When we first met Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) in 1996's Mission: Impossible, he was a gifted Impossible Mission Force (IMF) agent who held his own in the field, but won the day with smarts, wits and problem-solving. In the disappointing Mission: Impossible II (2000), Hunt was an almost superhuman, James Bond-like action hero who couldn't be stopped. And now, in the best film of the franchise, Hunt is both the brilliant agent and the capable soldier while finally gaining an important missing asset: a life.
When J.J. Abrams (Alias, Lost) took the director's chair for this sequel—becoming the third director in as many films—he said his goal was to flesh out Ethan's character. As a co-writer for this film, Abrams wanted to show Ethan not just as an agent in the field, but as a man. And like Abrams has done with Lost and early Alias seasons, providing characters' real lives to the events around them adds spark, heart and intensity. It raises the stakes. Now, the risk isn't just the release of foreign operatives. Or the spreading of a virus. What is at risk is a person. Ethan has a home, a steady love and even a dog. He has passions, regrets, and—most importantly—he has things to lose.
When an action script successfully gets you to care about the stakes, it doesn't really matter what the threat is. It doesn't really matter what the bad guy wants. M:I3 knows this. And it works. The plot is bare bones: Bad guy wants something. Good guy doesn't want him to have it. What that something is and why it is desired is irrelevant. The bad guy is just there to set the stage. Instead, the human drama takes center stage. There's very little plot or commentary to the film other than simple survival and getting the job done. The movie makes some risky—but good—plot choices at the end. Abrams quickly wraps up story threads and then focuses on what matters: Ethan's life.
The newly engaged Ethan has now left field work to train new agents. He's celebrating his engagement to Julia (Michelle Monaghan) with friends and relatives when the Impossible Missions Force asks him for help. There's an emergency. A young agent (Keri Russell) whom Ethan trained has been kidnapped while tailing a major weapons provider, Owen Davian (Phillip Seymour Hoffman). The rescue puts Ethan and his IMF team into a dangerous battle with Davian over the mysterious Rabbit's Foot. The cat-and-mouse game casts questions on where loyalties lie, puts Julia in danger, and spans the globe from Virginia to Vatican City to China.
Saying anything more about the plot spoils the fun. It may be a simple story, but there are twists, turns and surprises. It's not complicated. It's not entirely original. But it is a well-structured and intense ride. And the bottom line is how much fun it is. Abrams was the right man for the job because he understands what the franchise is about (after all, his Alias has many times felt like Mission: Impossible): fun, espionage, double-crosses, red herrings, and thrills. The movie doesn't take itself seriously, and even seems to wink at the audience a few times. There are big laughs, rockin' action set pieces, and smart uses of the spy genre and the franchise's history. For instance, while the other two movies used plenty of Mission: Impossible masks and costumes, this chapter pulls a Batman Begins by showing us the details of how the technology is used. The team builds a mask in the field and we see the agent's transformation—in both how he looks and sounds.
Because M:I3 trumps up the film's heart and fun with interesting characters, genuinely funny comic relief (Alias fans will enjoy a Marshall-like tech guy), and characters to care about, it can also afford to raise the tension level. And does it ever. The first three minutes of the film are a shocking and intense shot of adrenaline—and it never really lets up. The film is fast moving, relentless, gripping, dramatic. At times, there's almost a horror-like tension and grittiness. There is an energy here that was largely missing from the previous M:I movies. It crackles and simmers during crisp dialogue scenes, thanks to skilled note-perfect acting of Cruise, Hoffman, Billy Crudup, and Laurence Fishburne. Some of the talking scenes are more thrilling and taut than lesser films' action sequences.
And then, the energy explodes during the frenetic and exciting action sequences. Gone are the fancy, poetic mid-air motorcycle duels. Instead, the action pieces use very little CGI and lots of quick cuts, tight framing and real stunts. They feel more real and in your face. When cars hit each other, you feel the collision. When someone is coming around the corner, you want to lean forward to peek. There were times I felt like I needed to duck.
What is ironic is that the film's best attribute, its intensity, also leads to its biggest weakness. It may sound odd, but just too much happens. Too much is demanded of the viewer and it begins to push you to the brink of checking out at times. When it is over, it feels like the movie is much longer than 126 minutes.
And there are some problems with suspending disbelief, even though you'd expect some of that in a movie like this. Still, I found most of it easy to swallow, thanks to the tone Abrams has created. There's a sense of realism in even the crazily improbably action sets. But then there are little things that make you go, "Oh, really?" For instance, Ethan's IMF team sets up an elaborate stunt—that necessitates finding lots of rope, a winch, a baseball pitching machine, and a fancy new outfit for Ethan—all in under two hours. It took me longer than that to write this review.
