WFTB Score: 9/20
The plot: Semi-retired Impossible Missions Force agent Ethan Hunt is called out of his engagement party to effect the rescue of a colleague in trouble. When this ends in tragedy, Hunt leads a mission to bring the perpetrator, a callous black marketer called Owen Davian, to book. His investigations take him far and wide, but the real villains may be closer to home, threatening the lives of both Ethan and those he most dearly loves.
Beginning, Fight Club-style, with a scene that occurs about two-thirds of the way through the film before taking us back, M:i:III is all about the tension. Newly engaged Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), happy, relaxed and looking forward to a quiet life, is drawn back into working for the IMF (not the money people) by the news that his protégée, Agent Lindsey Farris (Keri Russell), has been captured in Berlin by weapons trader and all-round bad guy Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Although Farris is rescued, a capsule in her head kills her and Hunt is compelled to track Davian down in order to retrieve a potentially deadly weapon called the ‘rabbit’s foot.’
As this is an incredibly dangerous venture, Hunt marries his partner Julia (Michelle Monaghan) before heading off to the Vatican in an audacious bid to snatch Davian from under the nose of his protectors, aided by fellow agents Luther, Zhen and Declan (Ving Rhames, Maggie Q and Jonathan Rhys Meyers). The kidnap works but when fighter jets and other military might sets Davian free, Hunt (with information provided secretly by Farris) suspects that there is an insider working with Davian, most probably the irascible Theo Brassel (Laurence Fishburne), who is constantly on the back of Hunt’s boss Musgrave (Billy Crudup). When Julia is kidnapped, Musgrave sends Hunt to Shanghai to recover the rabbit’s foot and secure her release: but as that first scene showed Hunt handcuffed in a chair with Julia being shot in the head by Davian, how can the mission possibly be successful?
There’s actually quite a lot to like about Abrams’ film, so long as you are in Super-Secret-Agent mode. In Berlin, the Vatican, Shanghai and on an immense bridge in America, there are thrilling action sequences filmed with an eye and ear for mayhem and loud noises, with Hunt the all-action guy in the middle, downing planes with a single shot and swinging from buildings thousands of feet in the air.
The gadgets employed by Hunt and his team are impressive, extending to immediately convincing face-masks and voicebox replication, the most obvious nod to the original TV series. Far-fetched, possibly, but it would be picky in the extreme to criticise a film with the word ‘impossible’ in its title for being unlikely to happen in real life. The far-fetchedness of the plot is perhaps the series’ Unique Selling Point and, to be honest, since Bond pitched up in his invisible car in Die Another Day, anything goes.
What does let Mission:Impossible III down is the characterisation, and most obviously that of Ethan Hunt. Whereas Bond in all his incarnations and Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne are identifiable by their quips, quirks and flaws, it is hard to attribute much of a personality to Hunt. Yes, he’s chummy, emotional, super-fit, brilliant and generally superb at everything, but as this ‘complete package’ Cruise fails to invest him with anything that makes him less than super-human, the plot relying on the fact that we fear for his wife to make us concerned (of course, she turns out to be pretty handy, too).
More than this, spotting Cruise’s name as co-producer of the film, you suspect that this is a deliberate choice, not so Hunt looks good, but in order that Cruise himself is shown to best effect. How else would you explain an absurdly long tracking shot of him running down a street in Shanghai, which does nothing but reveal our star to be in great shape?
As for Team Hunt, only Ving Rhames (with a rapport built from the first two movies) is really given enough screen time to develop anything approaching a rounded character. Meyers is OK and Maggie Q almost completely wasted, a hint at romance between the pair so fleeting as to be pointless. Besides, when it comes time for the wife to be rescued, it is the office IT geek Benji (Simon Pegg) who helps; Pegg is fine in the role, but is lumbered with guessing at what the rabbit’s foot might be, and his comic skills are rather trampled over by the action-centred camera and score.
For the bad guys, Philip Seymour Hoffman is excellent as the chillingly psychopathic Davian, but although he does get to beat himself up in the Vatican toilets, he feels underused; the showdowns between Hoffman and Cruise are potentially the highlights of the film but they are too brief and just like Hunt, we never really understand the man behind the evil. Could it be that Hoffman is just too good an actor for Cruise to compete?
I said earlier that Mission: Impossible III is all about the tension, and this is clearly the intention of the director, making us believe that for all Hunt’s efforts something goes terribly wrong and even he cannot protect the ones he truly loves. However, for all its efficient stunts and thrills, Hunt is really too good for his own good, and what he is fighting against – despite the ‘real’ bad guy coming up with some guff about the Middle East and America’s talent for rebuilding infrastructure – never clearly defined or explained. And since you never really feel Hunt is in danger, the film sometimes feels less like an action movie than an expensive show reel for Mr Cruise. For this reason I’d choose Bourne, or even the more serious Bonds, over an evening spent with Tom’s impossible missions.