Mission: Impossible 3 could not have come out at a worse time. Not only was the previous installment almost unanimously perceived as weak, but Tom Cruise in the blink of an eye became a couch jumping, Scientology studying, Brooke Shields slamming PR nightmare. As such, while it certainly didn’t flop, it definitely didn’t over-perform either. It’s a shame really, because with fresh faced TV guru JJ Abrams at the helm of his very first feature, the entire creative team seemed determined to make up for the failings of their previous film. They promised a gritter, more exciting story that fit more within the vein of the wildly popular Bourne films and and Daniel Craig’s upcoming Bond debut, and man, did they ever deliver.
Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) starts this story having been out of the game for a few years, resigning to training new IMF agents. You see, he’s got a wedding to Julia (Michelle Monaghan) coming up, and he’s not planning on running into any gunfire anytime soon. That is until he finds out that Lindsey Farris (Keri Russell), the only trainee he ever approved for active duty, has been kidnapped by vicious arms dealer Owen Davian (Phillip Seymour Hoffman). After their attempt to rescue Farris goes horribly wrong, Ethan is thrown into a deeply personal game of cat and mouse with Davian, and must rely on his team to keep him out of danger until he tracks the mad-man down.
It seems that a Mission: Impossible film is only as good as it’s director, and although his style is not fully refined in his directorial debut, JJ Abrams absolutely nails it in the director’s chair. The pace here is absolutely relentless, with either a massive action scene, or an important piece of character development standing front and center. No matter what is happening, it’s injected with enough spirit and energy to feel more like a roller coaster than a movie. That kind of pacing could easily wear thin in lesser hands, however, there is a simply perfect amount of attention paid to the characters to ensure that this doesn’t just feel like a bunch of action figures running around.
Out of all the MI films, this is the one where Cruise shines the most. Unlike the forced romantic subplot in MI 2, Ethan’s relationship with Julia feels incredibly natural and human due to an easy chemistry with the endlessly watchable Monaghan. This not only grounds him as the vulnerable every-man that made him so compelling originally, but makes the personal stakes that much higher once Julia finds herself in danger. It’s also incredibly refreshing to finally see Ethan have a true team behind him, made up of characters played by Ving Rhames, Maggie Q, and Jonathan Rhys Meyers. While they might not be the most three dimensional characters, they’re each charismatic and vital to the missions in their own way, particularly Rhames, who is given the most he’s ever had to do in the series. However, the biggest stand-out might just be the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the venomous Davian, who absolutely oozes hatred as he vows to destroy everything Ethan cares about. It’s a brilliant piece of unconventional casting by Abrams, only problematic by under-utilization. Hoffman isn’t in the film nearly as much as he should be, and if he had been, something tells me Davian could have been an all time great villain.
The action sequences are not only constant, but beautifully put together. Gone are the over-stylized, slow motion filled bores of before, with Abrams taking on a much more Spielberg-like flavor. Complications are constantly building on each other, forcing our heroes to often adapt to three or four problems at a time, ensuring that the action never descends into repetitive shoot-outs as many spy movies unfortunately do. All of it brought to life with Cruise’s always impressive practical stunts, and just the right amount of hectic camera-work to keep up the pace while still keeping things clear. It also helps that because the characters are so well drawn, and the tone of the story is so dark, that it always feels like people are in danger.
Mission: Impossible 3 is not only a perfect rebound for the franchise, but a rock-solid an action film in nearly every department. It’s a dark, character driven story that still never forgets to pepper in a little camaraderie and adventure to keep things going. The entire cast of top notch actors does a wonderful job, and Abrams proves himself to be a major force to be reckoned with. If it had just taken advantage of it’s stellar antagonist a little more, it could have even been the very best installment in the franchise, but believe it or not, we’re going up from here.