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Mission: Impossible III Review

By Shawn McKenzie 07/20/2006

Unless you are a Scientologist, almost everyone is getting sick of Tom Cruise’s odd behavior.  The couch jumping, the fights about antidepressants, the hiding of his and the now-robotic Katie Holmes’ daughter Suri…we are turned off by him now.  This couldn’t come at a worse time, because Mission: Impossible III is, in my opinion, the best of the M:I series…and that is thanks to TV mastermind J.J. Abrams, the creator of the WB chick show “Felicity” and the two exciting ABC hits “Alias” and “Lost.”

In true Abrams fashion, reminiscent of “Alias,” we start the movie seeing our hero Ethan Hunt (Cruise) in peril.  International weapons dealer Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman) has implanted a bomb in the head of a strapped-to-a-chair Hunt, and he demands that Hunt show him the “Rabbit’s Foot”…a device that is supposed to contain information about a bio-hazardous material.  To show how serious he is, Davian puts his gun to the head of Hunt’s hospital nurse fiancée, Julia Ann Meade (Michelle Monaghan), who is also tied to a chair.  He gives Hunt ten seconds or he will shoot Julia, but even though Hunt pleads with Davian to spare her life, we hear a gunshot roll out.  We then flash back to five days earlier (another “Alias” trick), and we see Hunt and Julia enjoying an engagement party with family and friends.  As Hunt is boring people with his job as a traffic-pattern analyst for the Virginia Department of Transportation, he gets a call from Impossible Mission Force (IMF) operations manager John Musgrave (Billy Crudup.)  It turns out that the analyst job is a cover, since Hunt is still an IMF agent.  He isn’t a full-time agent though, because he wants to live a normal life with Julia, so he just trains other agents instead of going on missions himself.  The reason for the call from Musgrave is that they need Hunt to go on another mission.  He turns the mission down at first, but after viewing a video hidden in a disposable camera, he finds out that the mission is to find one of his former students, Lindsey Ferris (“Felicity” alum Keri Russell), who has gone missing in Berlin while on her first mission.  In the world of M:I, this wouldn’t be a problem, since they would usually disavow any knowledge of her existence, except the mission involved retaining important information about Davian which is vital to IMF.  They believe that Hunt’s protégée has been captured by Davian, and they want Hunt to extract her.  Hunt tells Julia that he has to go to a last-minute traffic planning convention, and he needs to go out of town for a couple of days.  He meets his team:  old friend and computer expert Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), transportation expert driver Declan Gormley (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), and behind-the-scenes agent Zhen Lei (Maggie Q.)  They go to the building where Lindsey is being held and Hunt finds her sedated.  He injects her with epinephrine and they manage to escape in time.  Unfortunately, after scanning her head, Hunt finds out that a bomb has been placed in her head, which kills her after four minutes.  Once Hunt gets back to the States, IMF director Theodore Brassel (Laurence Fishburne) chews out both Hunt and Musgrave for failing in their mission.  At Lindsey’s funeral, Hunt gets a postcard from Lindsey with a microdot underneath the stamp containing intel that Davian will be at the Vatican.  Before heading out to capture Davian, he discreetly marries Julia in the hospital where she works.  The team uses tech specialist Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg, who acts like a British version of “Alias’” Marshall) back at headquarters and goes to Vatican City to detain Davian, who is carrying a briefcase containing the Rabbit’s Foot.  They use that facemask thing from M:I2 to get Davian, which they succeed in doing, but they don’t get any information out of him.  Davian does threaten to find Hunt’s wife or girlfriend and kill him right in front of her though.  While transporting Davian to jail, Luther tells Hunt that he has decoded the microdot, which reveals that there is a traitor within IMF.  Right at that time, Davian’s people start firing at Hunt, with the intention of rescuing Davian, while Hunt is driving over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.  Hunt escapes without harm, but he loses Davian.  The bad guy has kidnapped Julia though, and he gives Hunt 48 hours to get back the Rabbit’s Foot from an apartment in Shanghai, or she will die.  Hunt needs the help of his team to rescue his new bride, figure out the importance of the Rabbit’s Foot, and find the traitor within the agency.

This installment of the franchise is Abrams’ theatrical directorial debut.  He is one-fourth of a quartet of television show creators I had been highly anticipating their theatrical directorial debut.  Two of them have already come out with theirs already:  Judd Apatow’s hit The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Joss Whedon’s unfortunate box office bomb Serenity (both of which were two of my favorite films of last year.)  The fourth one is Amy Sherman-Palladino, the creator of the WB show “The Gilmore Girls”…but unfortunately, she doesn’t have any plans to do a movie anytime soon.

How did Abrams succeed where Brian DePalma’s 1996 first movie and John Woo’s 2000 second one failed?  Well…they didn’t actually fail, because I really liked the first two movies (I actually liked the second movie better than the first one.)  The first movie was cool, but the plot was complicated…and for a summer popcorn movie, the plot shouldn’t confuse you.  The second movie had more action and a plot that wasn’t hard to understand.  If I had any complaint, it would be that the whole facemask thing that they did was overplayed, making it seem silly after a while.  That was one of the great things about Abrams’ movie.  While it has the facemask thing again, it is only done once, and it is explained so credibly that it makes you believe that you could actually do it yourself (with expensive equipment, of course.)  Abrams, along with “Alias” co-writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, did something that DePalma and Woo didn’t do:  they combined the slam-bang action with some emotion.  The first two movies had Hunt saving the world, but this movie had him saving the love of his life (the world came in second.)  I’ve always thought that Cruise was a good actor, but this is the first time in a M:I movie that he got to stretch his dramatic chops.  His chemistry with Monaghan was brief, but nice.  It wasn’t as good as the chemistry as the similarly themed 1994 movie True Lies, but that’s because Jamie Lee Curtis had more screen time in that movie.

There was more teamwork this time around.  In the first movie, there was teamwork…but they all died near the beginning (I still can’t get the skewering of Emilio Estevez in that elevator out of my head.)  From there on, it was “The Tom Cruise Show.”  I know that Rhames has been a part of Hunt’s various teams throughout the three movies, but this is the first movie where he and Hunt have had a heart-to-heart together (it was for the purpose of getting Hunt to not get involved with a civilian romantically, but it still counts as a personal conversation.)

Hey…if you have to think of Mission: Impossible III as a J.J. Abrams movie instead of a Tom Cruise movie, please do so…because otherwise you will be denying yourself a great movie experience.  Don’t let your frustration with Cruise stop you from seeing one of the best movies of the year.  In fact, it is your mission…should you accept it.

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