised of Ving Rhames, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and luscious but wooden supermodel Maggie Q. They all head out after evil international bad guy, arms dealer Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Fine actors Billy Crudup and Laurence Fishburne take small roles as bureau chieftains.
Davian has left behind a trail of bodies in his pursuit of something known only as the rabbit’s foot, a nonsensical nom-de-guerre that serves as the film’s McGuffin. Whatever it is leads the "MI3" team to Berlin and Vatican City before ending up in Shanghai, China. There, Hunt engages in the acrobatic shenanigans that have come to personify the "MI" franchise.
Around this time, agent Luther (Rhames) tells Hunt "There comes a point where bold becomes stupid." This sums up the overall tone of "MI3": a nagging feeling that the comic strip posing as a film, and franchise, has left the realm of reality and begs a little too much of its audience. Your individual enjoyment of the film will depend entirely on your own capacity for such demands.
No one is going to hold a gun to your head and make you watch Mission: Impossible III, but, sitting in the theater, you may feel a phantom pressure at the base of your skull. In the opening scene, Philip Seymour Hoffman pulls a similar maneuver, and since the movie swiftly deposits us a few days back in time, we know that we'll have to watch it again. The third installment of Paramount's franchise is easily the most sadistic of the trio. There are little pills that explode in people's brains and an unrelenting air of gloomy menace. Plus, how much exposure to Tom Cruise can one audience withstand?
Cruise has been America's reigning actor for so long now that all his moves have become signatures. There's the over-the-shoulder smile (shot in profile), the all-weather cocky grin, the "intense" look with cheeks sucked in, and, my personal favorite, the two-handed clutch of the head of his beloved. In M:I3, Cruise proves yet again that he's eminently watchable, gliding through the mayhem with a dancerly efficiency. He's an actor upon whom you can rest a $200 million movie. The real scandal of Cruise's behavior last summer was not his schoolboy exuberance or his Scientology lectures, but how unprofessional it was. He was endangering the franchise.
For, if nothing else, M:I3 is state-of-the-art franchise filmmaking. So as not to alienate potential international markets, it takes place in a world denuded of obvious national symbols, such as the American flag, and the only products onscreen are those that have paid for their placement. The cast is designed to appeal to a wide range of demographics, from Teenage Boys (Maggie Q) to Matrix Fans (Laurence Fishburne) to Women (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). When Billy Crudup, Keri Russell, and Ving Rhames show up, it's corporate overkill. And like most franchise movies, M:I3 is a calculated response to the art form's two challenges: How efficiently can we make you care about these characters, and how awesome can we make the action scenes?
The character development was entrusted to a youngish, hotshot director, J.J. Abrams, who conceived of the beloved TV shows Alias and Lost. On Alias, Abrams proved that he could make the life of a pouty international superspy seem down-to-earth and believable. In M:I3, he takes on his own mission impossible: humanize Tom Cruise. At the film's outset, Cruise's Ethan Hunt has retired from the field and has plans to marry Julia, his nurse girlfriend (Michelle Monaghan). Their relationship seems to consist primarily of repeating the name of a lake where they had an early date. Does Julia find it strange that Ethan takes her to a beautiful hospital rooftop to tearfully explain that he has to go away for a few days on a business trip? Apparently not: She leaves the roof and marries him downstairs. In a summer blockbuster, the course of true love never does make sense, but it does run smooth.
Ethan has, of course, been lured back into his tailored black combat gear: A former protégé has been kidnapped by Owen Davian, a secretive arms dealer played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Casting Hoffman was a great idea, although he's not allowed to romp all over the movie a la Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean. Even so, he's a welcome and disturbing presence. My favorite moment is a throwaway one where he petulantly grabs a drink being served to him. Better yet is his dressing down of Cruise, which was splashed all over the trailer: "Do you have a wife or girlfriend? Whoever she is, I'm going to find her, and I'm going to hurt her ... " He radiates evil. He acts like he believes this crap.
The action scenes are thrilling in the modern, quick-cut, disorienting way. Abrams stages a balletic helicopter chase through a field of windmills, and he's willing to slow things down on occasion, as when Cruise leans out of a speeding Range Rover for a precision pistol shot. Still, at the extreme risk of sounding like a killjoy, I think something has been lost with the digitization of action movies. The great "Aaaah!" moment of M:I3 is a leap from the top of a Shanghai office tower, but the back of my mind was churning: Is that real? I will have to wait to see the DVD featurette to know for certain. That's why I derived greater pleasure from the film's analog tricks: a clever scene involving lip-reading and some good old-fashioned heart-wrenching mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
No doubt M:I3 will find its place in the summer box-office sun. The movie raises your pulse, it has visual wow. But I suspect that audiences will emerge into the light feeling more battered than entertained. With its flashback structure, M:I3 continually toys with the idea that Owen Davian will execute Julia. As a result, for all of the movie's professional craft and lovely vertigo, the experience is like eating popcorn in a guillotine.
Having not been terribly impressed with M:I or M:i:II, I didn’t expect much more than a lot of action with M:i:III. Perhaps that’s exactly the right pre-screening mind set because I had a great time watching this third impossible mission.
Fair or not, the film opens with a scene stolen from the films pre-climax. It’s a tense scene in which agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his new wife are captured, tortured and at the mercy of the villain. This opening sets the stage for a tension/adrenaline that stays alive the rest of the picture.
The film tries a little harder at plausibility than its predecessors, but still will make the choice for action over believability every time. And while it certainly displays more than one moment of no-way-that-would-never-happen, somehow, M:i:III never loses its audience. Cruise is magnetic, the pace sharp and the build toward climax careful. And of course, all that beautiful action.
That said, the post climax resolution goes cheesy and there’s an odd unexplainable pause in the climax scene that left me with a big question mark over my head. The twists aren’t anything all that new, still, you’ll appreciate how the film aggressively goes for the action without spending endless exposition to keep its audiences abreast.
It’s really a strong B+ film. I had a lot of fun and it gave me that wonderful cinema experience of not wanting it to end.
Ah…that crazy Tom Cruise is back to jumping couches, having kittens, mittens, and oh yeah he has another installment to in perhaps the most accessible of the Mission Impossible franchise, Mission Impossible: III. To date the series has been fraught with problems; many people complained that the first MI had an incomprehensible and overly complex plot, while the 2nd film was criticized for being all style and no substance. I happen to be in the minority and really liked the first two films.
The J.J. Abrams (of Alias fame - a show that I can't stand) helmed MI:3 speaks to both issues and walks the delicate type-rope between story and action, while infusing the piece with his own visual flair and in large part it works out very well. Although I will say that some of his use of shaky cam techniques for the action scenes failed to work. As a matter of fact most of the action sequences lacked the tension of the first film and John Woos, "Wow, that was cool!" factor of the 2nd one.
This is one of those films that opens with the ending and then goes back to the beginning. Normally I wouldn't spoil this point but it was handled so weirdly, that for the first 15 minutes of the film I was "lost" thinking the opening sequence was actually the start of the film and that it flashes forward a few years later (the movie doesn't indicate the time at all) to his engagement party with his fiancé. As the story progresses you it becomes obvious that the beginning was actually the end; which of course takes the suspense out of several crucial scenes leading up to that point, because hey, the film serves as its own spoiler.
Now back to the tedious plot summary, in MI:3, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is getting engaged to the woman of his dreams, Julia (Michelle Monaghan) a doctor who has no idea what her soon to be husband does for a living. She thinks he works for the department of transportation. For awhile I was looking for them to whip out guns and start shooting each other, ala, Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Hunt's latest mission has him rescuing an agent that he trained from the clutches of the evil arms dealer - Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman). His former teacher tells him that there's a mole in the IMF executive offices. Egads! A mole? You don't say? Didn't they use this tired plot cliché in the first film?
But don't worry, it's very easy to figure out who the mole is this time and this point is only lingered on for about 15 minutes before he's exposed. Did I mention that J.J. Abram's does an excellent job of pacing this film, none of the action scenes drag on, ok there's this one at the end that goes into slow-motion for what feels like 10 minutes, but other than the film, as a summer blockbuster wannabe should keeps the pace.
Along for the ride this time out is Laurence Fishburne as IMF Director John Brassel and Ving Rhames returns as Ethan's eyes and ears, Luther Strickell. The film shot in part in Washington, DC looks great, it feels real and grittier than the other two films which were had a real clean, sheen and tropical look to it. MI:3 feels and looks more American than the other two. Because hey, they shot most of it in America, so I realize that's a silly comment, but even the scenes where they were in the Vatican or in Shanghai it still had an urban grit to it.
The acting was about what you expect, all top notch, with a special Cudos to PSH who always does a great job, usually he plays the put upon character, or the best friend type, but in this he shows his darker side which I bought 100 percent; that is until he tried to fight. Which was awful and the choreography between him and Cruise did not work at all, when it was just those two acting you feel the tension in the room.
Like Cruise's last film "War of the Worlds" I was into this for 2 1/3rds of the movie, then it just runs out of steam and story early in the 3rd act and just limps across the finish line. Mission Impossible: 3 is a textbook summer popcorn flick that will entertain while watching, but instantly forgettable. Could I even be less passionate about a film that I liked?