But none of this ruins the fun. Abrams and Cruise deserve credit for breathing life and heart into a franchise with lots of potential. Signing solid actors (especially Hoffman as the cold and brutal bad guy), ramping up the idea of "team" among the IMFers, and using human drama to carry the script successfully adds life to the mission.
Talk About ItDiscussion starters
- Could you take a job like Ethan Hunt's that required you to lie each day to those you loved and cared for? Why or why not?
- Ving Rhames' character at one point says that there's a "point where bold becomes stupid." What does this mean to you? How does one recognize that point? How could that apply to your life as a Christian?
- Many action movies features heroes who risk it all—their missions, their fellow heroes, etc.—to save one life. Here, Ethan's team risks their lives to save the young agent in the beginning, and later Julia. How would you choose what risks are worth one life? When is one life not worth it? Is the trade-off cost ever too much to save a life?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Mission: Impossible III is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of frenetic violence and menace, disturbing images, and brief sensuality. The film is so tense and relentless, with almost horror-like intensity at times, it's likely too much for young children; take the PG-13 seriously. The violence, including gunfights, execution-like shootings, hand-to-hand fighting, and sudden, shocking collisions, is realistic and frantic. There isn't much blood shown, but one disturbing image of a dead girl's face lingers on screen for several seconds. The sensuality is a tame scene of a married couple kissing passionately.
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What Other Critics Are Sayingcompiled by Josh Hurst
from Film Forum, 05/11/06
Like the character he plays in the Mission: Impossible franchise, Tom Cruise has worn a variety of different masks over the years—Tom the Teen Heartthrob, Tom the Box-Office King, even Tom the Oscar Nominee. In recent years, though, most people—and by people we mean the paparazzi—have preferred to keep poor ol' Tom confined to just one personality: Tom Cruise the Psycho-Crazy Guy You've Probably Read About in the Tabloids.
That designation might finally be taking its toll. Early box office reports indicate that the third Mission: Impossible film doesn't have nearly the legs that its two predecessors had. You certainly can't say they're not trying, though—M:I3 boasts not only the return of Cruise as secret agent Ethan Hunt, but it's also got a hot new director—J.J. Abrams, of TV's Lost and Alias fame—and a newly-Oscared character actor playing the diabolical villain—Philip Seymour Hoffman. The movie also features franchise stalwart Ving Rhames and newcomers Billy Crudup and Keri Russell.
This time around, Hunt isn't just another anonymous action hero; he's got a home and a fiancée now—an actual life. He's no longer a field agent, but a trainer of new agents. That doesn't stop the Impossible Mission Force from enlisting his help for an especially tricky case, however, and it isn't long before Hunt is back in action, hot on the trail of weapons dealer Owen Davian (Hoffman). Explosions and gunfights ensue.
Abrams has said that his goal with the film was to breathe new life into the series by fleshing out the characters, but Christian film critics are split on how successful he is.
Bob Hoose (Plugged In) praises the film for striking "an almost flawless balance. The world created is a glittering gem exploding around us, but we believe. The villain is an evil blight we know nothing about, but we don't care, we know pestilence when we see it. The hero is impossibly determined, but we love him for it." Hoose is not so thrilled with the film's high level of violence, however, asking "just how many torture scenes and cold-blooded killings are acceptable in healthy entertainment—100, a dozen, five, one?"
Meanwhile, Steven Greydanus (Decent Films) calls the film "competent, disposable entertainment. There's nothing here that really grabs you like the first film's CIA break-in, but it doesn't leave a sour taste like Woo's M:I‑II. Even so, in the post-007 world of Jason Bourne, that may not be enough. The IMF has perhaps outlived its usefulness."
Christian Hammaker (Crosswalk) has mixed feelings: "Mission: Impossible 3 director J.J. Abrams, in interviews promoting the latest entry in the Mission Impossible franchise, has said that he wanted the third film's stunts to serve the storyline, rather than the other way around. By that criterion, M:I3 must be considered a failure. But if M:I3, like its two predecessors, is evaluated primarily as a stunt-driven spectacle where plot is largely incidental, the film fills the bill for exciting summer entertainment."
Even D. Baltz (Christian Spotlight) writes, "The movie is entertaining and suspenseful, but it doesn't quite rise to the level of a super blockbuster. I found myself not caring enough about the individual characters for it to rate higher than an above average summer action film. If you enjoy seeing a sweaty Tom Cruise running at full speed, or are a fan of the series, no doubt you will enjoy this movie. If you could care less about either, look elsewhere for your weekend entertainment."
Mainstream critics mostly dig its explosiveness, though quite a few think it's a dud.
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