Despite general box office popularity, the Mission: Impossible series has never been a great franchise. The films have effectively produced wall-to-wall action, but logic…well, that’s another matter altogether. On the plus side, the series has cleverly turned the reins of each installment over to a different director, thereby ensuring a unique feel every time. Brian DePalma’s convoluted original gave way to John Woo’s hyper-violent sequel. For Mission: Impossible III, the producers have turned not to an A-list motion picture director, but rather an A-list television creator. J.J. Abrams is all the rage these days, following the success of his shows “Alias” and “Lost.”
Abrams turns out to be a surprisingly decent choice, as he brings some domesticity to the series that was never there before. Specifically, he gives Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) a life outside of work. Our hero, retired from fieldwork and now a trainer of covert government spies, is engaged to Julia (Michelle Monaghan). She doesn’t know what he really does for a living. This becomes obvious when he lies to her after receiving a call from his superior, Musgrave (Billy Crudup), who needs Ethan to return to the field one last time. He reluctantly agrees, then tells Julia that he’s attending a business conference out of town.
The mission is supposed to be simple: one of Ethan’s protégés, Lindsey Ferris (Keri Russell), has gone missing in Germany, where she was tracking an arms dealer named Owen Davian (Phillip Seymour Hoffman). Musgrave thinks that Davian has identified Lindsey and taken her hostage. With a team of fellow agents including Luther (series regular Ving Rhames), Ethan sets out to rescue the missing agent.
Things get considerably more complicated when the team learns that Davian has plans to sell a doomsday device known as “the Rabbit’s Foot.” No one knows exactly what the device is, but they do know that they need to stop the sale. Davian carries a briefcase containing information as to the device’s whereabouts. Ethan and crew must steal the briefcase, procure the Rabbit’s Foot, and get it into safe hands. After a complicated Vatican heist during which Ethan snags the briefcase, Davian plots revenge by kidnapping Julia. If he doesn’t get the item back, she dies.
One thing M:I 3 has going for it is a plot that you can actually follow. I remember seeing the original and sitting there in anger because I had no clue what was going on. The story this time is no great shakes (it’s resembled from bits and pieces of other movies, and the plot hinges on a “twist” that has become clichéd) but at least you know more or less what is happening at any given moment.
You do not, however, always know how things are happening. Logic is malleable in a Mission: Impossible film. Consider the fact that Cruise (as Ethan) is shown beating up four armed guards simultaneously but, in a later scene, he gets his ass kicked by Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Maybe all that spy training has left him ill-prepared to fight a “normal” guy. We also get several scenes featuring that old stand-by: the rubber mask that makes one person look like another. There’s a scene where we watch Ethan and Luther use a machine that rapidly pumps out a Davian mask. Okay, I’ll suspend my disbelief on that, but how are we to account for Ethan morphing his body into that of Davian, who has a noticeably different height and weight?
I could list plenty of other less-than-sensical moments, but what’s the point? We don’t go to movies like M:I 3 for logic or sense. We go to watch stuff blow up real big. It is here that the film works. There is wall-to-wall action that never lets the mind wander. More importantly, it’s good action that does what it is supposed to do: generate excitement. Abrams has come up with some sequences that are original, like the helicopter chase through a field full of windmills. (Guess how that one ends.) Near the finale, Ethan swings on a giant rope from one Shanghai skyscraper to another, then ends up sliding uncontrollably down the side of its slanted facade. Does this happen in real life? No. Is it exciting in a big screen action fantasy? Absolutely. So is a lengthy scene set on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, which has explosions galore.
There’s also one heck of an intense torture sequence that opens the film (in a flash-forward) and is returned to later. It works because Abrams – who also co-wrote – has added those human elements. The devotion Ethan has to Julia balances the action, giving it a little bit of weight. Like everything else, this element is ultimately taken to absurd extremes, but at least the action isn’t totally empty like it is in certain other films of this genre.
Before seeing Mission: Impossible III, it’s important to identify why you are going. You’re not going to get a lot of intelligence, or a lot of logic, or a lot of mental stimulation. But if it’s thrills you’re looking for, M:I 3 delivers.
( out of four)
Mission: Impossible III is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of frenetic violence & menace, disturbing images & some sensuality. The running time is 2 hours and 5 minutes.
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