Bluntly Speaking? The Scooby Doo episode-like journey we are embarking upon in M:i:III is obviously a tad, shall we say, telegraphed. Still, M:i:III has some great moments worthy of the dough you'll need to shell out for your, "Night at the Megaplex" viewing. First and foremost, Philip Seymour Hoffman is delightfully ominous as this episode, er, film's smoldering villain Owen Davian. Phil gives good bad. And the special effects totally rock dude. There's a super get-the-villain-back-from-the-fuzz scene on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge that makes even the purest of action flick junkie's drool in visual nirvana. Super. While the film's bombardment of missions has just enough kinetic editing to boost the energy level to a double espresso with a jolt of Red Bull flavored fun if dumb summer fun flick!
Story goes...Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is trying what all super agents eventually long for - normalcy. He wants that heaping helping of the everyday; the doe-eyed wife-to-be (Michelle Monoghan) and the gaggle of smiling gosh golly Gary Marshall-styled suburbanites that once only clouded his mind during his impossiblly deadly missions. He has it all like Bogie and Bacall. Sniff.
Um, not quite…
He's beckoned back to the field for the ever-present plot ploy of one more for the gipper. Seems Ehan's ace spy student has been captured and - apparently - only he can save her.
But it aint gonna be so simple Simon, this hostage was taken by Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Davian is a mega bady criminal go-to man for any world domination toys and doohickeys one may need to attempt manical power. Owen's super evil and seems rather smart and pompous, and all allusive. Though he is continually photographed and rsvps under his real name for black tie shindigs - at the tough to crash Vatican no less...(hehehe)
Cue the addictive M:I: score (Du-du-du...du-du-du...du-du-du...dumdum
...dadadadadumdumdumdum...dooo dooo...) as we head on the next world saving mission - complete with a fragile glass jar marked with radioactive stickers that gets tossed about like a disgruntled DHL employee's delivery package!
We all instantly know where we are headed, and who the bad guys are in about six frames, while we've comfortably identified the secondary characters who'll be joining us this time around aside Mr. Cruise; Tough side kick guy with the one line wisecracks (Ving Rhames), beautiful-like-a-cobra sidekick multinational girl (Maggie Q), sexy angst-ridden upstart posse guy with the technical know how (a wasted Jonathan Rhys Meyers), pretty-but-tough milque toast love interest (Michelle Monaghan), the good cop/bad cop department coworkers (Billy Crudup and Lawrence Fishburne) and of course those evil foreign countries (yes, Germany is in there - fear not there are no surprises). It's non-cranial exertion viewing for the masses kids…
Still, M:I:III may hold one of the cheesiest endings in cinematic history. The old second tag-on ending that is known for its kyboshing a film ala Artificial Intelligence... You know what I mean, it's when the film ends ambiguously enough to cause some post viewing conversation, but then there's this whole other-film-like ending that seems hurly burlyeqsuely tacked on. The studio decides (for mysterious ancient reasons unknown to mere mortals) to step over that delicate line in film, where we border on an absurd-but-possibly plausible ending, and opt on thumbtacking some emotionally gooey "Land of Lost Hallmark Cards" version - thusly taking a, till then, perfectly good movie and mucking it up!
Here the force fed ending is terrible and actually laugh inducing.
Speaking of laugh inducing. Let's talk about Tom Cruise. I know he's a bit of a nutter. But, let's be honest - his wildly internally innate personal views aside - if you had a camera recording your stupider mindfart conversations, or your really exciting life moments, wouldn't you too be up for the $10,000 clams on 'America's Funniest Videos' - be honest - probably. So, I tend to just say, "That wacky Tom!" while quickly turning the channel. However, I do not understand his movie star status. We have lowered our standards so very much.
Speaking of lowering. They found someone small enough to make Cruise look (dare I say it) tall. Good job casting! Michelle Monaghan, the Liv Tyler-lite love interest "Julia," as the future ex Mrs. Hunt. Mik's postured like a pixie (obviously), but every strand of DNA has talent running through it.
Look, it's M:I:III starring our SNL-sketch ready poster-boy celebrity, do you really expect genius? Sure they threw in Hoffman to up the anti. But that's what you do when a weak story with this kind of budget gets made; call in the Super Thespians and ILM. Dazzle 'em with moments of grandeur and be done with it; order that gold accented spa/tub for the spare bathroom you've earned it...
So, pack your oblivious-to-the-plot-faux-pas goggles gang, and enjoy all the things that go boom.
Will audiences accept the improbable stunts and unbelievable plot developments in the third installment of this popular franchise? Probably. Mayhem and momentum keep things moving at full tilt in this action thriller.
Tom Cruise is Ethan Hunt, who has told Julia (Michelle Monaghan), his fiancée who is a nurse, that he studies traffic for a living. He really is a spy who has left behind field work and trains new Impossible Mission Force agents. When Ethan gets word that Lindsey Ferris (Keri Russell), one of his former students, has been kidnapped, he heads off to Berlin to rescue her along with his talented team (Ving Rhames, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and Maggie Q). This mission introduces him to the nefarious work of black marketer Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a nasty fellow who enjoys hurting people and making lots of money.
Ethan finds it difficult to lie to his lover and his independent ways irk Brassel (Laurence Fishburne), the IMF director. But he doesn't have time to think much about these matters since he is busy trying to kidnap Davian in the Vatican, survive a rocket attack on a bridge in America, and make a daring leap off a building in Shanghai.
There's a dark overcast in many of the scenes that is mirrored by the darkness of the story: torture scenes, explosive devices shot up nasal cavities into people's brains, wrecked buildings, and women in jeopardy. The filmmakers must have thought they could humanize Ethan the super-spy by making his motivation saving the lives of women he cares about. But what they are really doing is using woman as props and objects -- and we're sick and tired of that plot device.
Run, Tom, run! He might have gone a bit batty lately, but you can always rely on the Cruiser for first-class running action. That boy just loves to run. There's no shortage of sprinting in this, the third and most entertaining of the Mish Iposs franchise. First Tom runs around the Vatican, chasing Philip Seymour Hoffman. Then he runs across a bridge. Then he runs around Shanghai, searching for his kidnapped wife. Phew! It's Marathon Impossible.
After a lengthy development period that has seen innumerable actors and directors hired and fired, you might expect M:I III to be a bit of a dog's dinner, but director JJ Abrams (of Lost and Alias fame) brings an admirable clarity to this convoluted tale of evil arms dealer Hoffman's attempts to sell off a deadly weapon called Rabbit's Foot. The script manages to cram in brain-bombs, a breathless helicopter chase through a wind farm and a new twist on those delightful face-mask disguises, while remaining just on the right side of preposterous. Abrams' shooting, meanwhile, is witty and unobtrusive. It's a great relief after the operatic stupidity of John Woo's M:I II.
"LESS OF AN ACTION HERO"
The only real problem is Tom himself, who manifestly fails to convince as a human being. With his plasticised musculature and ten kilowatt grin, he's less of an action hero and more of an action figure. It's getting harder with each film to divorce the movie persona from the sofa-vaulting loon, and his onscreen marriage to an insipid Michelle Monaghan only invites the comparison. It's no surprise that Hoffman steals - and saves - the movie as a repellent, lizard-eyed villain.
Director: JJ Abrams
Writer: JJ Abrams, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci
Stars: Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ving Rhames, Michelle Monaghan, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Laurence Fishburne, Maggie Q, Simon Pegg, Keri Russell
Length: 125 minutes
Cinema: 05 May 2006
The IMF has a serious human-resources problem. Over the course of three Mission: Impossible films, at least one person involved in each nefarious plot to destroy the world has been an employee of the agency that ostensibly represents the good guys. At some point, you have to wonder if square-jawed Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is the only honest man left in the spy game.
In the six years since we last saw him (in John Woo's Mission: Impossible II), Ethan has apparently been taking it easy, retiring from active duty to train new IMF (Impossible Missions Force) agents and getting engaged to a pretty nurse named Julia (Michelle Monaghan, in a thankless role), who thinks he works for the Department of Transportation. When one of those trainees goes missing, Ethan heads back out into the field, teaming up with his old buddy Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames, the only other actor returning from the previous films), plus new agents Declan (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and Zhen (Maggie Q). They're up against slimy arms dealer Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who's easily the most evil and most intriguing of the series' villains.
The plot of M:I III is no more or less nonsensical than the plots of the first two movies, although it shares many of its nonsensical elements with the TV show Alias, created by J.J. Abrams, this film's director and co-writer (the other writers are veterans of Alias, as well). From the opening flash-forward to the emphasis on personal relationships amid the chaos of spy work, M:I III often plays like Alias: The Tom Cruise Years. The problem is that while Abrams (who also co-created Lost and Felicity) is very good at the small, personal moments, that's not what a film like this calls for, and without the luxury of a season's worth of TV episodes to build his relationships, a lot of the emotions come across as false.
