Although at times it comes across like a big budget episode of Alias, the third instalment of the Tom Cruise spy franchise is an entertaining ride.
A common complaint of the first Mission: Impossible film was that it was too confusing (a lot of critics seemed unable to grasp what a double agent was), whilst the last one seemed to be suffering from one too many script rewrites. For this film producer and star Cruise has recruited JJ Abrams, the co-creator of hit TV shows Alias and Lost, in order to give the series a more humorous and slick feel.
For the most part, the Abrahams makeover has worked. This is a more colourful and coherent action film than might be expected given that this is his debut in the world of film. The set pieces are executed with a stylish efficiency and the addition of a nice undercurrent of humour helps things tick along nicely in between the well orchestrated mayhem.
The story sees IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise) enticed back into action after enjoying a period of domestic stability with his fiance (Michelle Monaghan) whilst training junior agents. When one of his proteges is killed in the field he assembles his own IMF team to uncover the web of intrigue that caused her death.
As is often the case with summer blockbusters, there are some rough edges and frustrating aspects. For example, the situation of Tom breaking into highly secure locations is overused, be it the Vatican or a skyscraper in Shanghai. It was a recurring motif in the previous two films but surely there is more to the IMF than just glorified cat burglary?
Another disappointment is Ethan’s IMF colleagues: Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) is becoming a less convincing computer whiz with each film; all Declan (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) seems to do is fly a helicopter; whilst Zhen (Maggie Q) is just an efficient hired gun. Simon Pegg in the Q-like geek role is a welcome presence but the lines given to him don’t quite ring true (especially the unnecessary one about his “Professor at Oxford” that telegraphs the fact that he is English – isn’t the accent a giveaway?).
Most disappointingly of all the great Philip Seymour Hoffman is underused as the chief villain. His character is left largely unexplored and remains too much of a one-note villain despite the attempts in the trailers to make him out as a cold blooded psychotic. On the more positive side of things, Laurence Fishburne and Billy Crudup are neatly cast as Hunt’s IMF bosses and aided by some polished dialogue, they bring the right touch of gravitas and intelligence to their roles.
But despite the disappointing aspects of Mission: Impossible 3 it is hard not to just kick back and enjoy the slick mindlessness of it all. Abrams betrays his TV roots by shooting a lot of the film like a beefed up episode of Alias (notice the quick transitions to foreign locations and lack of long shots) but he does know how to keep things moving along at a good pace and has helped breath new life into a franchise that seemed to have stalled at the second hurdle.
N.B. Just a quick thought on the title for these films. Your mission (should you decide to be bothered) is to figure out how to actually write the title. Is it Mission: Impossible III (see IMDb) or the colon-heavy M:I:3 (see the posters). For such a huge tent pole release it seems odd that there should be so many different ways to write a film’s title. Or maybe it’s all part of the marketing strategy…