Say what you will about Tom Cruise (he’s kind of nutty around couches, he is way too into Scientology, etc) but there is no denying that the guy makes a damn good action hero. Even when he was playing a supposed Everyman in “War of the Worlds”, he could still dodge alien rays and battle giant mechanical death machines with ease. And no franchise puts Cruise’s physicality to better use than the “Mission: Impossible” films, which, much like the original TV show and the failed ’80s revamp, have always (for the most part) relied more on guile, cool, and insane stunts than straight action.
Tom Cruise returns as IMF (Impossible Missions Force) agent Ethan Hunt, who since we last saw him blowing up half of Australia real good, has now left the field and is engaged to marry the lovely Julia (Michelle Monaghan). Things are going swimmingly for our hero, until his former boss Musgrave (Billy Crudup) comes to him with news that Lindsey Parris (Keri Russell), the IMF agent Ethan had personally trained and vouched for, has gone missing and is believed captured by notorious criminal broker Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Musgrave is sending out a search and rescue team, but wonders if Ethan might not like to lead them.
As it turns out, Yes, he would. After making an excuse to attend a traffic convention in Houston (Julia believes Ethan works for the Department of Transportation, and indeed the IMF’s main building seems to be hidden underneath the Virginia DOT office), Ethan rejoins with his former team for the job. But as these things oftentimes turns out, the mission is not as straightforward as Ethan is led to believe, something Lindsey attempts to reveal to Ethan before she is, alas, killed during the rescue. (Don’t worry, this takes place in the first 20 minutes, so I don’t consider it much of a spoiler. Russell does return a few more times in flashbacks.) A conspiracy, it would appear, is afoot, and someone at IMF is involved big time.
Part three in the franchise was co-written and directed by J.J. Abrams, the man behind some of TV’s biggest hits (the ABC juggernaut “Lost”, the Keri Russell series “Felicity”, and the show that gave us Jennifer Garner, “Alias”). Considering his vast TV work, it’s no surprise that Abrams is an adept hand at the spy action, and he steps into the director’s chair with ease. John Woo may have introduced all-out action to the series with part 2, but Abrams has returned it to the glory days of spies, elaborate capers, and yes, impossible missions. Mind you, not that Abrams skimps on the action, as the film has a number of highlight worthy gunplay, including an extended ambush on a bridge ala “True Lies”.
Clocking in at over two hours, “Mission: Impossible 3″ does an excellent job of establishing Ethan’s home life with Julia, and why he intends to keep it in one piece come hell or high water when Julia is threatened by the loathsome and quite murderous Davian. But while a lot of the attention is focused on Ethan, Abrams and co-writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci neglects everyone else. In particular, the close-knight IMF team that assists Ethan in his many dangerous missions. At one point the entire team convenes in Shanghai for a dangerous mission that may or may not be sanctioned by the IMF brass. It would have been nice to know why these people are so willing to risk it all to help Ethan.
The only other returning actor besides Cruise is Ving Rhames, who has been in all three ” Mission : Impossible” films. Joining Rhames and Cruise are Jonathan Rhys Meyers (“Bend It Like Beckham”) and Hong Kong star Maggie Q. (“Naked Weapon”), but since the script barely scrapes the surface level of their characters, there’s little for me to write about them. (Although we did learn that Q.’s Zhen Lei once had a dog that ran away. Um.) In a throwaway role, Laurence Fishburne is wasted as the unlikeable IMF boss, and Billy Crudup is, alas, only too obvious. Standouts in the cast include Simon Pegg (“Shaun of the Dead”) as a hilarious and sparingly used comic relief.
Although very good in many ways, ” Mission : Impossible 3″ is weak in other areas. The plot is really not up to the task of shouldering a major motion picture, offering up one of those generic, been-done-to-death conspiracy plot twists that would be better wasted on an action-adventure TV show like “24″ or, perhaps, Abrams’ own “Alias”. The film actually spends more time concerning itself with the missions Ethan and crew undertakes rather than try to make any real substance out of its plot, which seems to be the correct choice considering the staleness of said plot. Still, one can’t help but be a little disappointed by how unimpressive the storyline is, in particular all the red herring and IMF traitor angles. Shouldn’t a man who spent a good part of his career coming up with spy stories be able to do better than this?
Then again, maybe I’m focusing on the wrong parts of ” Mission : Impossible 3″. When it works, and it works often, the film is exciting and thrilling stuff, constantly leaving the audience breathless as it seamlessly hops from action set piece to action set piece. From the Vatican City caper to the bridge incident to a literal leap of faith in Shanghai , the action in ” Mission : Impossible 3″ easily makes you stop thinking and just strap in for the action. While I still favor Brian DePalma’s original, chiefly in that it was such a cinematically brilliant and different animal, J.J. Abrams’ take is not altogether bed. At least I would rate it as a slight notch above John Woo’s shoot’em up in part 2.
J.J. Abrams (director) / Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, J.J. Abrams (screenplay)
CAST: Tom Cruise …. Ethan Hunt
Philip Seymour Hoffman …. Owen Davian
Ving Rhames …. Luther Stickell
Billy Crudup …. Musgrave
Michelle Monaghan …. Julia Meade
Jonathan Rhys Meyers …. Declan Gormley
Keri Russell …. Lindsey Farris
Maggie Q …. Zhen Lei
Simon Pegg …. Benji Dunn
Laurence Fishburne …. Theodore Brassel