In pairing Cruise with Monaghan, Abrams is domesticating Ethan Hunt, which makes about as much sense as domesticating James Bond. Julia is a downright dull character, a beatific nurse with no apparent flaws who clashes alarmingly with the band of rogues that Ethan surrounds himself with. Monaghan was playful and sexy in last year's Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, but here she's little more than a damsel in distress. Cruise had far more chemistry with Thandie Newton in the second installment, and it helped that her character was a master thief, which gave their courtship more of an edge.
Action-wise, M:I III is more successful, and Abrams, directing his first feature, sets up some wonderful sequences, including an eye-popping bridge battle featuring massive explosions. He throws in the requisite scenes of people pulling off face masks and Cruise dangling precariously over things, and even if the film suffers from the prevailing blockbuster ailment of being a half-hour too long, it's rarely dull when the chase is on.
One of Abrams' greatest strengths has always been casting, and he gets strong actors in all his major parts, including Billy Crudup and Laurence Fishburne as IMF officials, and Shaun of the Dead's Simon Pegg as a tech geek. Hoffman laps up his chance to play a big-time bad guy and Cruise, whatever you think of his off-screen antics, was born to play the action hero. When Ethan is cool and determined to kick some ass, he's fascinating, but when he's rhapsodizing about true love, he's kind of a bore. "Is this real?" Julia asks him at one point during a crisis in their relationship. Yeah, a little too real.
I’ve never been a huge fan of the “Mission: Impossible” franchise. The first one was overdone in only the way that Brian DePalma could have done it. The second, with the reigns passed along to John Woo, was a fun enough action film, but still replete with fancy director’s tricks. (Enough with the pigeons!)
I still enjoyed the movies, but I just didn’t love them. I always felt that, in a way, the “Mission: Impossible” movies were just teetering over the brink of sucking. So I wasn’t holding out much hope for this third installment.
The only thing keeping my hopes up was the new director – TV golden boy J.J. Abrams. I’ve been a fan of “Alias” and “Lost” for some time. And even though I hated “Felicity” with the very core of my soul, I understood and appreciated what Abrams was doing with it.
But back to “Alias.” Abrams actually managed to make his own version of the original “Mission: Impossible.” Instead of Phelps and the gang, it was Sydney Bristow, her father and the rest of the CIA. “Alias” captured the essence of “Mission: Impossible” more than the pretty-boy spy films from Tom Cruise – a team of experts working together to overcome impossible odds.
“Mission: Impossible III” opens up in classic “Alias” style with Ethan Hunt (Cruise) tied to a chair and at the whim of psychotic arms dealer Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman). It’s a shocking opening, and very intense. Ultimately though, it’s short, and after we roll the credits, we flash back several days to the engagement party of Hunt and his girlfriend Julia (Michelle Monaghan).
Hunt has retired from the field and is now teaching new IMF recruits. However, he’s called back in to rescue one of his recruits, played by Kari Russell in a very non-Felicity performance. This mission leads to a chain-reaction of other missions that result in Hunt and his new team going after Davian, who is trying to acquire an unknown but surely deadly biological weapon known as “the rabbit’s foot.”
So much about this installment of the film series resonates with “Alias.” In fact, were it not for Cruise and a cast of different characters, you’d think you were in an episode of the TV series. Of course, that’s not a bad thing, considering how well done that series is. In a way, it gives us a taste of what a big-budget “Alias” movie might be like – or at least what additional seasons would have been like if Jennifer Garner hadn’t gone and gotten pregnant.
The cast is pretty good, including a nice performance by Laurence Fishburne as IMF head Brassel. Unfortunately, Fishburne isn’t given as much screen time as he could have had in this movie, leaving much of the boss duties to a relatively uninspiring Billy Crudup.
The rest of the IMF crew is well constructed. Ving Rhames returns, along with newcomers Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Maggie Q (who is actually more fetching than lead female Michelle Monaghan). Philip Seymour Hoffman does a decent job as the bad guy but tends to overdo the cheesy James Bond villain type. It’s not uncommon for an actor to do a highly popular movie after taking home Oscar gold, but I get the feeling that Hoffman is very fortunate that the advance trailers for “M:I:3” didn’t start running until after the Academy Awards.
This may be Tom Cruise’s movie, but the real star is J.J. Abrams from start to finish. To be honest, our favorite nutcase Scientologist neither harmed nor helped the movie along.
For my money, if it takes 6 years for such a socko fix for the action-adventure addiction, it's better to wait than be sorry. First, there was Brian De Palma's original spectacular with the unique conception of Tom Cruise acrobatics, suspended off a rope and thwarting motion detection. Then, in 2000, John Woo took his turn with a muddled sequel ("II") that was determined to promote the franchise which resembled its predecessor in places and mucked it up in others. Now, in his first directorial assignment for the big screen, J.J Abrams, formerly of "Alias," "Lost" and "Felicity" fame takes on what, for him, is mission very possible.
With the support and creative intensity of his star, he's produced an unrelenting action delight that will not only satisfy fans of the franchise, but the intentions of its creators. It also pays off all reasonable hopes and expectations. Those who are prone to nit pick on minor liberties with logic need not apply.
Abrams starts his ball of incendiary action rolling with a prologue hook that is a flashforward in the story. Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is chained to a chair and watching as the viciously evil Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Capote") is holding a gun to the head of Hunt's new wife Julia (very pretty Michelle Monaghan). He's counting to 10 in order to give his secret agent captive time to tell him where the "rabbit's foot" is. We never quite learn what this maguffin (in the Hitchcock mold) is, but as we learn later, it's a prized object that, until Hunt and team came along, was secretly ensconced in a modern building protected by a military force in Shanghai.
On each count, agent Hunt tries to come up with another ploy to explain something he doesn't exactly know, but no appeal softens his sociopathic adversary's intention to either get an answer that satisfies him or carry out his threat without sorrow or remorse. He doesn't get that answer. On "10" a shot is fired and Ethan slumps in agony and defeat.
But that moment is what the actual story takes us to. Starting from the top, we see Ethan and Julia enjoying a party of friends celebrating the lovers' engagement. But, you know the drill -- he gets a phone call that is urgent enough to make him break away not only from the festivities and his new role as a retired secret agent and potential loving husband, but back into the life of clandestine ops. Through his contact with old buddy Musgrave (Billy Crudup) and big brass Theodore Brassel (Laurence Fishburne) he learns that his former protege and now secret agent Lindsey Farris (Keri Russell) has been captured in Berlin by an oscure and dangerous gang headed by the deviously efficient Owen Davian, arms dealer extraordinaire, whom we met in the prologue. Ethan doesn't deliberate for a second in accepting the mission to perform the vital extraction.
He wastes no time pulling his team together, old compadre Luther (Ving Rhames) and newcomers for a new age, Declan (Johathan Rhys-Meyers, "Match Point") and the willowy Zhen (Maggie Q). Their prize is highly guarded in an old factory. Doing the things they do so well, they infiltrate, locate Farris, amd break into a firefight. Reaching a wasted Farris, Ethan injects her with adrenalin to counter whatever drugs are causing her malaise.
It works! She not only comes to, but springs into action, calling out the shots, and shooting at the side of her mentor in a mutually protective choreography they've practiced well. But, just when it seems the mission has been accomplished and she's free, she writhes in pain. A quick analysis with a space age scanner reveals that a chemical implant is in her brain and it's ready to go off. The team digs out the defibrilator paddles, Ethan zaps her, but it's too late. The fiery agent's face goes white, and she's dead.
The mission is not over. In a brilliant and intricate sequence involving precision contributions by everyone on Ethan's team, he succeeds in capturing Davian from an appearance at a Vatican function through maneuvering and subterfuge whilst leaving the impression that Davian was blown up in a Ferrari that's as gorgeous as the lady who drove it in. Ouch. But, while the world thinks Davian is dead, his criminal associates know better and perform a highly weaponized extraction of their own.
The mission, again, is not over.
The fully engaged cast makes the most of it, and it's action and drama all the way. You get enough sense of the characters and the stakes involved for a full participation in the impossibilities and the satisfactions. Cruise is a capsule of sustained energy and concentrated strength, working feverishly within the parameters of his talent, which always includes athletic physicality. Exemplary moments are his long jump over a bomb crater on a bridge and his burst speed sprint though the streets of Shanghai to rescue his captured wife. Despite the huge success of "War of the Worlds," Cruise's last outing, this is a far better realization of what he's all about as the No. 1 boxoffice draw, according to all known ratings.
Hoffman shows his powerful supporting actor credentials in conveying a cold archness that would appeal to a polar bear. This is a guy with dead pan consistency, moral vacuity, and ice in his veins. Hoffman hits exactly the right notes in creating a villain who effectively elevates the dramatic stakes and the satisfaction level.
Abrams should also derive praise for his casting of one of the most under-used actresses in film, Keri Russell. Of course, he knows her talents from having directed her in the Fox network's successful series, "Felicity," and here uses them to sharp effect. Russell embodies her role with a brief but entirely energetic display of speed and attractiveness and one hopes her appearance in a film with a major boxoffice draw will bring her a stream of movie offers.
