Mission Impossible III: Alias Writ Large

Most filmmakers start their careers making small, low-budget features that, if they’re lucky, could be slated for a festival. Others start out by directing a $150,000 000 blockbuster starring Tom Cruise. Then again, J.J. Abrams isn’t just anyone. He is after all the guy who created such TV hits as Alias and Lost. It was allegedly Cruise who saw his work on Alias and decided that this was exactly what the Mission: Impossible franchise needed. So what if Abrams had never directed a film before? Cruise had confidence in this rookie, and you know what? Abrams doesn’t seem lost at all.

The third film in this series is like an episode of Alias writ large. It opens in the middle of the story, like so many episodes of the spy show, with an ugly confrontation between Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and the person we realize is the bad guy to look out for, an arms dealer called Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman). The sequence ends with a cliffhanger, the adrenaline-pumping theme follows, and then the story begins from the beginning. Ten years after first meeting him, we learn that Ethan is getting tired of the game and wants out; he’s found a lovely woman (Michelle Monaghan) to marry. But he’s talked into joining a rescue mission that goes awry and suddenly he’s unable to get out. The mission went wrong because of Hoffman’s arms dealer who has powerful connections; an attempt to have him kidnapped eventually puts Ethan and his wife in jeopardy. Things get even more complicated when it turns out that there is a traitor, of course, working inside of the IMF division. I guess we could expect that; it happens all the time on Alias. There are other similarities. Simon Pegg plays a computer geek working for the IMFwho perhaps reminds us a little too much of Kevin Weisman’s character on the show. There’s even a reference to the kind of doomsday machines that always seem to work their way into scripts for Abrams’s shows. And of course, buddies of Abrams’s such as Keri Russell and Greg Grunberg, make appearances. But I’m not complaining. All of this contributes to the very enjoyable, slam-bang, popcorn experience that is this movie.

The action is big, loud and thrilling
Cruise is always a treat as Ethan Hunt. He’s a typical action hero, without any depth, but the star plays him with the kind of conviction that reaches into the hearts of the audience. It’s a mission impossible not to root for him. Hoffman is naturally a terrific villain, but not just because he’s an outstanding actor. The writers have given him several scenes where his nonchalant, icy style comes to great use; you feel like shoving his superior attitude down his throat, and that’s a good thing. Ving Rhames is back for the third time as Luther and provides subtle comic support. The action sequences are big, loud and thrilling in an old-fashioned way; this is not a Michael Bay movie.

Is there nothing wrong with this film at all? Of course there is. There’s no credibility and like so many other summer blockbusters this one goes on a little too long. But unlike the second film in the series, Mission: Impossible III knows how to make the style and the special effects serve the story, not the other way around.

Mission: Impossible III 2006-U.S. 125 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Tom Cruise, Paula Wagner. Directed by J.J. Abrams. Cast: Tom Cruise (Ethan Hunt), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Owen Davian), Ving Rhames (Luther Stickell), Billy Crudup, Michelle Monaghan, Jonathan Rhys Meyers… Laurence Fishburne.

Trivia: David Fincher and Joe Carnahan were allegedly first slated to direct the film; Scarlett Johansson and Kenneth Branagh were allegedly considered for the characters that came to be played by Russell and Hoffman. Followed by Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011).

Last word: “My only mandate in doing this movie was I wanted to make sure that we weren’t attempting to do anything, any visual effects sequence or any stunt sequence, as a stunt sequence or a visual effects sequence. It was always going to be what is our story so that when we came down to like trying to figure out some of the stuff, whether it’s stunts or chases or anything that happens in the movie, every time we knew that there was a situation where there was an escape or a tense situation or some kind of, we were like, ‘Let’s not even talk about it. We know that there’s got to be something here but let’s not [talk about it].’ We always focused on the story and once we knew we had a solid story – or we believed we had a solid story – we then allowed ourselves to sort of open the door to the toy store and go in and say, ‘How do we make these sequences as much fun as possible?’” (Abrams, About.com)

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