Mission: Impossible III (2006)Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of frenetic violence & menace, disturbing images & some sensuality.
Starring Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ving Rhames, Laurence Fishburne, Billy Crudup, Michelle Monaghan, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Keri Russell, Maggie Q.
LVJeff's Rating: 7/10
Photo ©Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved.
Surprise at the Center
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.
©Jeffrey Chen, May 5, 2006