Abrams' and co-writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci's action concepts show imaginative bravado within the style of the series, and each clash and display of improbable (never impossible) daring is carried out for maximum spectacle and thrill. This is BIG CINEMA. Technical credits are tops, from photography (Dan Mindel) to explosive and acrobatic effects. Pacing is unflagging with no loss of attention anywhere, strongly augmented with a score by Michael Giacchino that takes into account Lalo Schifrin's original TV theme.
It's all good. Yes, there's some reality bending, but who ever said the impossible mission required logic?
When Mission: Impossible III is succeeding on any level, I'd like to give credit to its director, J.J. Abrams. Abrams is part of the new wave of television writers who are aware of our period of irony and consciously reject lowest-common-denominator writing. I haven't even seen the shows he's created -- Alias, Lost -- but I've heard enough about his work, and just by watching this one movie, I could tell that there was a different tone working here than in the previous movies -- that there was a concern for something more character-bound to anchor the numerous action scenes.
I say concern because, frankly, the Mission: Impossible franchise has become increasingly corny -- using the first movie to cut the cords from its parental television series, the second movie then moved into standard action hero territory while paying only nominal reference to the source of its namesake. It's unapologetically in full James Bond mode -- action set pieces delimited by necessary but ultimately meaningless exposition. Abrams inherited this third movie's story, about the complications Agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) faces when he decides to marry his true love Julia (Michelle Monaghan) and how it creates a dreadful conflict with his line of work.
Abrams can't do much to put more depth into these characters (particularly Ethan, who in two movies has shown himself to be little more than a pure version of Cruise's screen persona), but he can put in the effort, and that shows. To do that, he plays up the "true love" angle, whereby the movie really becomes a test to see how deeply Ethan truly loves his fiancee. Because he reinforces this concern during the movie's downtimes between the stunts and the explosions, he creates a consistency in theme that is seen through from the first shot to the last. Thus, he's still able to have fun crafting the action while giving the movie at least some small but noticeable sense of weight.
Abrams employs an effective narrative device to emphasize the direction of the movie's love story. It opens with a scene in which both Ethan and a woman, whom we assume is someone he cares very much for, are captive, with an immediately dangerous villain (Philip Seymour Hoffman) threatening her life in exchange for something Ethan has. During this scene, I wondered if this was a display of Ethan's duty to his country vs. his devotion to the woman, and, by the way the scene plays out, I assumed he felt his protection of information was of greater importance. The movie then flashes back to re-arrive at this scene much later; by then, my perception had been significantly altered, and I thought this was no small feat.
Mission: Impossible III, like its predecessors, doesn't hold up well to scrutiny. It is what it is, which is popcorn fun, but it also goes an extra mile in trying to create a thread that doesn't just tie the big special effects moments together. The idea of testing a duty-bound protagonist's capacity for love is not anything new, but the effort to make it central is easily noted and much appreciated. And by not completely falling apart in the most basic mechanisms of plot and action, the movie automatically qualifies as better than the last two movies combined.
This time it's personal. But you'd never know it by watching the mechanical, impersonal "Mission: Impossible III."
This heavily hyped Cruise missile -- the first salvo in the annual battle known as the summer movie season -- boasts several notable attributes.
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There's "Capote" Oscar-winner Philip Seymour Hoffman as the obligatory ruthless villain -- although, alas, there's not nearly enough of him to make much difference.
And let's not overlook director J.J. Abrams, who's demonstrated a decided flair for high-style spyjinks as creator of TV's "Alias" -- and directs "M:I III" as if it were an extra-special, supersize "Alias" episode.
This automatically makes "M:I III" an improvement over director John Woo's misbegotten 2000 "Mission: Impossible II."
But that doesn't necessarily make it good.
Repetitive and derivative, "M:I III" is a little more than two hours long -- but it feels like three.
Granted, it serves up a few clever set pieces, especially an imaginative kidnap sequence that showcases some neaty-keen spy gadgets worthy of James Bond's attaché case. (Or Batman's utility belt.)
For the most part, however, all the flying feet, flying bullets and flying glass flying around in this movie get awfully old awfully fast.
Maybe it's the once-over-lightly tone of the movie's script -- by Abrams and "Alias" colleagues Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, whose big-screen credits include such underachievers as "The Island" and "The Legend of Zorro."
Borrowing concepts and complications from other, better movies -- notably James Cameron's "True Lies," which wasn't all that great to begin with -- this "Mission: Impossible" workout uses its convoluted plot as a staging area for explosive action rather than riveting suspense.
The movie's opening moments even recall numerous "Alias" episodes, with our hero -- Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), the Impossible Mission Force's master of the impossible mission -- in a seemingly inescapable bind.
Even worse, gazillionaire villain Owen Davian (Hoffman) is not only tormenting Hunt but a woman who seems to mean something, maybe everything, to Hunt.
Next, it's flashback time -- to the other half of Ethan's double life, in which he masquerades as a mild-mannered traffic analyst for the Virginia Department of Transportation.
Naturally, we know better -- but Ethan's fiancée Julia (Michelle Monaghan) doesn't. And although Ethan has retired from field duty to train new agents, he can't resist returning to action when one of his trainees (Keri Russell) runs into trouble while trailing the dangerous Davian.
Enter old pal Luther Strickell (Ving Rhames, reprising his role from the first two "Mission: Impossible" movies), who joins newcomers Declan ("Match Point's" Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and Zhen (Asian actress Maggie Q) to back Ethan on his rescue mission. And, of course, on the subsequent globe-trotting escapades (Berlin! Rome! Shanghai!) that lead, inevitably, to Davian.
Meanwhile, back at IMF, computer geek Benji Dunn ("Shaun of the Dead's" Simon Pegg) -- a big-screen cousin of "Alias' " Marshall -- provides tech support. And, of course, runs interference when testy IMF honcho John Brassel (Laurence Fishburne) wonders what's going on -- and whether cagey case officer John Musgrave (Billy Crudup), an ally of Ethan's, knows more than he's telling.
None of that matters, of course -- either to Abrams or, ultimately, to those of us in the audience.
"M:I III" wastes numerous opportunities for character and thematic development, introducing several promising elements -- notably the complications inherent in Ethan's double life -- then drops them for more immediate pursuits.
Namely, pursuits and pursuits and still more pursuits. Everybody's so busy chasing after each other there's no time to breathe, much less room for the performers to breathe life into their connect-the-dots characters.
Rhames and Meyers manage to do the most with the least, adding a touch of welcome humor, while Cruise capitalizes on his tabloid-fodder personal life, bringing a even more crazed edge to Ethan's derring-do.
And Hoffman's Davian oozes such offhand brutality you wish he had more opportunity to demonstrate his diabolical nature. Ultimately, a movie like "M:I III" is only as good as its villain.
This one's plenty good, but the movie he's in doesn't really know what to do with him. After all, it's far easier to throw in more high-octane action and eye-popping effects.
In this age of digital wonders, however, when anything and everything is possible visually -- as long as a computer can fake it -- movies like "M:I III" live or die, as all movies do, on their ability to lure us inside their world.
And on that score, I'm afraid "M:I III" has an impossible mission indeed.
There is a moment late in “Mission: Impossible III” when one character asks Ethan Hunt, the intrepid secret agent played once again by Tom Cruise, what his agency’s initials mean. “IMF,” as we already know, stands for “Impossible Missions Force.” The name gets a you’ve-got-to-be-kidding laugh from the character.
I liked this moment, not only because it’s a funny moment, a nice breather after yet another immensely intense action sequence, but because it helps describe how the film struggles to fit this gloriously silly spy-adventure premise into our own world. A name for such an agency is pretty ridiculous, yes, and they do some very outlandish things, no doubt about that. But J.J. Abrams, the director and co-writer of the film, just straight up admits it, then looks to plant this action silliness squarely into reality, thus giving the story some emotional heft.
And not just in the key plot, but in smaller, almost throwaway moments. Consider a massive action sequence set on the Chesapeake Bay bridge. Missiles are leaving craters in the pavement; bullets are flying from all directions. We have seen such scenes in action films before, but how many of those films have stopped to remind us of the innocent bystander? A bullet from a helicopter pegs a driver, and our heroes must now find a way not only to ward off their attackers, but rescue civilians as well. Here, we get a sense of citizens not set up to be faceless cannon fodder or generic victims in some mass obliteration. We feel their individuality. We tense up - someone’s really going to get hurt here. The curious thing about this sequence is how Abrams gets this across without forcing the point. He gives us civilian victims, but only as part of a greater, expanding chaos.
Chaos is the key factor in Abrams’ film, which packs so much activity into a compact two hours, and yet, when you take a step back, you realize that the plot is surprisingly simple. Hunt, now resigned from field work and serving as an IMF trainer, is about to be married to the lovely Julia (Michelle Monaghan). Work comes calling, though, and soon Hunt and his team (co-stars for this outing include Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Maggie Q, and, in a return engagement, Ving Rhames) are sent to Berlin to rescue a young agent (Keri Russell) who’s been kidnapped by a villainous arms dealer (Philip Seymour Hoffman). There is some globetrotting involved, with trips to Vatican City and Shanghai tossed in for good measure, as is the obligatory doublecrossing and switcheroos, and the whole thing hinges on a MacGuffin codenamed “the Rabbit’s Foot.”
