Mission: Impossible III (2006) / Action-Adventure
aka M:I-3

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence, sensuality and language
Running Time: 126 min.

Cast: Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ving Rhames, Laurence Fishburne, Michelle Monaghan, Maggie Q, Billy Crudup, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Keri Russell, Simon Pegg, Bahar Soomekh, Sasha Alexander
Director: J.J. Abrams
Screenplay: Alex Kurtzman, Robert Orci, J.J. Abrams
Review published May 7, 2006

I'll preface this review with an admission. I do feel a bit guilty about giving the third Mission: Impossible movie as high a rating as I do. After giving the matter a great deal of consideration, requiring me to even sleep on it overnight, I've decided to go with my gut instinct on it. 

I realize that there will be some viewers out there for which this film will not meet the expectations that I will be generating with a rave review.  On the other hand, I also realize that, while other reviewers might be positive in their critiques of the film, that the Tom Cruise media burnout factor, added to the fact that this is a purely popcorn sequel, prevents them from deeming this entry worthy of an all-out rave.  While I can understand this point of view, I don't know if people are being altogether fair in tempering their reaction for what turns out to be one of the most exciting and engaging pure action films to come out in many years.  Somehow, I feel, if this were the latest entry in the James Bond series, critics and audiences alike would proclaim this film one of the best, if not the best, since Connery's heyday.  Lofty praise, I'll admit, but in my humble opinion, well deserved.

The film's opening is a doozy, and generates a great deal of dramatic tension for nearly every scene that follows it.  A strapped-down Ethan Hunt (Cruise, War of the Worlds) is being coerced by the film's main villain, Owen Davian (Hoffman, Capote), who is holding another hostage at gunpoint demanding to know the answer to the location of something known as the Rabbit's Foot.  He counts down from ten, with Hunt trying everything he can think of to say that will spare the life of the young woman, to no avail.  The sequence ends, almost mercilessly, with the resounding force of the final bang.

After the opening credits sequence, the film opens to the events leading up to that dramatic confrontation, where we find another surprise; the woman in the prologue is Ethan Hunt's fiancée, a doctor named Lindsey Ferris (Monaghan, North Country).  Hunt, now semi-retired from the field in order to train up-and-coming agents in the IMF, has started a new life for himself (add Tom Cruise going straight joke here), keeping his top secret career completely hidden from his soon-to-be wife.  However, just as things seem to be looking like nothing could go wrong in Ethan's life, a call comes in, telling him that he is needed for another dangerous mission -- a hostage extraction of another field agent being severely abused at the hands of terrorist arms dealer mastermind Davian.  The mission is less than a success, and after a severe reprimand, Hunt decides to go rogue to take down Davian once and for all.  Unfortunately, this only shakes up the hornet's nest, and the result comes home to Hunt in a very serious, and personal, way.

This marks the first feature film directorial stint for J.J. Abrams, who has spent the last five years creating, writing and directing two of the most popular shows on American television, "Alias" and "Lost".  Being in charge of a well-publicized $150 million project in his first time out, Abrams delivers the goods with a wallop, showing a strong eye for dramatic tension and gritty action that is fresh and fluid.  The stunt pieces, special effects, and thunderous sound effects are truly of the highest caliber all around.  It's more than just pretty eye candy, though. With just a little fine tuning in the character development department, Abrams actually allows us to care about each character and mission, using every tool in his arsenal to put us in the center of the action, forcing us to marvel at the awesome spectacle of each set piece with solid intrigue, and even a touch of nervous anticipation.

While even I have succumbed to a bit of the anti-Tom Cruise backlash spurned on by the myriad stories that keep developing in the media about his private life, I'll give the man his due.  His performance in MI:3 ranks among his very best work as an actor, and I don't mean just among his action flicks.  Although he does put his body on the line in terms of stunts and fight choreography, it is in the scenes where there is no action that he truly delivers, as you can sense the pain and anguish of the moment, providing the necessary punctuation to make every interchange among the characters very compelling. 

He's also supported by a top-notch cast of character actors to assist him, with an especially menacing role for Philip Seymour Hoffman, exuding an unlikely screen presence that counters his genial nature perfectly.  Although not as important, I feel the need mention the very fine work by Laurence Fishburne (Assault on Precinct 13, The Matrix Revoutions), who dominates in every scene he is in with a performance that has us wondering how such a fine actor has been dormant for the last several years in roles that don't come close to utilizing a fraction of his talent.

While MI:3 is, of course, a continuation of situations and characters introduced in the first two films and, to a more tangential extent, the original television series, Abrams' style is much more reminiscent of James Cameron in his approach to giving us early moments of character development, channeling that into the unfolding upturn of tension, and then finally, letting things rip in the action scenes with relentless intensity.  This doesn't feel so much a continuation of the vibe of De Palma's Mission: Impossible or John Woo's MI:2 so much as a highly skilled homage to the pacing and action style of T2 and True Lies.   Savvy filmgoers may also recognize the marriage plot device as a page stolen right out of the intriguing lone George Lazenby entry in the Bond franchise, On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

Although the length of the film, clocking in at over two hours, is a bit longer than most of its ilk, any drag is barely detectable; it flies by fast.  It's not perfect -- the final few scenes do bring the film back down to earth with clichés and conventions that had mostly been glossed over previously, and a final scene that lies curiously flat -- but it is still, quite handily, the best entry in the Mission: Impossible series. 

For a Hollywood summer blockbuster, M;I 3 actually manages to be something more than just mindless thrills, chills and explosions.  It is an intelligently realized, efficiently presented, and breathtakingly rendered action film that will hopefully revitalize the sputtering genre back to more serious presentations, instead of the cartoonish, cheeky, dumbed-down fodder that has been passing as mainstream popcorn-movie fare for the last several years.

-- Follows Mission: Impossible and Mission: Impossible II. Followed by Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol.

Qwipster's rating:

©2006 Vince Leo