"Mission: Impossible III" (aka, "Mission Impossible 3," "M:i:III)"
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. The man is in his element. For him, call it, "Mission Irrepressible."
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?
The Soundtrack Album