That’s all you need to know, although, really, that’s all there is. What drives this chapter of the “Mission: Impossible” franchise is the hectic blur of action chaos. Abrams and his co-writers, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (both brought over from Abrams’ staff on TV’s “Alias”), turn their story into a frenzy of stunt work, gunplay, and fight scenes. Even when the story does slow down, there’s an intensity at work that keeps everything moving forward. Pushing this idea forward is a beat-the-clock component to the plot that refuses to let the movie to catch its breath for more than a few seconds.
The result, then, is a series of increasingly overwhelming action scenes, each one topping the last, pushing from a helicopter chase through a windmill field to the aforementioned highway bridge shoot-out to a freakishly intense leap across skyscraper rooftops to a manic car chase and finally, the capper, a shattering fist fight between our hero and our villain. Each one could, on its own, stand as the centerpiece of any other action film - they’re all expertly crafted, producing the maximum thrill impact. (I still grit my teeth a little remembering Hunt’s slide down that rooftop, and I dazzle at the image of Tom Cruise hanging inches from the ground as he leans out his car door to take out the bad guys.)
Abrams, who until now has worked only in television, reveals just how much of a knack for visual storytelling he has. He is a perfect match for the big screen, always finding just the right way to capture a moment. His action sequences are impeccable (bonus points also go to editors Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey, “Alias” vets who bring the chaos to life), but the same can be said for the little moments. There’s a party scene that reveals Hunt’s talent for lip reading; the information is delivered so cleverly - a close-up here, a grin there - that this one bit tells us so much about what Abrams can do with the camera.
Also of note is a bit that has Hunt putting on one of his famously ridiculous, impossibly (pardon the pun) realistic latex masks - this one of the bad guy. Abrams resorts to the simplest of camera trickery, having Cruise and Hoffman merely trade places while we’re watching the other guy. It not only plays as a nifty device, but it helps sell the absurd notion of flawless disguises, tricking the viewer into believing the unbelievable, if only for a moment. The same trick is used in reverse later on, as Ethan removes the mask. It’s equally as clever. And to think Abrams could have resorted to all kinds of digital help, yet chose to take a simpler, more elegant approach that’s more fun to watch because we can appreciate the trick as we see the cinematic sleight of hand unfold.
But back to the action, and in particular, one break-in scene. Hunt and his team must find a way to steal the Rabbit’s Foot from a highly secure lab in a Shanghai highrise. The movie goes to great lengths to show us how Hunt gets into the building - but then cuts away to a small, quiet moment between two of his teammates, interrupted by Hunt’s panicked escape. We could have seen Hunt working his way through the building, working that IMF magic once again in lifting the item. But we do not, and I admire Abrams’ choice here. A set piece is removed from the film, replaced by what becomes the lead-in to a larger set piece - the Shanghai car chase - and the story is actually better for it. We ultimately don’t need to know how he got the Rabbit’s Foot. We only need to know that he did. More importantly, the mad scramble that ensues is intensified by the sudden confusion surrounding Hunt’s escape. Here, one bit actually works to flow into the other, and the story is more complete.
It’s also amusing that although the Rabbit’s Foot plays such an important role in the storyline, it is never explained what, exactly, the Rabbit’s Foot is. This is Hitchcock’s idea of the MacGuffin stripped to its core. We don’t discover what it is because we don’t need to discover what it is. A less confident storyteller would have inserted some complex nonsense about its false importance. But Abrams? He’s gutsy enough to tell us straight up that the Rabbit’s Foot is merely a plot device, nothing more. It’s what gets our hero through the various stages of the plot, eventually winding up confronting the villain one last time. That’s all the Rabbit’s Foot is. Bold move, Mr. Abrams. I like it.
But do not assume that “Mission: Impossible III” is nothing but a string of vacuous adventure. There is a heart here, not only in the relationship between Ethan and Julie (with its typical “can a spy have a relationship?” dialogue), but in the sheer weight of the job. For all his infamous public insanity of late, Cruise still manages to turn in a solid performance here, one that drives the film. Hunt is the one who must watch as teammates get killed (or worse: betray him), and he is the one who now must balance a healthy relationship outside the service with a life of action that will threaten his fiancée. Everything he does here, in the end, is to protect his Julie, and Cruise conveys this with the same bitter rage that he displayed in the previous two films, only heightened to darker, more powerful extents.
Stealing the show, however, is Hoffman, fresh off his Oscar win for “Capote” and obviously enjoying all the scenery chewing. Hoffman’s arms dealer (even the name - Owen Davian - is deliciously over-the-top) is a cold, calculating egoist, and his dialogue drips with a seething viciousness that helps turn him into one of the most memorable of recent screen villains. Hoffman overplays it by not overplaying it, if that makes sense; he understands the ludicrousness of it all and lets that aspect of his character sell itself. He never underlines his villainy. He’s merely a quietly sinister man whose job is to be a threat, and Hoffman becomes both dangerously chilling and enjoyably nutty in the role.
Seeing Hoffman in such a role is a reminder of how intelligent the film is - and, more importantly, how it assumes an intelligence on the part of the viewer. I’m struck by a toss-off line of dialogue, with Laurence Fishbourne (playing the IMF chief) tagging an Invisible Man reference with “Wells, not Ellison.” Again, it comes back to confidence: a lesser storyteller would stop to explain the joke, or perhaps ditch it out of a fear that some audience members might not understand, but Abrams and his team trust the material and the audience, knowing that those who should stay with the script will make it through with no problems.
In fact, this is an action movie that relishes good writing. We get solid work right from the start, with an opening scene featuring Hoffman and Cruise in a battle of wits of sorts, Hoffman getting so much energy out of simply counting to ten. It’s a tightly constructed scene, obviously reworked and reworked until everything flows with the most delicate precision. And there are dozens of scenes that follow that are just as good. The word is as important as the kinetics. It’s a movie where you can truly relish every scene. (But don’t worry - the script isn’t all awkward one-liners and faux-cerebral dialogue that sounds too “written” for its own good. The dialogue here, however far-fetched, comes off as natural and inviting.)
So we know it’s thrilling and smart. Is it fun? You bet. For all its grittiness and danger and suspense, there’s a light side, too. Abrams remembers to slip some friendlier material into the mix, most notably with Simon Pegg popping up now and then as a jittery techie (obviously modeled after Kevin Weisman’s character on “Alias”) who suggests the Rabbit’s Foot could just be “a really, really expensive bunny appendage.”
Put it all together, and not only is “Mission: Impossible III” better than its (vastly underrated, expertly crafted) predecessors, but it could very well hold up as the best action picture to come along in at least ten years. This is not a movie to be dismissed as a mere sequel. Instead, it is something much, much more. Abrams proves himself to be the next great filmmaker, Cruise proves himself to remain a tremendous screen presence, and the series proves itself to be far from fizzling out. This third chapter is a brilliant spy-thriller experience, and everything we hope our popcorn movies could be.
That old sparkling fuse is burning again. Ever since 1966, the Impossible Mission Force has pulled covert long and short cons on dastardly international criminals: first in seven seasons on CBS, then for two more seasons in a late '80s ABC revamp, and—as of 1996—in a big budget film franchise starring Tom Cruise as IMF agent Ethan Hunt. On the big screen, the cons have gotten smaller and the explosives much, much larger, but the burning fuse remains, a constant symbol of the "Espionage Edition" of Beat the Clock.
In 1996, while indulging the graphic flash characteristic of the modern "summer movie," Brian De Palma gleefully deconstructed the beloved series for a world changed by the fall of Communism. John Woo's 2000 sequel chased its clanking action machinery with mythic symbolism of good versus evil and the sly, mutual seduction common (at least in movies) between lithe professional transgressors. The third in the series—helmed and co-written by J.J. Abrams—likewise generates, and relies upon, the pace and energy of a roller-coaster, but Mission: Impossible III stops somewhere short of intentional (DePalma) and unintentional (Woo) self-parody.
Abrams made his name on the small screen, by co-creating college soap Felicity and, more recently, the runaway hit Lost. More germane is the only show for which Abrams receives sole creator credit: Alias, a show about family ties within the world of espionage. One of the big jokes in Mission: Impossible III is an inappropriate use of Sly and the Family Stone's "We Are Family"—the choice is tongue-in-cheek, but not random. The hardest part of being a spy, Abrams speculates, is the love of tight-knit colleagues and immediate family, should an agent dare to start one.
From its opening frames, Mission: Impossible III begins (and never ends) putting Ethan Hunt's loved ones in jeopardy: his serious romantic partner (Michelle Monaghan), the first trainee he ever recommended for active field duty (Keri "Felicity" Russell), and the team with which he shares a happy rapport: franchise stalwart Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) and newcomers Declan (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and Zhen (Maggie Q). It's a given that Hunt will face unspeakable physical dangers, but this time, they're personal.
