Mission: Impossible III is a perfect summer blockbuster movie. Tom Cruise excels like an all-star athlete in executing the bulk of the film’s impressive stunts while surrounded by a stellar ensemble cast including Michelle Monaghan, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ving Rhames, Billy Crudup, Laurence Fishburne, Bahar Soomekh and Jonathan Rhys Meyers. Writer/director J.J. Abrams achieves something of a minor masterpiece with a post-modern sense of humor and hypnotic infatuation with maintaining multiple layers of emotional and physical suspense in nearly every scene. Fans of the original television series will appreciate Abrams’ diligent attention to the series’ trademark disguises, clever gadgets and essential self-destructing mission tape.
The movie begins and the brief flash of an unassuming Cruise/Wagner producing credit disappears from the screen where Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) sweats out an intense hostage conversation with über bad guy and international weapons dealer Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Tension and worry buzzes around the audience as people grumble about the projectionist starting the movie midway through. The gritty scene onscreen becomes steadily more brutal before cutting away right at its dramatic apex. A match lights a fuse and the iconic Mission Impossible theme music drives its infectious heart-pounding rhythm into your brain. The seemingly miscued opening flourish announces the director’s intent at surprising his audience with visual and narrative illusions designed to stop the viewer in his or her tracks of predicting where the story is going.
J.J. Abrams also wants his audience interested in where his characters have been. An inventive piece of screenwriting gives discreet information about exterior and interior aspects of Ethan when, at his engagement party, he describes his job as a traffic analyst to partygoers before subtly affirming an intimate bond with his fiancée Julia (Michelle Monaghan) by reading her lips from the next room. Ethan and Julia’s romance is contextualized within the passion that the retired agent expresses in his job training new IMF agents, and the audience is taunted into extrapolating on the couple’s private relationship as an emotional resource.
Ethan is called away from the love of his life to execute a hostage rescue. When the mission ends with less than 100 percent success, Ethan and his IMF boss John Musgrave (Billy Cruddup) are called on the carpet by their organizational head (Laurence Fishburne). Owen Davian is attempting to procure an ostensibly nuclear weapon know only as the “rabbit’s foot,” and Ethan must separate fact from fiction to get the weapon before Davian does.
Mission: Impossible III intensifies its infatuation with panoramic spectacle over a series of visually challenging action episodes that stay with you. A phenomenal helicopter chase scene, set around an electricity windmill farm, is devastatingly captivating. When Ethan is climbing, running or swinging across walls and rooftops in Italy or Shanghai, every camera angle emits sheer joy for the spectacle of seeing Tom Cruise take physical chances that made his insurance company blanch.
Blockbuster movies rarely bend toward character development because they are based on a textbook format. J.J. Abrams modernizes the Mission Impossible franchise by taking advantage of every scene to exhibit distinct interior aspects of the characters. Some attempts flounder, as with Luther’s (Ving Rhames) blunt questions about Ethan’s decision to become a family man, but Abrams’ saturation approach gives the onscreen action a naturalistic edge that keeps you engaged.
Director J.J. Abrams’ most impressive credentials are his screenwriting work, which includes such films as 1991’s Regarding Henry and 1998’s Armageddon, and such TV series as Felicity, Alias, and Lost. With Mission: Impossible III, Abrams brings the Mission Impossible franchise, and perhaps Hollywood, to a whole other level.
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III ( * * * ½ )
Directed by J.J. Abrams. Starring Tom Cruise, Ving Rhames, Keri Russell and Phillip Seymour Hoffman.(PG-13, 126 min.) At the Century Cinemas Del Monte Center, Maya Cinemas, Northridge Cinemas.