Mission: Impossible III provides lots of action, but too little
excitement. It generates lots of pyrotechnics, but too
little heat. And it offers lots of Tom Cruise, but too
little Ethan Hunt. In short, if you're yearning for a
flashy, leave-your-brain-at-the-door summer movie that never
does anything interesting or challenging, Mission:
Impossible III has what you're looking for. It's loud,
raucous, frenetic, and blows things up real good. But it's
testosterone without adrenaline, danger without suspense.
Maybe it's foolish to be disappointed by a pure popcorn
movie, but as I walked out of this film, I felt it had
failed in its mission of pure entertainment.
When an IMF agent (Keri Russell) is captured while
investigating arms dealer Owen Davian (Philip Seymour
Hoffman) in Berlin, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) comes out of
semi-retirement to rescue her. He does this at the request
of his old friend, John Musgrave (Billy Crudip), and in
spite of the fact that he's about to be married to his
girlfriend, Julia (Michelle Monaghan), a down-to-earth nurse
who knows nothing about Ethan's real job. Ethan's team
consists of old friend Luther (Ving Rhames), and newcomers
Declan (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and Zhen (Maggie Q). Their
operation is not entirely successful, but it reveals that
there may be a mole in a top IMF position, and it leads to a
more dangerous assignment: capture Davian while he's
attending a function at the Vatican.
Mission: Impossible III does a lot of things right, but it
does nearly as many things wrong. (Note: I'm not going to
discuss gaping logic holes and other plot contrivances here.
of go with the territory.) To start on the
positive side, it's hard to imagine a better villain than
the one presented by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Owen Davian
isn't a foam-at-the-mouth lunatic or a suave, cultured
sociopath. He's a deadly serious, brutal badass who has no
compunction about killing an innocent person. While Davian
doesn't measure up to the best of the modern era bad guys,
Alan Rickman's Hans Gruber in Die Hard, he's much better
than the cookie cutter, run-of-the-mill antagonists that
thrillers like this typically employ. Mission: Impossible
III also makes Ethan a little more human than in the
previous installments, at least to start with.
The film opens with an amazing, taut two-minute pre-credits
teaser that leaves the audience desperate for more.
Unfortunately, this is an excerpt from much later in the
story, so we have
to wait about 90 minutes before learning
how the cliffhanger is resolved. The upside of this is that
Mission: Impossible III has an incredible hook, but the
downside is that viewers may be irritated by having to
endure so much exposition to get back to the point where
they came in. It certainly kills the suspense and tension
during the movie's first three-quarters. Mission: Impossible
III doesn't get up to speed until we're back where we
Attempts at character development fall flat. Giving Ethan a
fiancé (who becomes his wife during the course of the film)
is supposed to provide him with an emotional arc, but it
doesn't work. That's primarily because the scenes between
Cruise and Michelle Monaghan are perfunctory. We never get
to know Julia, and the romance sputters. It's not so much an
issue of poor chemistry as much as it is an issue of the two
characters not having enough scenes together for there to be
any meaningful interaction. It's hard to develop human
relationships when the filmmaker isn't willing to slow down
the momentum for a moment.
Cruise is a problem, as well. Too often during Mission:
Impossible III, we're seeing the actor, not the character.
With larger-than-life personalities like Humphrey Bogart and
John Wayne, this wasn't an issue, since their screen
personalities coincided with what the public perceived to be
their real personalities. But Cruise has been vilified and
ridiculed in numerous public forums during the past year,
and it hurts his alter ego every time the actor proves
incapable of submerging himself beneath the character.
Cruise didn't have this problem in War of the Worlds, but it
is occasionally an issue here.
This is the directorial debut of J.J. Abrams, a hot TV
commodity (Felicity, Alias, Lost) making his transition to
the big screen. From a purely technical standpoint, Abrams
does a competent job. The chase scenes and other action
sequences are presented with the proper level of spectacle.
The globe-trotting locations are given their due - we see
plenty of Berlin, Rome, and Shanghai. But there's an
intangible missing. Things explode, characters take
death-defying plunges, guns fire round after round after
round, helicopters move in for the kill, and none of it is
all that exciting. Maybe it's because we've seen it before.
Maybe it's because a TV show like 24 does this kind of thing
on a weekly basis, and does it better (although not as
spectacularly). And maybe it's because we're not as invested
in Ethan Hunt as we need to be to care. Even Mission:
Impossible III's single shocking moment turns out to be a
Watching this film, I kept thinking of a cheap James Bond
rip-off. There are the gadgets, the stunts, and the world
locations. Laurence Fishburne does a credible M and Simon
Pegg is Q. Michelle Monaghan is pretty enough to be a Bond
girl, although she's dressed up more like the girl next
door. And, like the least successful of the 007 features, it
doesn't gel. This Mission satisfies more than the II, but is
a few steps behind the first film. As summer fare, it's
okay, and there's enough flash to justify a trip to a
theater. But all the hype can't hide the fact that Mission:
Impossible III is a routine action feature, and is unlikely
to be regarded as anything better.