The less said, the better about the plot's particulars, but Philip Seymour Hoffman's ruthless black-marketeer Owen Davian drives the story. The IMF wants to put a stop to his dealings in all manner of weapons, but Davian knows the best defense is an offense. Though he has less apparent motivation than Iago, Davian's cold, formidable menace is another testament to Hoffman's technical skill; like Davian, Hoffman is a man who both means business and takes it personally.
Abrams tries hard to do due diligence to the franchise as seen by Cruise, as well as the '60s series. With a $150 million dollar budget, Abrams has the opportunity—nay, the obligation—to give Cruise enough eye-popping locales (Berlin, Vatican City, Shanghai, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge), high-tech gadgetry, and badass action thrills to give James Bond a run for his money. Like De Palma's film, Abrams' take at least gives the team opportunities to run elaborate short cons—unlike the more time-consuming ops of the series' IMF—and the writers maintain the traditions of the self-destructing mission briefing and the utterly transformative masks.
All of these elements and characters (did I mention Laurence Fishburne, Billy Crudup, and Simon Pegg as IMF desk jockeys?) threaten to crowd out drama. And for the most part, they succeed. For all the lip service paid by Abrams to characterization, the truth is that Mission: Impossible III is a magic trick accomplished with smoke and pure speed. Pace is essential to effect—the film's first super-charged action sequence includes a literal shot of adrenaline.
Several action scenes take the form of a chase or a sprint, whether through the sky or vehicular or pedestrian traffic; others repeat the gravity-defying spectacles of the previous films, dropping or swinging Cruise from great heights. Tragic turns lend Hunt strong motivation and overwhelming emotion, but since the chaotic, can't-catch-a-breath action bursts are nearly unrelenting, Abrams can only provide a reasonable facsimile of drama. MI: III is a thrill ride, and a gripping one: plausibility-straining, predictable at times, but pulse-pounding all the same.
Awe-inspiring production value contributes to the effect, from Daniel Mindel's location photography to the impeccable action editing of Maryann Brandon & Mary Jo Markey. Abrams' go-to composer Michael Giacchino adapts Lalo Schifrin's main title theme (natch), but also an incidental cut TV fans will dig ("The Plot"). On the other hand, run screaming from the theatre before the credit-roll introduction of Kanye West's "Impossible."
The script, polished by Abrams from the work of Alias scribes Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci, treats the team's non-mission-related talk as "watercooler" chat, an analog to Abrams' reminder that spies (like us) have home lives and, perhaps, significant others. Luther warns Ethan against the latter. "A normal relationship isn't viable for people like us," people who make more enemies every time they go to work.
Abrams and company also know to steal the best from Hitchcock, drawing a normal person into abnormal circumstances (she rises to the occasion), basing the plot on a never-detailed MacGuffin (a biohazard dubbed "The Rabbit's Foot"), and giving one of the bad guys a compact speech that puts him simply but firmly into political context. If Abrams creeps into laughable territory with these fillips of skillful shorthand, and audacious action conceits like nose-injected brain explosives, they're all in the good fun of competing in a market where the cliffhanger ante has been raised through the roof.
SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. That classic combination of a film that doesn't make any sense with one that doesn't inspire anyone to invest an iota of emotion in giving a crap, J.J. Abrams' Mission: Impossible III (hereafter M:i:III) isn't convoluted like the first two instalments so much as it's just incoherent and loud. It's the camera-in-a blender-school of action filmmaking: there's so little understanding of spatial relationships that the whole thing plays like that Naked Gun gag where the gunfight is taking place between two people within arm's reach of one another. An extended heist sequence set in Vatican City, for instance, features the four members of IMF ("Impossible Mission Force") hotshot Ethan Hunt's (Tom Cruise) team (Ving Rhames, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and the requisite hot Asian chick (Maggie Q)) running around in completely anonymous locations, sticking doodads to walls, and confirming to one another that they're "ready" and "in place." But without knowledge of their plan, their location (respective to one another and their goal, whatever that might be), their peril, or the stakes, you're left with four people doing something for some reason, necessitating our willingness to play along with the charade that we know who these people are, what their goal is, and why we should care. Consider a helicopter chase through a wind farm, too, and the many lovely visuals that such an enticing premise suggests--then look to the end-product, which is a lot of tight shots of helicopters in the middle of the night, parts of giant windmills, a bad soundtrack, and multiple decibel screaming about "incoming" and "they've got a lock on us." Who does? And where are they going on that wind farm? And why does the promise of an instrument-factory explosion induce yawns?
They've taken the On Her Majesty's Secret Service route this time around, with Ethan marrying poor screamer/hostage Jules (a thanklessly cast Michelle Monaghan), who, in the prologue, appears to be shot in the head by evil something or other Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman, looking more than a little like a wax effigy of himself). Davian wants a MacGuffin from Ethan and his mates and is willing to do a little over-acting to get it, causing much globe-trotting to exotic (and curiously deserted) locales where Ethan can do wind sprints while his buddies talk to each other on headsets and stare at computer monitors. A Q-figure emerges in British comedian Simon Pegg's lab-bound Benji while Laurence Fishburne plays Morpheus again and Billy Crudup is Ethan's immediate, ineffectual successor Musgrave. If nothing else, maybe you'll be pleased to see Keri "Felicity" Russell have a bomb go off inside her head in one of two moments in the film where someone you'd like to see cranially-defibrillated actually is cranially-defibrillated.
To say there isn't a hint of character and/or plot development in M:i:III is to imply that some was attempted and that the attempt failed. From the looks of things the picture was always simply meant to be a series of spectacular action set-pieces--and in the staging of said set-pieces, television director Abrams forgot that he had the option of shooting in something other than extreme close-up or respectful medium. There's a nifty-seeming stunt where Cruise slides down the side of a building, yet the way it's shot suggests that he's either going down vertically or, alternately, horizontally, and without knowledge of the particulars (how high? how dangerous?), all you have is a stunt man sliding across a blue screen: something you could simulate by throwing an action figure across a slip-and-slide. More, if you don't care who Ethan is (and are acutely aware that he's indestructible, anyway), and if you don't know what he's doing, for whom he's doing it, and what the time frame of his actions are (though he's given forty-eight hours to accomplish a mission, we don't get back to the countdown until there are two minutes left), then how could you possibly care about anything that happens as a result of his derring-do?
Perhaps all would be forgiven if M:i:III were competently-directed (while M:I-2 is one of the stupidest films ever made, as John Woo is one of the best action directors of the past twenty-five years, damn if it's not beautiful, coherent, auteurist stupidity), but it's a glassy-eyed, dead thing complete with superfluous flashbacks to events we don't care about involving characters we don't recognize, an interminable party sequence in which Cruise trots out his smile like it was a weathered, beaten-down trophy wife, and a smug, self-congratulatory conclusion full of high-fives, victory arms, and shit-eating grins. What they believe they've accomplished is anyone's guess (seriously: anyone have a guess?)--all I know is that M:i:III made me want to take a nap in almost the same way that Episode III bored me to tears. Basic math to say that lots and lots of strobe-lit business multiplied by nothing is still nothing, as well as that the only thing more boring than nothing happening is a lot of nothings happening. Let's see if Casino Royale can do any better.
Somewhere between the first and second films in the franchise, everyone involved seems to have forgotten what made the TV show what it is. They were spies, sneakers if you will, with cool gadgets and occasionally knew how to blow something up. The IMF team weren’t S.W.A.T. or Navy SEALs. Brian DePalma understood it was not about the big fat kill and was a perfect fit for a mold of suspense that was just right for him and the material. John Woo couldn’t have been a worse choice to follow him up; although some audiences publicly thanked him for taking the think out of the story. J.J. Abrams, creator of some of television’s most interesting shows recently as varied as Lost & Alias to Felicity, is an interesting choice to follow up two well-established auteurs to bring his own take to the series. What in many ways is the most expensive episode of Alias ever produced is also an attempt to merge the two styles into a coherent entertainment. It has sneaking, chases, masks, a love story, a MacGuffin, role reversals, Ethan Hunt as fugitive, a plot from the original and the gun-totin’ mentality of the second. And comes up somewhere in-between the first two.
The third film in the series deals with Frank T.J. Mackey (Tom Cruise), former male poon guru turned superspy finally looking to settle down with Julia (Michelle Monaghan), the girl of his dreams. He’s called back into action by the lead guitarist of 70s supergroup, Stillwater (Billy Crudup, in the most flaccid performance of his career) when he discovers a former trainee of his named Felicity (Keri Russell), distraught over the decision to choose Noel and Ben is captured on seemingly her first mission. Teamed again with Marcellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) and a pair of new members; Zhen (Maggie Q) aka the “Naked Weapon” and Declan (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) who joined IMF to avoid infidelity and murder charges in London, Mackey is sent off to rescue Felicity from the former nurse (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who called him in to reconcile with his dying father.
OK, so I’ve taken the merging aspect a bit too far. But if I described the whole plot of the film, you’d be rethinking your take on just how complicated DePalma’s version was compared to this simplification. Yet things get off on the right foot. The pre-credit sequence is as much of a stunner as it is a disservice to the overall mood which Abrams hoped to achieve. Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is tied to a chair facing his new love, Julia, who has a gun pointed to her head by ruthless arms dealer, Owen Davian (Hoffman). Hunt has ten seconds to reveal the location of a device known as “the rabbit’s foot” or she’s taking a bullet. It’s a helluva opening, but it’s also a flashback which we’ll get back to later – so we know right off that Julia is in deep trouble and what could have been a shocking development is reduced to an incident that gets more questionable the longer it goes on. But, more on that later.
Until we get caught up, Hunt and his team go from one mission to another in all parts of the world, at first to rescue his former protégé (Russell) and then to kidnap Davian, whom the department has had an eye on for some time. This sequence set within the Vatican is the one that comes closest to Bruce Geller’s original concept. Breaking in, tracking a mark and fulfilling a mission that might seem more probable if guns and brute force was more involved. There’s a neat moment that finally divulges how those great masks of theirs (used to ad nauseum in Woo’s film as if he were doing Face/Off 2) are created on the spot and perfectly tailored to one’s face. After that though it’s back to big guns and improbable attacks.
Not that it’s entirely a bad thing. Abrams brings some real flair to some of the action scenes; occasionally getting a little too close or editing too fast, but does some nifty camerawork with DP Dan Mindel and, thanks to Cruise doing many of his own stunts, the set pieces, while a tad uninspired, more than keep our attention. As for Abrams wanting to bring back a more team dynamic, it’s still Cruise out in front getting the showy stuff (one running sequence is nearly on par with the astounding French import, District B13) and when it breaks into character moments it’s mostly him and Rhames discussing the value of marriage. Abrams even keeps one action scene off-screen for a brief interaction between Maggie & Rhys-Meyers.
The first two acts of M:I:3 (or MIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII) move with a nice energy, distracting us as best it can from the not-so-vague similarities to both Mr. & Mrs. Smith and True Lies (one of the action scenes – involving jets & missiles, no less - is even set on the bridge of the Florida Keys) and Hunt turning into 24’s Jack Bauer during an airplane interrogation. The final third however when the plot begins unraveling upon itself could easily be the period when less-forgiving audience members jump ship for good. Aside from some of the sillier moments, including Hoffman going mano-a-mano with the more-fit Cruise and one character’s instant marksmanship, everything we’ve come to understand of the plot is inverted and the evildoer’s plan makes so little sense that it will be nagging at you well after you’ve left the theater. After you’ve asked yourself where you’ve seen this before (hint: the first film) you have to wonder why the surprise villain went through the trouble to protect their identity only to spare the lives of two people who could ID him to question whether something they received could ID him (even though his colleagues clearly have no clue) when he should know full well that killing them would probably keep him safe in the first place. Stupid.
Mission: Impossible III is an “in-the-moment” movie. It works at that precise moment in time when you’re actually watching it. The epilogue is like a decompression period that allows the movie to escape from memory before the final credits roll, giving you a headstart on forgetting as the ridiculous Kanye West song gets going; which has to be worse than Madonna’s for the last Bond film. Hoffman oozes menace, but isn’t much of a foil for Cruise in the final moments. Laurence Fishburne gets the best tough-guy dialogue of the piece (“I will bleed on the stripes to make sure they stay red”) and any Katie Holmes/Cruise jokes will flow with ease (particularly in the marriage discussions and a silent mask Cruise wears as if it was his turn to give birth.) As convoluted as DePalma’s version may have been, it took his expressions as a filmmaker to make this series what it should be. Abrams does a yeoman’s job with the third entry (and certainly outdoes action vet Woo) but for this franchise to really continue, especially with the Jason Bourne series picking up the superspy slack, it’s going to need a completely fresh approach and not just a jello mold of the previous good parts. Sure, there’s always room for it, but $10 can be a lot to pay for just jello.
Tom's back with a third instalment in this high-energy franchise, and as producer he cannily hires a filmmaker who knows how to breathe life into any genre (see Felicity, Alias and Lost).
Impossible Mission Force ace Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is on the verge of retirement, settling down with his fiancée (Monaghan). But a former student/colleague (Russell) needs his help, so he reunites with tech specialist Luther (Rhames), plus two new agents (Rhys Meyers and Maggie Q), for a globe-hopping rescue mission that pits them against a ruthless arms dealer (Hoffman). Of course, twists are lurking ahead, and Hunt's bosses (Crudup and Fishburne) aren't going to be happy.
Slick and hugely entertaining, Abrams wisely injects a heavy current of subtext to develop the characters. We've never glimpsed these super-spies engaging on a personal level before, and their refreshingly natural and funny banter makes the whole thing feel much more realistic. And Cruise is at his best as a man at the end of his tether, reluctantly engaging in outrageous recklessness to protect his personal life.
Meanwhile, the rest of the cast dives in completely. Monaghan's role is surprisingly well-developed, and all the agents get moments to shine. Pegg is fabulous as a chatty research guy. And Hoffman steals the show with a terrific new take on the merciless villain role. He's genuinely terrifying.
Technically the film looks a bit like a TV movie, shot mostly in character-framing close-up and only occasionally expanding into big-screen spectacle, but that's precisely the point. And this focus on people makes the action sequences genuinely nerve-rattling. Michael Giacchino's 1970s TV-style score accents this brilliantly, and of course weaves in Lalo Schifrin's iconic theme at just the right moments. And Abrams has a great time playing with M:I clichés, especially the whole face-swapping thing.
This is a strikingly clever film. Abrams opens with a jarringly grisly flash-forward that haunts us until we get there again. And by then he has run us through a wringer that's thrilling and dramatically engaging. With much more to come. An expertly made guilty-pleasure blockbuster.
Hey – anyone out there a fan of “Alias”? Well, what if I told you that you could go see a 2+ hour episode of “Alias” on the big screen, with even more explosions, stunts, and intrigue? Pretty cool, right? Oh, but wait – instead of Jennifer Garner in the lead, you’re going to be watching Tom Cruise. Cool, right? Hello? Are you still there? Is this thing on…?
Yes, the summer blockbuster season has opened with the loud, hyperactive, and occasionally entertaining “Mission: Impossible III”, or as I like to call it, “The Little Egomaniac That Could”. Because while “M:I-3” boasts enough wonderful supporting actors, impressive setpieces, and awe-inspiring action scenes to fill at least 2 films, the looming specter of Tom Cruise’s catastrophically unhinged public persona all but obliterates the other elements. For every terse exchange with the impossibly evil Philip Seymour Hoffman, there’s a laughably bad “eyes welling up with tears” close-up of Tom that makes you wonder if he didn’t spend more time studying Demi Moore’s performance in “Ghost” than doing stunt training. For every wonderfully bombastic explosion, there’s a curious shot of Tom running that lasts 5 seconds more than it should and gives you the uncomfortable feeling that you’ve just stumbled upon someone flexing in front of the mirror while listening to “Eye of the Tiger” on full volume.
Yes, it’s that creepy.
I know, it’s really not fair to let someone’s public persona inform his work, and that’s exactly what I’m doing here. But let’s face it: actors (whether they’re celebrities or just hard-working artists) trade in the currency of truth. If an actor can’t, for whatever reason, inspire an audience to actually believe that his character means the words that are coming out of his mouth, he’s no longer capable of doing his job. And I didn’t believe Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt for a second. Every twitch is calculated, every emotional moment is self-conscious and hollow – the guy’s as sincere as a used car salesman under quota on the last day of the month. So when things are blowing up and the action is surging along, things are great; but as soon as the focus is back on Tom again (and given that he’s the producer and center of his known universe, that’s pretty damn often), any connection is tossed out the window.
Aside from having an unconvincing, unlikable lead, “Mission: Impossible III” is not all that bad: in this rare instance, the film succeeds in spite of – not because of – its lead performance. My rule of thumb for this kind of bloated summer action film is this: if I walk out feeling like I saw something that I haven’t seen before and it looked like a good percentage of the criminally enormous budget actually ended up on screen, it did its job. Anything beyond that (decent acting, an actual script) is really not worth hoping for, but if it manifests, it’s like Christmas in July (or May, in this case). Given that “M:I-3” has a script that would make for a moderately interesting 2-part television finale and some great supporting turns, it’s better than I was expecting. First, it’s wonderful to see Keri Russell doing anything – I seriously thought she had died or been struck with Lupus or something after winning a Golden Globe for “Felicity”, making that mambo movie and then vanishing into thin air. She’s fantastic here – a complete 180 from her charming, hesitant turn as an awkward college girl. I’d love to see her do more action movies – she’s got serious grit. Simon Pegg (the star of the wonderful “Shaun of the Dead”) has a great bit part as a neurotic tech wizard, and of course Hoffman is wonderfully hateful as slippery arms dealer Owen Davian – I wasn’t sure after his nailing soft-handed Truman Capote on the head last year that he’d be able to pull off true evil, but here he’s like a mad bulldog with a bloodlust.
So that’s all there really is to say – the effects are impressive, the theme song is still rousing and fun, the action is fast and furious. Were it not headlined by an emotionally unconvincing Napoleon with delusions of grandeur (I’m sorry, but there are shots where he looks like a 10-year-old), it might have been an awesome film – as it is, it’s way longer than it needs to be (thanks to plenty of earnest, wet-eyed padding) but you do get your money’s worth in terms of production design, spectacle, and thrills. So while the movie might get a passing grade, it looks like Cruise’s real Mission: Impossible will be turning around public opinion – and it’s gonna take way more than a solid supporting cast and some crackerjack effects to pull that one off.
Third time's a charm, as Tom Cruise makes the world safe for ... something. Great action, great pacing, and a dream supporting cast. With Ving Rhames, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Michelle Monaghan, Billy Crudup, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Maggie Q, Keri Russell, Laurence Fishburne. Screenplay by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and J.J. Abrams, based on the TV series created by Bruce Geller. Directed by J.J. Abrams. 2:06 (violence, adult content). Premieres at the Tribeca Film Fest tomorrow. Opens area theaters Friday.
Any number of distracted moviegoers will see "Mission: Impossible III" - which premiers at the Tribeca Film Festival tomorrow - as just another sideshow in the long-running Tom Cruise circus, and that's unfortunate. The film, directed by the all-but-unheralded J.J. Abrams ("Lost," "Alias") is the perfect summer movie - fast-paced, action-packed, emotionally engaging (without demanding too much investment), and pure, unadulterated eye candy. Whattya want for 10 bucks? A quarter tank of gas?
The third in the Cruise-controlled series based on the '60s-era Martin Landau-Peter Graves TV show, the film is at a distinct disadvantage regarding its progenitor, which at least had the Cold War to kick around. "M:I 3"? Seldom has a movie dwelled so luxuriously in the realm of world politics without being the least bit political. It may skip about the globe, from L.A. to the Vatican to Shanghai, but never will it share a point of view. This is, of course, strategic - why alienate anyone when all you want is their Jacksons? But it's also a kind of twisted accomplishment. How do you sidestep any and all matters topical when your plotline is about global terror, arms dealing, secret governments, the violation of gun laws and immigration regulations, the flouting of national sovereignties and total defiance of the rules of physics and physiology? It can't have been easy.
But Abrams makes it look that way. The director was given free rein by co-producer Cruise, the only way imaginable to make a decent movie here. Abrams' opening gambit is to drop us smack into the vortex of violence and disorienting intrigue: The initial scene finds M:I operative Evan Hunt (Cruise) handcuffed to one chair, his bride Julia (Michelle Monaghan) in another and the malevolently pudgy Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman) threatening to kill them both, in order to retrieve something called the "rabbit's foot." It requires a flashback of about two hours to find out what any of this is about.
But the hook is set and Abrams gets to play us like fish, plying us with dollops of comedy and allowing the supporting cast to twirl around Cruise like dancers at a maypole. Somewhere, it is explained that the rabbit's foot is related to an annihilating virus dubbed the "anti-God," which is appropriate because Hoffman is the anti-Cruise. Although given insufficient screen time to steal the movie, Hoffman uses his relatively small role to establish Davian as a cold-blooded sociopath, devoid of any humanizing quality. It's rare in any movie to have a villain of quite such hatefulness - why alienate the villain's family? Villainous families buy tickets, too. But Davian isn't supplied with enough backstory to elicit a soupcon of sympathy, and Hoffman makes sure he doesn't deserve any.
Much of the discussion about "M:I 3" will focus, rightly, on the Shanghai sequence and the magnificent stunt atop the city's skyline - Evan Hunt plummeting from one rooftop, swinging to another and tumbling down an incline to what seems like certain death. That Abrams is able to get the viewer to so firmly suspend reality - the reality that this is a Tom Cruise movie, something Tom Cruise generally survives - is a testament to his craft and the visceral qualities of "M:I 3," a movie worth driving to.
Mission: Impossible III provides lots of action, but too little excitement. It generates lots of pyrotechnics, but too little heat. And it offers lots of Tom Cruise, but too little Ethan Hunt. In short, if you're yearning for a flashy, leave-your-brain-at-the-door summer movie that never does anything interesting or challenging, Mission: Impossible III has what you're looking for. It's loud, raucous, frenetic, and blows things up real good. But it's testosterone without adrenaline, danger without suspense. Maybe it's foolish to be disappointed by a pure popcorn movie, but as I walked out of this film, I felt it had failed in its mission of pure entertainment.
When an IMF agent (Keri Russell) is captured while investigating arms dealer Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman) in Berlin, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) comes out of semi-retirement to rescue her. He does this at the request of his old friend, John Musgrave (Billy Crudip), and in spite of the fact that he's about to be married to his girlfriend, Julia (Michelle Monaghan), a down-to-earth nurse who knows nothing about Ethan's real job. Ethan's team consists of old friend Luther (Ving Rhames), and newcomers Declan (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and Zhen (Maggie Q). Their operation is not entirely successful, but it reveals that there may be a mole in a top IMF position, and it leads to a more dangerous assignment: capture Davian while he's attending a function at the Vatican.
Mission: Impossible III does a lot of things right, but it does nearly as many things wrong. (Note: I'm not going to discuss gaping logic holes and other plot contrivances here. They sort of go with the territory.) To start on the positive side, it's hard to imagine a better villain than the one presented by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Owen Davian isn't a foam-at-the-mouth lunatic or a suave, cultured sociopath. He's a deadly serious, brutal badass who has no compunction about killing an innocent person. While Davian doesn't measure up to the best of the modern era bad guys, Alan Rickman's Hans Gruber in Die Hard, he's much better than the cookie cutter, run-of-the-mill antagonists that thrillers like this typically employ. Mission: Impossible III also makes Ethan a little more human than in the previous installments, at least to start with.
The film opens with an amazing, taut two-minute pre-credits teaser that leaves the audience desperate for more. Unfortunately, this is an excerpt from much later in the story, so we have to wait about 90 minutes before learning how the cliffhanger is resolved. The upside of this is that Mission: Impossible III has an incredible hook, but the downside is that viewers may be irritated by having to endure so much exposition to get back to the point where they came in. It certainly kills the suspense and tension during the movie's first three-quarters. Mission: Impossible III doesn't get up to speed until we're back where we started from.
Attempts at character development fall flat. Giving Ethan a fiancé (who becomes his wife during the course of the film) is supposed to provide him with an emotional arc, but it doesn't work. That's primarily because the scenes between Cruise and Michelle Monaghan are perfunctory. We never get to know Julia, and the romance sputters. It's not so much an issue of poor chemistry as much as it is an issue of the two characters not having enough scenes together for there to be any meaningful interaction. It's hard to develop human relationships when the filmmaker isn't willing to slow down the momentum for a moment.
Cruise is a problem, as well. Too often during Mission: Impossible III, we're seeing the actor, not the character. With larger-than-life personalities like Humphrey Bogart and John Wayne, this wasn't an issue, since their screen personalities coincided with what the public perceived to be their real personalities. But Cruise has been vilified and ridiculed in numerous public forums during the past year, and it hurts his alter ego every time the actor proves incapable of submerging himself beneath the character. Cruise didn't have this problem in War of the Worlds, but it is occasionally an issue here.
This is the directorial debut of J.J. Abrams, a hot TV commodity (Felicity, Alias, Lost) making his transition to the big screen. From a purely technical standpoint, Abrams does a competent job. The chase scenes and other action sequences are presented with the proper level of spectacle. The globe-trotting locations are given their due - we see plenty of Berlin, Rome, and Shanghai. But there's an intangible missing. Things explode, characters take death-defying plunges, guns fire round after round after round, helicopters move in for the kill, and none of it is all that exciting. Maybe it's because we've seen it before. Maybe it's because a TV show like 24 does this kind of thing on a weekly basis, and does it better (although not as spectacularly). And maybe it's because we're not as invested in Ethan Hunt as we need to be to care. Even Mission: Impossible III's single shocking moment turns out to be a cheat.
Watching this film, I kept thinking of a cheap James Bond rip-off. There are the gadgets, the stunts, and the world locations. Laurence Fishburne does a credible M and Simon Pegg is Q. Michelle Monaghan is pretty enough to be a Bond girl, although she's dressed up more like the girl next door. And, like the least successful of the 007 features, it doesn't gel. This Mission satisfies more than the original, but is a few steps behind the first sequel. As summer fare, it's okay, and there's enough flash to justify a trip to a theater. But all the hype can't hide the fact that Mission: Impossible III is a routine action feature, and is unlikely to be regarded as anything better.
Mission: Impossible III' Action thriller in which the team of gadget-conscious secret agents goes up against a savvy arms dealer. With Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Laurence Fishburne, Michelle Monaghan, Billy Crudup. Directed by J.J. Abrams (2:05). PG-13: Intense action violence. At area theaters starting tonight at 10.
Summer blockbuster season officially starts tonight with the opening of "Mission: Impossible III," a glossy, high-octane action thriller that asks the question on everyone's lips: Can Tom Cruise - oops, we mean undercover agent Ethan Hunt - pursue a high-stakes career and enjoy a normal family life at the same time?
The answer is murky, because as the movie (and Cruise's world-tour promotion of it following his daughter's birth) shows, the job usually comes first.